Friday, June 14, 2013

Freighter Tragedy Prompts Unions to Call for Review of Cargo Shipping Safety

Meanwhile another Bulk Carrier Sinking Shines a Spotlight on Older Vessels
Shipping News Feature

UK – INDIA – WORLDWIDE - Whilst compiling our recent story on the sinking of the Swanland off the Welsh coast in 2011 we asked for an opinion from interested parties on the conclusions of the United Kingdom Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) into the tragedy. The ageing freighter, sailing under a flag of convenience and registered legally but with a cut rate agency, foundered resulting in six deaths. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), quite rightly, reserved the right to comment until it had time to study the report in its entirety and today released its verdict as to both the cause of the accident and what should occur in its aftermath.

Since our original article back at the time of the incident, details emerged of the poor state of both the craft and the stresses she had been subjected to over time by poor loading, and the criticism from the ITF, which we publish here, is withering.

After fully studying the MAIB report into the Swanland sinking, the ITF has issued the following statement.

The ITF condemns the lack of effective regulation and control in the international shipping industry that allowed this tragedy to occur. The MAIB report reveals how cost cutting and negligence led to the sinking of the general cargo ship Swanland in the Irish Sea in November 2011, with the loss of six Russian seafarers. As the MAIB notes, the Swanland is one of nearly 250 general cargo ships that have foundered in just over 10 years. In this period over 800 seafarers have perished in often ageing vessels. The Swanland was over 30 years old when the sinking occurred.

It is questionable whether such an old ship should have been trading at all; but as a minimum it needed regular maintenance and structural repairs. This report highlights the failures in its maintenance of the ship, and the fact that no structural reviews had taken place since 2009. Even more alarming is the fact that Swanland Shipping Ltd changed the classification society of the ship from Lloyds Register to the International Naval Surveys Bureau in 2009 to reduce their fees by 30%. The report highlights the fact that unscrupulous operators can make savings by cutting back on repairs and the rectification of deficiencies.

The report also reveals that the ship managers, Torbulk, did not make available to the chief officer the means to conduct the strength and stability checks on board the ship which are necessary prior to cargo loading. In addition the owners and managers of the ship seemed to be unaware of the risks of carrying high density cargoes and the importance of obtaining accurate information so that the ship could be safely loaded.

The MAIB further reveals that during the course of its investigation it became evident that many shipowners and managers are unaware of the importance of compliance with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC), and that they may believe it only applies to bulk carriers.

The ITF believes that this accident investigation report must now be the catalyst for urgent action – in particular for general cargo ship safety to be made a priority at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The fact that at the time of the accident the Swanland had been certified as being in compliance with all applicable statutory requirements makes a mockery of the existing regulatory framework, the ITF states.

The ITF is now calling for the IMO to conduct a wholesale review of general cargo ship safety with stricter enforcement of the existing regulations and additional checks and safeguards where older vessels are concerned. On Wednesday another near tragedy was averted when the bulk carrier mv Asian Express, en route to Male in the Maldives from Port bin Qasim in Pakistan, broke down before turning beam onto the sea and breaking open and sinking.

The twenty two Maldavian and Indian crew were all rescued by the Indian Coast Guard vessel Varuna which is due to land them in Kochi (Cochin) today. The 7,000 dwt ship was built in 1977 and flagged in the Maldives. After her engines failed on 12 June she managed to stay afloat until being abandoned the next day. The incident will put a question mark against the condition of another 36 year old ship which proved unfit for its task.

Photo: Swanland discharging aggregate in 2011.