Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Improper Stowage of Cargo Contributed to Tragic Death of Freighter and Crew

Maritime Investigation Reveals a Litany of Errors and Neglect Resulting in Six Fatalities
Shipping News Feature

UK – COOK ISLANDS – RUSSIA –The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report on the sinking of the freight vessel Swanland on 27 November 2011, on her way to Cowes, Isle of Wight from Llanddulas, Wales. The 34 year old Cook Islands-registered general freighter experienced a catastrophic structural failure when heading directly into rough seas and gale force winds whilst laden with a cargo of 2,730 tonnes of limestone. The vessel sank at approximately 02:15 with just two of the vessel’s eight crew managing to swim clear. The pair of survivors were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter co-piloted by the Duke of Cambridge as the doomed ship sank off the Llyn peninsula. The body of the chief officer was recovered from the sea during an extensive air and sea search but the remaining five crewmen have never been found.

The MAIB report concludes that the limestone had been effectively loaded as a single pile within the central section of the hold and as a result, significant stresses were generated in the vessel’s midship section which were exacerbated by the rough seas. The investigation also found that the Swanland had not been properly maintained with no structural repairs undertaken since 2009.

Other contributing factors investigators found included; non-compliance with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargo Code (IMBSC); insufficient loading information; a lack of effective safety management; poor quality of survey and audit; lack of oversight of the classification society by the Flag State; the financial pressures of operating this type of vessel in the current economic downturn; and several safety issues concerning the immersion suits and lifejackets available on board the vessel.

As part of this investigation, the MAIB contracted the marine consultancy firm Braemar Technical Services Limited to assess the ship’s structural design, and her survey and repair history. In its report (which can be found here in Annex D), Braemar stated:

“Examining the nature of the voyages that Swanland was engaged in, it is our opinion that full and proper hold cleaning, coating and maintenance would have been difficult to have been carried out due to time constraints. Based on the record of cargoes carried, she rarely operated on ballast voyages and carried varying cargoes between ports often within 1 day of discharge of the previous cargo. Combined with mechanical damage due to the discharge method (grabs and excavators), there would potentially have been regular and significant damage and/or corrosion to the vessel’s cargo hold structure.”

The MAIB found that the principal reason for the owners’ decision to change the vessel’s classification society from Lloyd’s Register (LR) to International Naval Surveys Bureau (INSB) in 2009 was to reduce the fees paid to the classification society by about 30%. With the Swanland not making any profit since 2006 and the company losing over £1,000,000 up to the time of her loss, the report recognised that by changing the classification society, owners Swanland Shipping Ltd. (the company was liquidated following the tragedy) would have seen the immediate financial benefits with savings made on the costs of surveys and audit fees.

Swanland was built in the Netherlands in 1977 as the general cargo ship Carebeka IX. Her overall length was 81 metres and her deadweight was 3,137 tonnes. The vessel underwent various changes of name during her 34 years in service and was finally renamed in 1996 after she was purchased by Swanland Shipping Ltd and managed by Torbulk Ltd. The vessel had been operated under various Flag State administrations and classification societies and in 2000, her registration was transferred to the Cook Islands.

Swanland’s crew were all Russian nationals and were employed via the Liepaja Trading and Shipping Agency Limited based in Latvia. The bodies of ship master Yury Shmelev, 44, chief engineer Geeadiy Meshkov, 52, second engineer Mikhail Starchevoy, 60, Able Seaman Sergey Kharchenko, 51, and ship's cook Able Seaman Oleg Andriets, 49, all remain lost at sea. Second Officer Roman Savin, 27, and Able Seaman Vitaly Karpenko, 48, were airlifted to safety. Chief Officer Leonid Safonov, 50, was pronounced dead after his body was recovered from the sea shortly afterwards.

Photo: One of the two survivors picked out by thermal imaging equipment as he waves frantically at the approaching helicopter from a liferaft. Courtesy of the Ministry of Defence.