Thursday, February 25, 2021

Union Disgust as Ferry Engine Fire Report Published by Marine Accident Investigators

Incident Resulted in Closure of Scottish - Belgian RoRo Freight Service
Shipping News Feature

UK – BELGIUM – LITHUANIA – This week saw the publishing of the report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) into the fire aboard the RoRo Cargo ferry Finlandia Seaways. The report does not make good reading for the owners and operators of the ship DFDS Seaways AB-Lithuania.

The ship, which has now been redeployed to the Baltic Sea, was flagged as Lithuanian and serviced and maintained by the Diesel Service Group in Klaipeda. She sailed from Zeebrugge on 16 April 2018 headed for Rosyth in Scotland. That evening, while 11 miles off the coast of Lowestoft the main engine suffered an explosion.

The vessel’s third engineer, who was on duty in the engine room at the time, suffered serious smoke-related lung, kidney and eye injuries during his escape. There was a catastrophic failure of the main engine starting a fire in the engine room. The fault turned out to be a failure of small end bearings, the consequence of which endangered the lives of the 19 Lithuanian crew and 4 passengers aboard.

The accident meant the cessation of the Zeebrugge-Rosyth service causing Kell Robdrup, Senior Vice President of DFDS’ routes connecting to the southern part of the North Sea, to say in the week following the incident:

“Unfortunately, this will bring about further losses on the route, and it means that we have lost all hope of being able to turn around the route’s loss-making situation. Therefore, we have no alternative but to close the route as we undoubtedly will lose clients who will be forced to seek alternative solutions for their transport,”

The report has raised hackles at the RMB union which points out that the Scottish Government signed a confidential Memorandum of Understanding with Forth Ports and DFDS in November 2014 over the future of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route. Initially, over £156,000 of taxpayers’ money was granted at that time to keep the route from closing and a further £200,000 was paid by the Scottish Government to DFDS in January 2015.

Now RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash has expressed his disgust at the entire situation, saying:

“There is no getting away from the fact that commercial pressure led to this incident. The hard working seafarers on board, some of whom were paid well below the National Minimum Wage, were lucky to avoid more serious consequences from an exploding engine. They were let down by a series of failures in the repair and maintenance regime overseen by the ship owner, DFDS and the classification society Lloyds Register which stemmed from the decision to outsource engine repair work.

“This avoidable accident led to the withdrawal of the Finlandia Seaways and the permanent closure of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route. Scotland remains without a regular roll-on roll-off ferry link to the continent as a result, whilst DFDS has re-deployed the Finlandia Seaways in the Baltic Sea. This raises serious questions over the effect of the business model in the ferries industry on crew safety and economic resilience. RMT will be calling on the Scottish and UK Governments to take action in light of this report.”

Photo: The engine room of the ship after it was gutted by the fire.