Loss of control, loss of ship…loss of life

31st January 2004

Loss of control, loss of ship...loss of life

Initial Report

I have been a sailor for more than thirty years. The ship was inspected and passed sound by the port authorities. It was my first time with that captain.

The ship left port after I had seen it loaded. The crew were of mixed nationalities.

We sailed slowly for approximately 48 hrs because of strong head winds about force 8 to 9.   I was aware of problems on deck. I was told that at 0900 that the bosun and a seaman had noticed that the starboard anchor was loose with 5 metres of’ slack. At about 2030 on the same day, I realised that there was a serious problem and noticed that the ship was listing to starboard.

At 2345, an able seaman came to my cabin, and told me that the ship was sinking.  At about that time, the captain, who did not speak English, told us to abandon ship.

Shortly afterwards, I saw the captain and the mate and some crew members already in a life raft attached by a line to the rail on the port quarter of the ship. They shouted to us to join them but we decided it was not possible. We went to the other life raft on the starboard quarter and found that it was not there. I supposed that it had already been jettisoned. We then went to launch a semi-rigid zodiac on the port quarter. There were four other crewmen with me.

Before leaving the ship, I had activated an electronic distress beacon (Sar.Sat/Epirb) and left it in a coil of rope on the stern of the ship. At that time, I gave another (Sar.Sat/Epirb) to one of the others, who gave it to someone else. It was not activated and was subsequently lost. An AB had set off three parachute flares. We noticed that the life raft with the captain and others was adrift; the painter was cut at the life raft end. This was the last time we saw them. I think that the captain had not activated the ship’s automatic distress signal before leaving the ship; although the ship had a VHF radio; a short wave radio and a cell phone. I do not know why he did not.

We had great difficulty launching the zodiac with the davits, the line being fouled and the zodiac being filled with water from the ship’s engine cooling system. In the zodiac there was a Mariner outboard motor, a tank of petrol and a gallon of fresh water. We couldn’t use the outboard motor because it had been completely submerged. There were no paddles or food. Eventually, we managed to free the zodiac from the ship and drifted to leeward away from the lighted and still floating ship. By now it was probably 0200 hrs.

We drifted all night and all the next day. The wind had dropped to about force 3. We had only some peanuts and some multivitamins to eat. We baled out the zodiac with a hard hat because there was no baler in the boat. We approached the coast and at about 2200 hrs and were taken by the breakers. The zodiac stayed upright on the first wave;it was overturned by the second wave and the third wave brought me, and two others onto the rocks. The remaining two were not seen again and are still missing. One managed to climb the cliff; I had more difficulty but eventually succeeded in getting on shore. The last person was stuck and I went to try and find help. I was in farmland and saw light from the road and tried in vain to stop a vehicle. I returned to help with a rope that I made from agricultural plastic that I found in nearby greenhouses; but he had gone. I feared that he was drowned.

Just before daybreak, I returned to the road and a lorry stopped for me and I was very pleased to find that one of the crew was already on board. We were taken to a town and told them about our missing colleague. They went to look for him and found him about 10 kilometres away. He had been assisted and fed by locals and was then taken to the local clinic.

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This is a dramatic and tragic report, but perhaps what is most tragic about it is the apparent absence of any proper investigation and report into the loss of this ship and some of its seafarers by the Flag State.

A principal aim of CHIRP is to raise awareness in order to prevent other similar accidents/incident. It is essential to learn as much as possible from accidents and to make that learning easily available to the maritime community.

Under SOLAS regulation I/21 and MARPOL 73/78, articles 8 and 12 each Flag States undertakes to investigate casualties and report to IMO.

This casualty does not feature in the IMO’s Casualty Analyses document published by the sub-committee on Flag State Implementation, which can be downloaded from the Human Element section at www.imo.org.

CHIRP has contacted the relevant Flag State to enquire whether any report resulting from an investigation into this incident exists which might be made available on a confidential basis, but has not received a reply to date.

The report, which relates to an entirely non-UK operation, raises a number of questions with respect to the vessels structure, condition and operation. There were allegedly serious failings in the conduct of the evacuation, particularly by the master that raise questions with respect to ISM certification and training, amongst others.

CHIRP‘s Advisory Board is of the view that the absence of proper accident investigations, in circumstances similar to this, by some Administrations is a dereliction of their duty to the seafarers under their Flags and to the wider maritime community.

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