It’s been an active beginning to 2019 in terms of maritime casualties. The phone at the Panama Marine Accident Investigation Department was likely ringing off the hook with three major incidents on Panama-flagged vessels in the first two days. The first three weeks of the year have produced a wide range of serious casualties…and they are likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of incidents and near misses.
The casualties begin…
These casualties started with the SINCERITY ACE, a Panama-flagged car carrier which suffered a major fire in cargo spaces on 31 December 2018 in the North Pacific. The vessel was subsequently abandoned with four known casualties and one crew member missing.
On January 1st/2nd, MSC ZOE, a Panama-flagged ultra large container vessel (ULCV) was enroute Bremerhaven, Germany. During heavy weather, the vessel lost 290+ shipping containers overboard. The containers have started washing up on German and Dutch beaches with significant pollution.
Also on January 2nd, 6 crew members from the MSC container ship MSC Mandy were kidnapped off the coast of Benin. The Panama-flagged feeder vessel was on the way from Lome to Lagos when a reported 8-10 pirates boarded the vessel and left with 6 of 26 crew, possibly including the captain.
A fire aboard the YANTIAN EXPRESS, a 7500 TEU container vessel reportedly started in one container on deck on January 3rd and spread. The subsequent blaze forced the crew of the German-flagged vessel to abandon ship to a responding tug boat. The blaze was finally being brought under control a week later. Yantian Express is reportedly making her way to Freeport in the Bahamas under her own power.
On the less serious side from the view of personal injury, the bulk vessel Anglo Alexandria (UK-flagged) grounded while downbound on the Mississippi River on January 5th. While the vessel was refloated within 48 hours and there was no reported pollution, a queue of 50 in and outbound vessels had developed.
In the Black Sea off Turkey, VOLGO BALT 214 split in two and sank in heavy seas. While 7 of the Panama-flagged cargo vessel ‘s crew were rescued by Turkish authorities, 6, including the captain, were lost at sea.
Hong Kong harbour was the site of an explosion onboard the tank vessel AUIAC FORTUNE on January 8th. The Vietnam-flagged vessel was preparing to bunker when the explosion occurred. At last report 1 crew member had perished with multiple still missing.
The Vanuatu-flagged cable layer STAR CENTURION was anchored in the Horsburgh OPL off Singapore on January 13th when the outbound Hong Kong-flagged tanker Antea collided with her. The damage to Star Centurion was so severe that she capsized and sank soon after with all crew being rescued.
Back in the Black Sea on January 21st, Tanzania-flagged LPG tankers Candy and Maestro were conducting a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer of cargo in international waters. During the transfer, a fire broke out, engulfing both vessels. The two vessels had a combined crew of 31 of which 19 were killed or are missing.
How do we learn from these incidents?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Casualty Investigation Code’s (CIC) objective is, “…a marine safety investigation, as defined in this Code, is an investigation conducted with the objective of preventing marine casualties and marine incidents in the future.” In short, the goal is for flag states and the maritime industry as a whole to learn from incidents, identifying opportunities for improvement and best practices.
Unfortunately, 75% of the time according to Allianz Global, we find that the cause of these incidents are attributed to human error. “Human error” potentially involves all the different processes in shipping in which humans play a role – navigation, engineering, ship design, vessel management, shipping clerks, regulatory agencies, flag state. Everyone from the CEO down to the entry ratings in a shipping company is part of the human element. Everyone from the secretary of the IMO down to flag state and class inspectors is part of the human element. And all parts of the human element have the capability for error.
But what is human error? LACK OF EXPERIENCE!