Cosco Busan

Fogging Up the Facts –  Lloyds List 19 November 2007

SOMETHING went seriously wrong the other day on the bridge of the big containership Cosco Busan as the vessel was being manoeuvred out of San Francisco Bay. It might have been mechanical, it could have been human error, while it it could even have been the aggregation of several small failures of equipment, people, systems or procedures, in the thick fog.

It would be useful if, for the benefit of other ship operators and the future prevention of collisions causing pollution, the exact sequence of events can be established. The investigators of the US National Transportation Safety Board are on the case, they are experienced and have an excellent record in accident investigations. But will anyone involved in the incident talk to them, now they know that a criminal investigation has begun, and the fearsome penal system of the US hangs over everyone involved.

The word ‘accident’ may be redundant in 2007, but we would doubt if the actions of anyone involved was criminal. Is a mistake, or a failure of judgement, criminal, just because it involves oil in the water and dead wildlife? Unfortunately, this is the situation today, when people who have never made a mistake in their lives get on their high horses and criminalise others whose daily job involves risk-taking.

This is 2007 society speaking and a pretty unpleasant message is eructed. And who in their right mind, with this sort of horror hanging over them, is going to say anything to a casualty investigator without the ministrations of the best possible defence counsel? The establishment of the truth will involve a process where it will have to be dragged out of the witnesses by tongs, rather than quickly revealed by people speaking frankly to one another. And that’s a pity, because what emerges may not be anything even remotely helpful.

This accident may not be another Exxon Valdez, but it has the potential to affect ship operations all over the US, or possibly even globally. Which is why it is important that the facts can be quickly established, rather than be the subject of a tortured judicial process, with its plea-bargaining and disproportionate sentencing, lasting years. 

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