Monday, 31 October 2011

Six Indian divers die in decompression chamber as ship sinks in Persian Gulf

Mr Mohammad Rastad -Director General of the Port and Maritime Organisation of Bushehr province in Iran- has confirmed that rescue teams have found the bodies of six Indian divers aboard a support vessel that sank in bad weather off the Iranian coast. The bodies are believed to have been found in a decompression chamber bolted on to the deck of the ship; they died after their oxygen ran out. The Iranian ship carrying 73 people sank late last week in the Persian Gulf; Sixty people have been rescued, fifteen of them Indians. Latest reports on the ongoing rescue operation say that bodies of two more divers have been recovered from a depth of 72 metres, with five more divers still missing.

The Koosha-1, a dive support vessel, operating in one of the largest natural gas fields in the world in the Gulf, was heading back to port when she sank fifteen miles off the port of Assaloyeh in bad weather. Eight divers- including six Indians- were decompressing aboard after installing an underwater pipeline when the accident occurred; their bodies have now been recovered. The other divers are believed to be dead. Details are still sketchy, but it is believed that the Koosha had aboard Iranian, Ukrainian and Indian divers when she sank. 

Gulfnews reports that the Indian divers were employed by Mumbai's Adsun Offshore, whose officials were quoted as saying that the repatriation of the bodies of the Indian divers was their "top priority at the moment.” The Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy in Tehran, Mr C.B. George, has said that the Consul General and other officials at Bandar Abbas were rushed to the rescue site immediately after the incident. "They are co-ordinating with the Iranian authorities and the families of the divers,” he said. 

Officials at the rescue site said that the decompression chamber that the divers were trapped in had enough oxygen supply for about two days when the Koosha sank. A spokesperson for Dulam, the company whose dive support vessel ' The Providence' responded to a distress call said, "The distress call was made when weather was very bad. When the emergency took place, we encountered four to five-metre waves and 30 knot wind speeds.” He added that 'The Providence' was twenty hours away from the Koosha when she received the distress call. As many as five vessels, three helicopters and several groups of divers are taking part in the rescue operation.

The "Koosha 1" had left the offshore oil rigs near the underwater South Pars gas field and was heading to Assaloyeh when the tragedy occurred.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ban 'Flag of Convenience' vessels on the New Zealand coast, says MANA.

"FOCs are disasters waiting to happen"

The MANA Movement- New Zealand's political party launched by political activist John Minto earlier this year- wants Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessels banned from the New Zealand coast. The demand comes in the wake of the country's largest maritime environmental disaster- the Rena grounding and oil spill- that has angered New Zealanders to the extent that the crew were provided police protection after the incident.  The MANA demand comes after the Maritime Union of New Zealand said that cabotage should be reintroduced in the country to prevent such future disasters.

MANA is a Maori led party that nonetheless says it wants to promote policies for all New Zealanders. Minto says the Rena disaster shows that ships registered in countries with lax employment and maritime safety laws should not be allowed to conduct coastal shipping in New Zealand. It wants the Government to enact legislation immediately to 'exclude FOCs operating on the coast of New Zealand'.

"The Rena is registered in the West African capital-of-corruption Liberia to increase profits to the ship owners by avoiding New Zealand regulations," Minto says. Referring to another recent incident of the Korean trawler 'Oyang 70' capsized off the New Zealand coast, killing three crew and investigations revealing widespread torture and abuse of its crew, Minto added, "We have already seen how foreign owned and crewed fishing vessels operating in New Zealand ignore basic health, safety and employment laws and now the Rena disaster has brought the problems off the sea and, literally, onto the shores of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand)".

He added, "We support the campaign of the Maritime Union of New Zealand to reintroduce cabotage regulations to ensure ships undertaking coastal shipping are owned and crewed by residents of New Zealand.  There would be much less likelihood of such a disaster with local owned and locally crewed ships with decent health and safety standards and decent rates of pay and employment conditions.”

There is mounting criticism and anger in New Zealand against substandard vessels on their coast. Most New Zealanders believe that the poorly regulated global nature of Flag of Convenience ships is the real cause of the Rena disaster. " We have vessels on the New Zealand coast that are not up to scratch," Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood said, echoing MENA demands calling for an establishment of  locally owned and crewed shipping in New Zealand waters.

 “Why do we have ships on our coasts that Maritime New Zealand inspections say do not have the proper charts for navigation? Because the National Government of the 1990s deregulated our coastal shipping and the Labour Government of the 2000s did not heed the advice of the Maritime Union, even after all the exposures of sweatshop work practices on these ships in our waters" Minto said.

"It should never have come to this. Flag of Convenience vessels are disasters waiting to happen".

WWII wreck with £132m Indian silver found.

Last month, US based Odyssey Marine Exploration confirmed that it has located the wreck of the 400-foot SS Gairsoppa almost 3 miles below the water 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. Aboard is the largest known haul of precious metals ever discovered on any wreck- seven million ounces of silver loaded from India. In 1941, when the Gairsoppa was torpedoed and sunk, the value of the silver was £600,000. Today, it is worth £132m.

In February of 1941, the British cargo ship Gairsoppa, having loaded in Calcutta two months earlier as part of the World War II effort, was proceeding under convoy off Ireland when she ran short of fuel and was separated from the other ships. A German U Boat spotted the straggling vessel that was trying to make it to Galway in Ireland and torpedoed it. Some of the crew took to lifeboats, but only one boat made it ashore days later. Odyssey's Principal Marine Archaeologist Neil Cunningham Dobson says, "Even though records indicate that the lifeboats were launched before the ship sank, sadly most of her crew did not survive the long journey to shore".

Two years ago, Odyssey struck a deal with the British government that stipulated that the company could retain 80% of the value of the silver recovered from the wreck; 20% going to the UK. Odyssey had subsequently sent a remotely operated underwater craft to the wreck. Although the wreck was discovered last summer, video and photo footage confirmed only last week that it was indeed the Gairsoppa.

Odyssey says that the vessel had settled on the seabed in a fully upright position, with the cargo holds open and the bullion accessible via the hatches. It intends to start operations to recover the silver next year, using remote-controlled robotic submarines. I think we can safely say that none of the metal will be finding its way back to India anytime soon.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Trawler crew chop up, feed Captain and engineer to sharks.

The Thai Marine Police would never have imagined, when they spotted the disabled trawler 'Supaporn' drifting off a five-star resort at Racha Island near the international tourist destination of Phuket two days ago, that they would board her to only discover a gruesome tale of mutiny and murder.

When the marine police asked to see the Thai captain - every Thai trawler must have a Thai national in command - the seven man Burmese crew kept silent. Suspicious, the police went below decks where they found blood spattered everywhere in the galley.

The crew confessed almost immediately. They had mutinied two days earlier against what they claimed was the cruelty of Captain Lure and engineer Lek; Lure was killed first with a 'chopper' in the middle of the night and his body thrown overboard. Engineer Lek was killed thereafter.

Two of the crew, 25-year-old Note and 20-year-old Kala, were on their first voyage; they had joined the Supaporn in a small fishing port in Trang province, South of Phuket, about five months ago. Note, who confessed to killing Lure, said that the Burmese were constantly mistreated and abused by the skipper and engineer Lek. Note told investigators later that life was 'a living hell,' adding that all the crew conspired together to get rid of their two tormentors.

Their idea was to kill the two Thais, dump their bodies overboard to the sharks and head for Phuket where the trawler, coming as it did from Trang province, would be little known. They planned to jump overboard and swim ashore when within a couple of hundred metres of the beach near Phuket.

Their plan went horribly awry when, two days after the killings, the Supaporn's engine stopped working when she was off the popular diving resort at Racha Island. Nobody knew how to fix the engine- in what some will say is a case of poetic justice, the men had killed the only man who could have done so. The Burmese could only wait while the Marine Police pulled alongside and boarded to make enquiries, after which the entire grisly tale was soon revealed.

Investigations revealed that Note had picked up an 'all-purpose chopper' around 1am and killed the skipper. Engineer Lek was killed after the Captain's body was thrown overboard. 

The gruesome killings of the two senior most members of the Supaporn's complement come amidst renewed concerns about the grim state of affairs in the global fishing industry. The 'Oyung 70' case in New Zealand is still fresh in the minds of many, and the pattern of crew abuse that exists in trawling fleets across the world may mean that the Supaporn's murders- ghastly as they are- may well be repeated elsewhere.

Nautilus lambasts 'atrocious state' of accident investigations in industry

'Intolerable rate of fatalities'

Nautilus, the trade union that represents 24,000 maritime professionals at sea and ashore, has said that there are many shipping accidents where no independent investigation ever takes place, reports are never published, trends never identified and lessons never learned".

‘What an atrocious state of affairs, and no wonder this is an industry that labours under an image problem,’ said Nautilus Secretary Allan Graveson at the first Marine Accident Prevention & Investigation conference in London.

 ‘Some Flag States will argue that they do not have the resources for adequate investigations,’ Graveson continued in a scathing attack. Pointing out that many Registries were being run 'in what is little more than an offshore bank', Graveson asked delegates, ‘In such cases, should States be allowed to register ships? I think not. If you are a Flag State you have to discharge the responsibilities that come with the often very attractive income that registration generates. Those that fail to discharge these responsibilities must be named and shamed, and ultimately stripped of their status as a Flag State.’

Nautilus says that casualties due to fatigue,  in lifeboat drills and during enclosed space entry are on the rise and that even the best Registries are sometimes of improper investigation and analysis. Graveson said, “There is a need for investigations to go beyond the immediate causes of an incident and wide-ranging recommendations that not only prevent the same incident but similar incidents where associated factors have a potential adverse influence. Above all, there should be decisive regulatory action. The latter is difficult to achieve in an international environment where some Flag States are dependent upon revenues from shipping and are reluctant to be seen as pressing for what are frequently referred to as ‘burdens’ on the industry for fear of scaring away ship owners from their Registry".

“There is still a considerable way to go in an industry that has, and continues to accept, a rate of losses and fatalities that other sectors of industry would find intolerable,” Graveson concluded.

Monday, 17 October 2011

F 16 fighter scrambled to wake up drunk Captain and alert sozzled crew

Owner expresses shock at incident on 'zero-alcohol-tolerance' ship.

In a bizarre incident last month, the Danish Navy Operational Command scrambled a F 16 fighter plane to make contact with a ship whose Captain was so drunk that he had left the bridge to go to sleep. Many of the rest of the crew do not appear to have been in much better shape, judging from reports.

The  Sœværnets Operative Kommando (SOK) had tried for six hours to contact the 2630 DWT cargo vessel "Ranafjord" that had sailed out of the port of Riga in the Kattegat after they noticed she was maintaining an abnormal course over several hours and was at risk of grounding. A vessel -the “Nymfe”- was sent out to intercept the Ranafjord; an F 16 fighter and a helicopter were also scrambled; the aircraft was to fly low over the vessel to alert the crew to impending tragedy.

The ship was 40 minutes from running aground at Hals when the F16 was finally able to draw the attention of the Ranafjord's crew, who finally stopped the ship and dropped anchor. Police from the "Nymfe" boarded the "Ranafjord" later and found the 54-year-old Norwegian Captain- who was supposed to be on watch- dead drunk and asleep in his cabin. He was later arrested by the police on suspicion of sailing under the influence after a blood test revealed an alcohol content of 2.15%.

"The Captain tried to blame the First Officer, who was apparently equally drunk, but the logbook showed he’d gone off duty,” said a police officer last week. "They were definitely not sober on that ship," said a Police Commissioner from the Danish Police later, indirectly indicating that at least some of the other crew were intoxicated as well.

A Danish pilot guided the ship to Hals Barre, where it anchored waiting for the drunken Mate to sleep off the effects of his drink. Only after the officer was sober was the ship allowed to continue its voyage to Aalborg, where Danish police arrested the Captain.

The owners- Finn Olsen Rederi in Bodø- have a zero-alcohol policy in place, and expressed shock that several of the crew were apparently bombed out of their senses.  The managers of the vessel are Olsen F from Norway."It is a horrible tragic situation for us, we have operated the company for 50 years and have never experienced anything like this," said Vegard Olsen Finn Olsen.

Many Asian crews will tell you that the drug and alcohol policies rigidly enforced on them do not seem to apply to European navigators where heavy drinking is not uncommon, especially on small coasters plying around the continent. Critics say that zero tolerance to alcohol and tobacco is unnatural, and results in increased alcohol-related accidents; there is also a massive tobacco contraband issue in Europe. Minimal crews on coasters result in fatigued crews; hypocritical alcohol policies only add to their problems.

It is therefore not surprising that the well known journalist and campaigner Voytenko Mikhail  says, commenting on the Ranafjord incident, "The stricter the restrictions, the worse are the consequences. Fighting human nature with restrictions is as feasible an undertaking as fighting volcano eruptions with city fire teams".

P&I clubs issue warning on ECDIS training concerns

Even before the ECDIS – the Electronic Chart Display and Information System- becomes  mandatory for all merchant vessels, growing industry concerns about confusion regarding mandatory training requirements has resulted in at least two P&I clubs issuing broad-based warnings about seafarer training on ECDIS.  

The Standard and the UK P&I Club have warned shipowners that the switchover from paper charts to electronic navigation entails serious issues that remain unresolved.  These changes are seen as major, the clubs say, and owners and crews need to be well aware that in the absence of proper training, there may well be more than a few “ECDIS assisted accidents” over the horizon. 

The clubs clearly see ECDIS as a leap in navigational operations rather than a simple progression from existing systems. The fact that ECDIS training- both generic and type specific- is mandatory makes implementation even more complicated. Moreover, says Karl Lumbers of the UK Club, “It will in many cases restrict the flexibility owners/managers currently enjoy to switch officers between the different ships in their fleets.” 

Industry watchers say that Flag States need to be clear on how they plan to implement the type-specific training rule. Some flags have indicated that this can be done on board, with the help of specially trained personnel if necessary. Others disagree, saying that training should take place ashore before joining a ship- they fear that shipboard training may degenerate into a sort of familiarisation exercise done quickly and cursorily. As the Standard Club says, “The legislative requirements for ECDIS training are daunting. The sheer numbers and scale of the training required is going to test many companies’ ability to complete the training in time and interpret the varying Flag States’ requirements.”

The fact that many managers handle ships registered across different flags and the plethora of different ECDIS systems already in the market makes the situation even more complex. Despite the voices of many who have been crying themselves hoarse asking for some standardisation in ECDIS equipment for months now, manufacturers and regulators seem to have studiously ignored such concerns. One can only hope that this confusion stops short of affecting safety of navigation at sea.