January 15, 2015

Annus horribilis

All the incidents I mention below have happened on or after the last Christmas. The last two and a half weeks have been horrible for shipping. Serious accidents, with often fatal consequences, seem to be occurring almost every day. And these are just the reported ones, or the ones that have hit the headlines.

It all seemed to start in the Mediterranean, where, three days after Christmas, the ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire that killed an unknown number of people- unknown simply because nobody seems to know how many were on board. The Italian transport minister said, “We cannot say how many people may be missing.”  That figure is believed to be over a hundred.

The only good news, in all the mayhem, came from the UK, where the ro-ro ship Hoegh Osaka was intentionally (and, if I may add, professionally) grounded by the Captain and the pilot in the Solent after she started listing on departure from port. She has- to the surprise of her salvors- been refloated since she was beached on January 3.

Sadly, in another incident north of Scotland, the trouble prone cement carrier Cemfjord was not so lucky. She was found capsized with all eight crewmembers now feared dead. Off Vietnam, the bulk carrier Bulk Jupiter went down with 18 crew dead; just one survived. Preliminary reports suggest that the liquefaction of her bauxite cargo did her in. 
In the South China Sea near Singapore, a tanker and a bulker carrier collided on January 2, with 4500 barrels of oil spilled. In Libya, amidst the civil war, anchored Greek-operated tanker Araevo was bombed by aircraft under the control of the internationally recognised government. Two crewmembers died; two more were injured. 

In lesser-reported incidents, three crewmembers died on Christmas when the Cambodia-registered Ming Guang sprang a leak and sank off Japan. The cement carrying Sea Merchant killed one of her crew when she sank off Batangas in the Philippines in rough seas on New Year’s Day. The next day, the Better Trans went down off the same country with one casualty.

Two days later, the tanker Run Guang 9 exploded off China; two crew missing- and the boxship Helene Rickmers ran aground in the Solomon Sea. Four days later, the Maersk LNG tanker Magellan Spirit ran aground off Bonny, Nigeria.

Finally (fingers crossed) the Gulf Rio ran aground in the Black Sea on Jan 8. There were, fortunately, no casualties. Not so lucky were the three souls on the catamaran Pura Vida Princess, who died when she capsized off Venezuela the same day.

This litany of ship casualties is as fantastic as it is grotesque; I cannot recall, in the last thirty years, a two-week period with such horrendous statistics. (I may be wrong, though; I was sailing much of that time, when information was more difficult to come by).

No doubt, there will be enquiries into at least the more high profile accidents, and we will –hopefully- learn from those. Meanwhile, 2015 has started on a terrible note, and brings to mind the British Queen’s 1992 ‘annus horribilis' (a horrible year) speech.

The disastrous start to the year should also serve as a reminder to all of us- especially those who believe that the issue of safety can be mastered by just legislation or checklists- that the sea remains a dangerously capricious mistress for those of us that sail, and that enhanced mariner competence is the only way we can hope to keep things safe.

Or safe enough, at least.


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