International bulk shipper Gearbulk issued a statement Wednesday regarding the investigation and continued search for signs of the MV Bulk Jupiter, which sank on January 2nd off the coast of Vietnam with the loss of all but one of 19 crewmembers onboard.
In the long and heartfelt statement, Gearbulk said that even though Vietnamese authorities have scaled down their search, the company is continuing to allocate resources towards the search and rescue activities and support for the families of those crewmembers lost or missing.
The 2006-built MV Bulk Jupiter sank suddenly while underway with a cargo of bauxite, a clay-like substance that is the primary ore used in the production of aluminum, that had been loaded in Kuantan, Malaysia on December 30th.
“Although the Vietnamese MRCC has scaled down their search activities Gearbulk will continue to allocate vessels transiting the area in the weeks to come to search through the projected drift pattern any debris or remains would have been expected to follow,” the Gearbulk statement read. “This drift pattern has now extended well into Malaysian waters, and an area with a number of offshore installations and offshore support vessels. Malaysian MRCC has been kindly requested by Gearbulk to notify installations/vessels in the area to maintain a sharp lookout. Nothing further has been found to this date, and how hard it may seem we have to accept that time is working against us.”
As was reported previously, three people were recovered from the water in the hours following the sinking, including one survivor – the Filipino cook. Gearbulk says that authorities have now confirmed the identification of the two deceased as C/O Renner Karl Resos Abogadie and Captain Ronel Acueza Andrin.
As for the investigation into the causes of the casualty, an investigation is being launched by the Bahamas Maritime Authority – the Flag State – with the Philippines and Vietnam invited to join. Gearbulk says it will also have a representative in that investigation and it has established its own group to review all aspects of the accident.
Gearbulk stresses that while there has been much discussion about the causes of the sinking, both internally and externally, caution must be exercised not to prematurely arrive at conclusions.
“What we do know is based on the statement made by the cook,” Gearbulk said. “It happened very fast. From the general alarm sounding in the early morning hours of January 2nd, and abandon ship was heard on the intercom, it took only minutes before the vessel had developed a heavy list to starboard. The cook made his way starboard and jumped overboard. The vessel sank shortly thereafter.”
Currently, the leading theory, which seems to be supported by the cook’s statement, is the liquefaction of the bauxite cargo. Liquefaction is the phenomena in which a dry cargo becomes liquified, potentially leading to the sudden loss of stability due to shifting cargo and is known to be a major source of marine casualties.
Gearbulk reiterated that the bauxite cargo was declared under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC) as a “Group C” cargo, meaning it is not known to liquefy or possess a chemical hazard, although the code does note that the “Group C” categorization is dependent on certain moisture content and consistency criteria which if not met is a means for a reclassification.
Gearbulk has together with its insurers, Norwegian Hull Club (H&M) and Britannia (P&I), contracted external experts to investigate the cargo properties vs the cargo manifest, and the corresponding liquefaction risk. Gearbulk says that until the investigation report is available it has stopped taking bauxite cargo.
As for the Bulk Jupiter itself, Gearbulk says that an initial review of technical documentation, maintenance records and inspection reports has not indicated any technical issues with the vessel.
Gearbulk concluded the statement by saying: “There are many questions still to be answered, and we can assure you that Gearbulk will leave no stone unturned to find the root cause(s). In such tragic times we would ask that support is given to those that may have lost former shipmates or classmates, friends, neighbors or family.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the Bulk Jupiter crew.”