Casualty Outlook

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July 23, 2009


Captain  Hristo Papukchiev, pictured right, is an unhappy man. How unhappy? Until April this year he was lead investigator for the Bulgarian Maritime Administration. Then, just a day after being tasked with leading the re-investigation of the sinking of the m/v Vanessa in a storm last year, he resigned.

So far, his story has only appeared in a Bulgarian-language magazine, Klass, online at Maritime Accident Casebook, and now, of course, here at gCaptain.

He joined the administration in October 2008 at about the same time as the sinking of the m/v Tolstoy with the loss of eight of her 10 crew, which became his first investigation. Despite attempts at delays interference he and his team completed the investigation and filed reports with EMSA and the IMO.

There were serious regulatory shortfalls revealed in the Tolstoy report – she had been deleted from the North Korean registry a year before the incident but still flew the DPRK flag, as well as shortcomings in the Bulgarian SAR system,which in fact was not in line with the description Bulgaria logged with the IMO.

image Papukchiev believed there would be calls for action in response to the report.

Instead the report was shelved and no action taken. Neither the IMO nor EMSA encouraged Bulgaria to put its house in order. Today he suggests that if you’re in trouble in the Bulgarian area of responsibility it’s better to depend on a passing ship than the Bulgarian SAR system, which didn’t get underway until up to 10 hours after Tolstoy was on the seabed and around five hours after her EPIRB was activated. In fact the only two seafarers to survive the Tolstoy did so because they were picked up by a passing yacht.

No report has yet been issued on the sinking of m/v Vanessa, which lies undisturbed and unexamined in shallow waters. After Papukchiev accepted the task of re-investigating the loss, which cost the lives of nine crewmembers and a Ukrainian pilot with just one survivor, he was asked by a colleague “Who paid you to re-open the Vanessa case?”.

Says Papukchiev “I was shocked at first, but then started to ponder on the investigations done so far, the report that had been prepared long before my appointment, although not approved … Well, did this mean that its authors had been paid? Where were they now? These questions were my greatest concern, namely the Vanessa’s case had begun with a false start … Anyway, I was appointed to proceed with independent investigation because the society expected the truth to come to light. These investigations should be done very precisely and objectively, with facts prevailing not hypotheses. When there are no conditions for an unbiased and objective investigation, a true professional is obliged to resign.”

Bear that in mind if you’re in Bulgarian waters. We’re covering this story in depth at MAC.

Two recent casualties with particular lessons are the Scots scallop dredger Aquila on July 20 with the loss of three lives and the Asian Forest, which foundered 15 miles off Mangalore, fortunately without loss of life.

Commercial fishermen are often reluctant to wear lifejackets, feeling restricted in them, which almost certainly cost the lives of three of the four men aboard the Aquila. There is certainly an argument that commercial fishermen may benefit from a specially designed lifejacket but that’s not an argument to go without one.

Asian Forest foundered almost certainly because of liquefaction of her cargo of iron ore fines. It isn’t a cargo normally thought to be subject to liquefaction but at this time of year, with the South West Monsoon, heavy rains are soaking into iron ore fines stored in the open to await shipment  in New Mangalore and the West Coast of India, raising the moisture content.

It has been reported that often the moisture content stated on the certificate given by shippers bears no resemblance to the moisture content of the cargo at loading. If you’re loading such cargoes in South West India exercise extreme caution.

Stay safe out there.

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