Casualty Outlook

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July 2, 2009

It’s been a bad week for lifeboats, once termed ‘the Pinto of the seas’. Over at Maritime Accident Casebook three incidents during drills and training have come to light, two on offshore platforms, one at an onshore training facility. All are currently under investigation and therefore sort of subjudice but in one case the lowering of a davit-launched lifeboat was halted due to a problem with the falls. Confused radio communications between those inside the boat and the person lowering the lifeboat apparently made those inside believe they were on the water and that the hydrostatic release had malfunctioned, so they over-rode the hydrostatic release and the boat fell a considerable distance into the water, causing a number of injuries.

Investigators will probably concentrate on three elements: the fouling of the cable, the radio communications problem, and the over-riding of the hydrostatic release. Inadequate training and drills is likely to surface as a root cause.

Cosco Busan, every San Franciscan’s favourite hate-object, is very much in the news. Setting aside the issue of the pilot’s medication, there are lots of lessons worth learning or re-learning. The latest Maritime Accident Casebook podcast, The Case of the Foggy Pilot, looks at bridge team management, how to get information out of a cranky pilot and how to ask and answer questions. After all, if you don’t ask a question right, you’re not asking the right question.

It’s when we think we’re safe that bad things often happen. A master and crewmember drowned when a boat ferrying them ashore capsized in Vietnam around 700 metres from their ship. Did anyone mention lifejackets?

Typhoon season is setting in around the western Pacific so we expect the usual heavy-weather casualties, as the discovery of more than 400 bodies in the Princess of the Stars in the Philippines reminds us. Two vessels were lost recently in the Arabian sea, fortunately without loss of life.

Time to look at anchoring, when to stay put and when to go, and keep an eye on speed, reminders of Pacific Commerce, Pasha Bulker and MSC Napoli respectively.

caPBLANCFEBTake an overloaded ship with negligible freeboard, heavy weather and a steering failure and you end up with the Cap Blanc, which capsized off Canada’s Burin Peninsula last year. A photograph of the vessel taken the previous February tells the story, and the overloading was habitual, but also raises the question: Where was Port State Control?

Also there has been the explosion aboard the tanker Nhat Thuan,with three seafarers missing, the sinking of a trawler off of Thailand following a collision with an unnamed cargo vessel with one dead and five missing, a thankfully lossless collision between Marti Princess and Renate Schulte off the Turkish island of Bozcaada and the fire aboard Royal Princess of Princess Cruise Lines.

It’s been a bad time for piers, with the 653-foot Otello thumping a pier at the Port of Hueneme, the Staten Island Ferry doing ditto with 15 hurt, and bad news for lovers of paddle-steamers as the last of the ocean-going variety hit a landing pier on the Clyde.

Finally, a different sort of casualty from long ago. Today, July 1, sees the inauguration of a plaque to the Australian victims of the Japanese hellship Montevideo Maru at the only memorial to hellship victims, located at Subic Bay Freeport. Many hellship victims were merchant mariners, including in this case 31 Norwegian seafarers. Remember them.

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