Your car’s parked in the lot outside a roadside diner, well off the road, when a another vehicle pulling a trailer passes. As it passes the trailer breaks free and ploughs into your car, rupturing the petrol tank and spilling fuel. So the police arrest you because you should have assumed that the trailer would break free of the vehicle and parked somewhere else. That’s the sort of utter daftness today’s seafarers face daily and which 53 year old Captain JS Chawla of the Hebei Spirit faces today, so it’s a pleasure to report that while he waits under the threat of a $75,000 fine or up to a year in prison, he was announced one of two runners-up in the Lloyds List/Nautical Institute Shipmaster of the Year Award announced today, 2nd April.
Chawla deserves much kudos for the defense of his vessel, which you can read about here. An airline pilot in a comparable situation would have walked away with a medal in his hand, not convict’s stripes. It is to be hoped that the award might do something to publicise not only his plight, but those of other seafarers.
Says the Nautical Institute: “In a year when the trend to criminalise masters for unfortunate accidents has continued, it is not surprising that this case has become extremely contentious.”
The Shipmaster Of The Year award intends to: “…pay fitting tribute to a Master who has shown leadership, courage and vision while in command…”. Each of the 11 nominees had certainly earned their stripes and of the choice of the final three the Nautical Institute release says: “In judging, the panel recognized the special qualities the nominees brought to the wellbeing of crew and the commercial interests of the company, numerous initiatives to improve safety and operational performance, and cases of outstanding seamanship and leadership.”
Finally, the award went to Captain Alistair McFadyen of the 37,500 tonnes P&O ferry Pride Of Bilbao. This vessel, too, found lawyers on its gangplank in the past: The vessel’s second officer, Michael Hubble, found himself on three charges of manslaughter last year after the disappearance of the yacht Ouzo south of the Isle of Wight in 2006, which were dismissed.
Captain McFadyen’s award was for his command of the vessel “…during severe weather in the Bay of Biscay in March 2007. Over a period of 4 days, the P&O Ferry, Pride of Bilbao, encountered winds of Force 9 increasing to Storm Force 12, with waves and swell to match. The ship was hove to for many hours and skilfully manoeuvred to minimise risk of injury or damage.
“Throughout the ordeal Captain McFadyen kept the passengers and crew advised and ensured that the company was kept fully informed. The result was the safe completion of the voyage, satisfied customers, and a tired but professionally proud crew. The company were also commended for delaying the next scheduled sailing while the crew got some much-needed rest.”
The ubiquitous Youtube carries videos of the storm, and comments by some of the passengers here.
Scoring a “highly recommended” alongside Captain Chawla was Captain Chernobrovkin, master of the 47,326 DWT chemical product tanker MT Butterfly, who performed a tough mid-Atlantic rescue of a lone yachtsman in a winter gale.
Sadly, the kudos these men earned will inevitably pale against the current enthusiasm to prosecute seafarers so attorneys can bulk up their pension plans.
This post was written by Bob Couttie of Maritime Accident Casebook. Bob Couttie has written for a number of maritime industry publications, including the prestigious Lloyd’s List International daily newspaper and Lloyd’s Ship Manager magazine. His reportage on problems with ship’s officer certification examinations in the Philippines in the late 1990s influenced the adoption of computerized examinations for ship officers by the country’s Professional Regulatory Commission.