Maritime Missteps

The maritime domain is a fascinating one. Just as there are maritime marvels enveloped in its folds, it also features equal doses of maritime missteps. The recent case studies which follow will hopefully enable the readers to get a better feel of recurring tragedies in its hostile environment.

A 60 metre long Japanese fishing vessel, the Ryon-Un Maru, moored in the Aomori Prefecture awaiting to be sold, was washed away by the March 2011 tsunami. This vessel was among the 1.5 million tonnes of debris thrown out into the sea by the force of the tsunami. It thereafter kept on drifting in the Pacific Ocean as a ghost ship till it was spotted nearly an year later by a routine Royal Canadian Air Force air patrol about 150 miles off the coast of British Columbia. Attempts by a Canadian fishing vessel, the Berenice C, to salvage the derelict vessel and tow it away failed, leaving the field open to the US Coast Guard to deal with it as the vessel had entered US waters by this time. Being without lights, the vessel was already an hazard to navigation, and hence a decision was made to sink it before it runs aground, which action was immediately carried out while the stricken vessel was still 150 miles away from land.

A five year old Bahamian-flagged post-Panamax container ship, the MOL Comfort, bound for Jeddah with a cargo of 4382 large containers, suddenly broke into two on 17 June ’13 about 200 miles off the coast of Yemen, when confronted with heavy seas. Its 26 man crew were forced to abandon ship, being subsequently rescued by another ship diverted to the scene by the area’s safety coordinator. Remarkably though, both sections remained afloat with the majority of the cargo intact. Four ocean-going tugs arrived at the scene a week later to tow the two sections to safety. The stern section proved difficult to tackle as water started ingressing two days later resulting in its sinking. The tow of the bow section was however in progress when on 6 July a fire broke out in its rear part resulting in its sinking also five blazing days later. The sinking of both the sections was a double tragedy as it hampers the efforts of the investigators to get to the bottom of the causes underlying the accident as well as the fire.

A luxury liner MV Costa Concordia carrying 4229 people on board struck a reef off the Island of Giglio, Italy in January 2012, resulting in the loss of 32 lives. The disaster reportedly occurred because of the Captain’s decision to alter course nearer to land in order to carry out a sail past close to the coast in deference to the wishes of his Maitre d’ who happened to be a resident of the Island and presumably to impress his Moldavian dancer friend(reportedly travelling without a ticket), both of whom were present on the bridge at the fateful time. While deviating from the ship’s computer-programmed route for this manoeuvre, the Captain appeared smug in his knowledge of the seabed but panicked when he saw waves breaking on the Le Scole reef. The ship’s abrupt turn thereafter resulted in swinging the side of the hull into the reef, leaving a large irreparable gash. The vessel started listing by 20 degrees to starboard with the angle of heel increasing to 70 degrees by the time the ship came to rest. The water flooded the Engine Room causing a loss of propulsive power as well as a power blackout. As the Captain calmly ordered dinner, worried passengers reportedly contacted the Coast Guard which rushed to evacuate the passengers via helicopters. Cognizant of the gravity of the situation, many crew members began readying lifeboats and moving passengers long before the Abandon Ship order was given, which while helping to save countless lives also ironically laid them open to charges of mutiny. The collision occurred around 21:42, the vessel came to rest by 22:44 and less than an hour later while the evacuation of passengers was still underway, the Captain bolted, claiming later that he had fallen down into the lifeboat and couldn’t climb back again owing to the ship’s list. A Coast Guard official could be clearly heard repeatedly abusing the Captain and ordering him back to the vessel for taking charge of the evacuation.The ship subsequently sank and it took almost 10 months of painstaking salvage work to just pull it upright. Permission was then taken to open the hundreds of cabin safes, which were previously inaccessible, to enable the possessions to be handed over to their rightful owners. The next step is to salvage the wreck to be sold as scrap.

A cargo ship Delta Mariner, with a contract pilot on board was making its way up the Tennessee river when it suddenly struck a bridge and tore down a 322 ft section of the span. The pilot had surprisingly manoeuvered the ship towards the one lighted span, without anyone on the ship wondering why none of the other spans in a multi-span bridge were visible. While the white warning lights on the bridge had been out for several years and the other lights too had gone out a few days prior to the incident, the tragedy could still have been averted had the electronic charts available been consulted.

A fire broke out in the engine room of a cruise liner, the Carnival Triumph, leaving the ship dead in the water and the 3000 odd passengers on board stranded at sea in the Gulf of Mexico. Living conditions became absolutely deplorable, as apart from the lack of propulsion, essential services like air-conditioning, lighting, toilets, food preparation and for a time running water, became disrupted. Five days were passed in absolute misery till the ship was eventually towed to a US port( Mobile, Ala).

A freighter was sailing under the Jefferson Avenue bridge on the river Rouge in Detroit when the drawbridge, which was being lifted, dropped down suddenly without warning on top of the passing ship. The drawbridge operator was administered a breathalyzer test and subsequently arrested after she flunked the test.

A 21 yr old Filipino crew member aboard a Japanese car carrier went into premature labour when the ship was some 100 miles off the coast of California. An urgent request for medical assistance resulted in the winching on board of a surgeon and a midwife by a US Coast Guard helicopter, which ensured a safe birth.

A derelict and abandoned cruise ship. the MV Lyubov Orlava, lies adrift in the North Atlantic since the past year or so. The story began with the seizure of the ship by the Canadian Authorities as part of a lawsuit by a cruise operator against its Russian owners. After two years, during which time the ship kept rusting in its berth in St John’s, a private entrepreneur purchased it for $275,000 in a Federal Court process. A family friend thereafter took over the payments hoping to make a 3 to 4 hundred thousand dollars windfall by selling it as scrap in the Dominican Republic. When the ship finally left the Canadian shore, problems began soon enough: the towing cable snapped, leaving the ship stranded in international waters. A supply vessel engaged in the offshore oil industry managed to briefly take the ship under tow before it drifted off yet again. As the vessel kept drifting towards the European coastline, Canada’s transport authority disavowed any responsibility as the vessel was now under private ownership and had moved beyond the country’s waters.

A family of four was on a fishing trip in a 6m runabout anchored South of Motuihe Island when they spotted a 15m yacht at a distance of about 150 meters heading straight at them. By the time the family jumped overboard in panic, the yacht, which was barely 20m away, managed to swerve at the last minute, but hit the senior member of the family bobbing in the water. It later transpired that the Captain of the yacht, while going below decks to attend to some tasks, left his yacht on autopilot, thereby creating a potentially hazardous situation in an harbour packed with fishing boats.

1 Comment

  1. Pervaiz Aslam November 20, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    Amidst so many opportunities, there are bound to be missteps to a relative extent.


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