?Cape Africa? Towed to False Bay ? IACS Transparency Code Should be Required

The Taiwanese bulk carrier ?Cape Africa? has been towed into False Bay for repairs on the 20-meter hole in its hull. This latest incident has maritime authorities calling for transparency for all commercial vessels as a matter of practice for classification societies.

The 149,535 deadweight ton bulk carrier is being towed to False Bay under the instructions of the South African Maritime Safety Authority. Smit Salvage has already removed all of the fuel oil it could gather, while the Cape Africa floundered 160 miles offshore. Before the ship is repaired, a water-tight coffer dam box will be fitted over the 20 x 2 meter hole in its hull.

Questions are now being raised concerning how and why the ship lost its shell plating, and whether the ship was seaworthy? None of these questions can be determined before a long and involved investigation is performed. However, marine salvors and maritime authorities have a right to access all of the pertinent technical information on a vessel that is in a casualty situation. But, it doesn?t happen, and they end up making decisions based on conjecture and supposition.

The ?Cape Africa? is under dual classification by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) member American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and the non-IACS classification society Taiwan-based China Corporation Register of Shipping.

Under IACS requirement URS31, owners of bulk carriers over 150 meters in length and built before July 1, 1998 must have an assessment of their shells and, they must be brought up to post-1998 standards.

The new Unified Regulations can be very expensive for owners, as the ship must be put into dry dock for initial survey and measured. The ship is released to go back into service, while analysis is done as to how much steel will be required to meet the new standards. The ship is then brought back to dry dock again for completion of the re-fitting of steel to ensure compliance.

The ABS website states: The Cape Africa is classed 61528; A1, Bulk Carrier, 61528; AMS, 61528; ACCU by ABS. It completed Special Survey Number 2 in October, 2001. The last annual survey was completed in Taiwan on October 26, 2003. The vessel is subject to the Enhanced Survey Program for bulk carriers, but is not required to comply with the IACS S31criteria until July, 2006.

The ?Cape Africa? was built in 1991 in an era of lightweight construction and high-tensile steel application. The questions as to how and why the ship lost its plating could not be immediately answered. These questions surrounding the casualty relate to areas that are under the supervision of the ship?s classification society.

Although ABS has a good accident record, the organization has come under intense scrutiny for its classification of the ill-fated tanker ?Prestige,? which sank off the Spanish coast, creating an environmental nightmare. ABS is currently being sued by the Basque.

If IACS is the ruling body for classification societies, then it has a fiduciary and social responsibility to all maritime authorities to require that all ship owners under its authority maintain transparency and put facts of their commercial vessels in the public domain.