Cemfjord: Passage Planning and Flag State Exemptions
The U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released an investigation report into the capsize of the cement carrier Cemfjord on January 2, 2015, citing problems with passage planning as a cause for the incident and also flag state exemptions that potentially affected vessel safety.
The fully laden, Cyprus registered cement carrier capsized in extremely violent sea conditions in the Pentland Firth off the northern coast of Scotland. The rapid nature of the capsize denied the crew an opportunity to issue a distress message or the chance to conduct a controlled abandonment of the vessel.
None of Cemfjord’s eight crew were found, and they are all assumed to have perished.
The extraordinarily violent and fatal sea conditions encountered in the Pentland Firth were predictable and could have been avoided, state the investigators. Passage planning requires that all hazards are taken into account and avoided.
“As well as insufficient passage planning, the master’s decision to press ahead with the voyage, rather than seek shelter, was almost certainly influenced by an underestimation of the severity of the conditions, his personal determination to succeed and an unwillingness to turn the vessel across the heavy sea.”
It is likely that Cemfjord’s stability condition did not meet the required criteria making the vessel more vulnerable to capsize. Cemfjord was at sea with significant safety shortcomings. There is no evidence that any consideration was given to delaying departure until these problems were fixed. Instead, Flag State exemptions from safety regulations were approved by Cyprus to allow the ship to proceed to sea.
Cemfjord was at sea with deficiencies relating to its rescue boat launching arrangements and bilge pumping system in the void spaces beneath the cement cargo holds. Both shortcomings were subject to Flag State approved exemptions from safety regulations. However, the exemption regarding the rescue boat was not applicable to the equipment on board. This resulted from misunderstandings caused by the imprecise nature of the communication between the vessel’s managers, the Flag State and the Flag State’s recognized organization, states the investigation report.
The Flag State’s process for managing requests for exemptions from international safety regulations was also found to lack rigor. Additionally, Flag State inspections of the vessel over many years in Poland were ineffective and did not deliver the intended levels of assurance.
Since the accident, Cemfjord’s managing company, Brise Bereederungs GmbH, has implemented changes aimed at improving the safe operation of its cement carrying vessels and the safety culture of its crews. The changes include enhancements to its vessels’ stability management and weather forecasting capabilities in order to aid passage planning.
The Department of Merchant Shipping for the Republic of Cyprus has introduced a new process for managing requests from shipping companies for Flag State exemptions from international safety regulations. DNV-GL has appointed designated Flag State liaison officers to improve dialogue and enhance mutual understanding between itself and Flag States.
The report is available here.