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Grounding: Vessel Low on Oil, No P&I Insurance

Kuzma Minin

By The Maritime Executive 2019-08-03 23:14:50

The U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report into the grounding of the bulk carrier Kuzma Minin noting unexpected pressures due to financial issues.

The Kuzma Minim grounded after dragging its anchor during strong winds in Falmouth Bay, England, and was successfully refloated on the next high water. Damage included shell plate deformation and breached tanks. 

Although the movement towards the shore was quickly detected by the bridge watch-keeper, the actions taken to proceed to sea were interrupted by the anchor becoming fouled by a discarded length of anchor chain. As focus was turned to clearing the anchor, Kuzma Minin was blown towards the shore at a speed of over two knots.

Falmouth’s harbourmaster used local resources to refloat the vessel, but concerns over Kuzma Minin’s lack of P&I insurance cover, and its owner’s lack of co-operation in appointing a salvor, caused unexpected pressures.

The financial situation of the Murmansk Shipping Company meant that Kuzma Minin’s master was unable to replenish bunkers and lube oil which influenced his decision to remain at anchor on a lee shore when strong winds were forecast.

Kuzma Minin’s lack of P&I insurance led to concerns over responsibility for salvage payment which hindered the appointment of experts and the ability to secure the services of an additional tug that was on passage nearby.

Analysis from the report:

Decision to remain at anchor

In view of the low levels of bunkers and engine lube oil on board, Kuzma Minin’s master had little option but to go to anchor in Falmouth Bay on December 15, 2018. The vessel had been unable to refuel before leaving Terneuzen, the Netherlands,and could not have reached Ceuta. Although marine diesel for use in the generators had been delivered following payment, the vessel was still unable to embark on its intended passage due to the lack of any spare lube oil and the low quantity of HFO on board.

On December 17, with southerly winds up to 40 knots forecast, Kuzma Minin’s master faced the dilemma of either staying at anchor off a lee shore or proceeding to sea in rough conditions. In addition to having no reserve of main engine lube oil, his decision to remain at anchor was probably influenced by the presence of other vessels at anchor nearby and the potential discomfort of loitering at slow speed in rough seas. Furthermore, Falmouth harbor had not raised any concerns about Kuzma Minin’s position.

Nonetheless, that Kuzma Minin’s master understood the risks of remaining at anchor are indicated by his actions to ensure that the bridge watch-keepers were alert to the possibility of the ship dragging, the use of an anchor swinging circle on the ECS, and having the main engine ready for immediate use in winds stronger than 17 m/s. These precautions also indicate that he was prepared to sail if required.

Dragging anchor and response

When the southerly wind started to gust in excess of 50 knots, Kuzma Minin began to yaw, creating increased load on the anchor and its cable. Although the use of seven shackles of cable in a depth of about 21 meters at high water provided a scope of about 9:1, this was insufficient to cope with the forces generated by the wind acting on the bulk carrier, which was in ballast and inevitably heaving in the four to five meter swell. In such circumstances, and with Kuzma Minin only one nautical mile from the shore, increasing the scope of the cable by utilizing more of the 11 shackles available might have provided greater surety of the anchor holding.

Nonetheless, the breaking out of the anchor at 0425 was quickly noticed by the chief officer, who immediately alerted the master and the rest of the crew. The master’s decision to weigh anchor and sail was prompt, and his use of the main engine checked Kuzma Minin’s movement towards the shore as well as taking the weight off the cable as the anchor was heaved.

Kuzma Minin quickly gathered leeway once the anchor was aweigh, and the distraction of the fouled anchor cost valuable time and sea room. The master had been informed that the length of chain caught on the anchor’s flukes was substantial, and he was concerned that by continuing to maneuver with the chain still attached might result in damage to the anchor, windlass or even the bulk carrier’s propeller.

Neither the bosun nor the master had any way of knowing that the chain fouling the anchor was only 28 meters in length and that it was not impeding Kuzma Minin’s departure.
Over the next 17 minutes, Kuzma Minin was beam-to the wind and making over two knots leeway towards the beach. The attempt to clear the port anchor was unsuccessful, the master was unable to turn Kuzma Minin with full engine power and helm, and the use of the port anchor as a break was ineffective.

Consequently, grounding could not be avoided. However, stopping the engine before the vessel grounded probably prevented damage to the propeller, the use of which was required to refloat the vessel.

Recovery operation

The co-ordination of Kuzma Minin’s recovery was left entirely to the Falmouth harbourmaster, who drew together local resources in time to move the bulk carrier off Gyllyngvase beach around the first high water following its grounding. Such a response was timely and prevented a potentially more prolonged salvage operation and pollution.

The SOSREP’s ‘trigger’ for exercising the government’s powers and responsibilities is when, in his opinion, there is a threat of significant pollution. In this case, while firmly on the beach with the weather abating, the SOSREP did not consider that Kuzma Minin posed an immediate threat of pollution. Even had the SOSREP assumed responsibility at an early stage, his control of the incident would likely have been passive and only when, in his opinion, the management of the incident was not in the public interest would he have asserted more control by giving directions.

The U.K.'s National Contingency Plan (NCP) states: Many incidents originating within a harbor area are handled entirely adequately by implementing the local port or harbor contingency plans and through using the combined efforts of the harbor master, salvors, ship owners and crew, and the MCA. When notified of an incident within a harbor area, the SOSREP monitors and tacitly approves the response actions and proposals.

Therefore, despite the harbourmaster’s assessment of the incident severity, and his expectation of early intervention, the SOSREP’s actions of maintaining a watching brief and intervening only if the initial attempt had been unsuccessful, were in accordance with the NCP. Nonetheless, in the circumstances, an early clarification of SOREP’s position and intentions would have been useful to the harbourmaster.

However, without a salvor and the support of Kuzma Minin’s owners the harbourmaster struggled to implement the response arrangements identified in the NCP. It is also evident that MSCO not appointing a salvor, and the absence of P&I cover for the vessel placed financial pressures on the harbourmaster not normally anticipated in such situations. Together with his concern about managing a damaged vessel within harbor limits without a professional salvor, the liability for costs undoubtedly contributed to the harbourmaster’s repeated requests for the SOSREP’s intervention. However, even if the SOSREP had taken a more proactive approach, any costs incurred by Falmouth Harbour in complying with a direction from the SOSREP would still have had to be recovered from Kuzma Minin’s owner.

Insurance

A significant underlying contributor to Kuzma Minin’s grounding and the harbourmaster’s concerns during the vessel’s recovery, was the lack of investment by its owner, MSCO. Unpaid debts had led to the withdrawal of the vessel’s P&I insurance, bunkers not being taken in Terneuzen, delay and difficulty in procuring fuel and lube oil in Falmouth, the withdrawal of agency services in Falmouth, and the unavailability of the offshore support vessel Kaouenn during the refloating operation.

The lack of insurance almost certainly contributed to the owner’s lack of co-operation over the appointment of a salvor, which could have become essential had the initial recovery operation not been successful. It also placed the financial responsibility and liability for the salvage solely on the Falmouth Harbour Authority. The insurance available to ports and harbors does not cover wreck removal unless the safety of navigation is compromised or the port or harbor has legal liability, neither of which were applicable in this case.

As the U.K. was party to the Nairobi and Bunker Conventions, Kuzma Minin was required to have insurance cover in place to enter a U.K. port. However, the bulk carrier had not had P&I insurance cover in place for over three months. This was probably not identified during the vessel’s port state control inspection in Terneuzen because the insurance certificate was still on board. P&I insurance is essential to ensure that recovery operations are not hindered by concerns over the responsibility of payment and the appointment of salvage experts. However, the incidence of vessels not having P&I cover is very low, and having insurance in place is a requirement many ports seldom check in detail. 

The report is available here.