Operator's Poor Finances Contributed to Freighter's Grounding

Published Aug 2, 2019 1:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) released its final report on the grounding of the Russian freighter Kuzma Minin off Falmouth last December. The agency's investigators concluded that the operator's financial health was an important contributing factor in the casualty.

On December 18, 2018, the Kuzma Minin went aground after dragging her anchor in Falmouth Bay, England in foul weather, coming to a rest just off a beach near the entrance to the main harbor. RNLI first responders reported winds of Force 7-8 and waves of up to 10 feet on scene.

Although the movement towards the shore was quickly detected by the bridge watchkeeper, the actions taken to proceed to sea were interrupted by the anchor becoming fouled by a discarded length of anchor chain, MAIB wrote, confirming a claim by the vessel's operator. As the crew's focus was turned to clearing the anchor, Kuzma Minin was blown towards the shore by 50-knot winds, making way towards shore at more than two knots.

The Minin was successfully refloated on the next high water using local resources. A survey found that the damaged areas of her hull included a 60-foot section of the shell plating forward that was badly holed, cracked and deformed; one breached fuel tank and two breached ballast tanks; and a partially detached starboard bilge keel. 

The agency determined that 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. The vessel had no spare lube oil on board prior to the grounding: the operator had unpaid debts with its bunker supplier at Falmouth from previous visits, so the supplier demanded prepayment before delivering any more product to the vessel, leaving the Munin without any spare lube oil.

Despite the master's attempts to procure more lube oil, none was delivered as of the evening of December 17, and the master opted to remain at anchor overnight. He was aware of the forecast for poor weather, and he left appropriate night orders and discussed the procedures for anchor dragging with his watchstanders. That night, watchstanders ordered the engine on standby as soon as the wind picked up, and the next watch quickly detected the anchor dragging when the vessel began to move at 0425 the next morning. 

The company's financial condition complicated the post-grounding response as well. After the accident, the 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.

Kuzma Minin was sold in March 2019 on the instruction of the UK's Admiralty Marshall in order to pay its owner’s debts, including a salvage award to offset some of the costs incurred by Falmouth Harbour during the vessel’s refloating. Falmouth Harbour is still waiting for the salvage award to be paid, according to MAIB.