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Sweden Fines Ferry Officers for Negligence Causing Grounding and Oil Spill

ferry Marco Polo aground
TT-Line ferry Marco Polo remains aground and leaking oil while two officers were fined for negligence in their navigation leading to the grounding (Swedish Coast Guard)

Published Oct 27, 2023 8:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Swedish prosecutors today announced fines for the captain and third officer of the ro/pax ferry Marco Polo (15,955 gross tons) charging that the two officers acted recklessly navigating the ferry which contributed to its grounding and an ongoing environmental clean-up. This came as the Swedish Coast Guard is calling up additional resources to help with the ongoing efforts and elected officials warned it could take a year to fully recover.

The ferry, which is operated by TT-Line of Germany, had departed Trelleborg, Sweden on October 21 sailing for Karlshamn, Sweden when it reported grounding on Sunday, October 22. The Swedish Coast Guard assisted in the evacuation of 41 passengers and 10 of the 30 crew onboard. 

During the subsequent investigation led by the Coast Guard along with the public prosecutor, they reconstructed the events leading up to the grounding and confirmed earlier reports that the ship touched ground sustaining damage and was likely leaking, but continued under its own power before grounding a second time. The hull of the vessel was damaged causing it to take on water and as of Thursday, the Coast Guard is reporting that 14 cubic meters of oil waste has been recovered from the sea and nine cubic meters from the shoreline. Up to approximately three miles of the coastline has been fouled by the oil. 

According to the prosecutor, the third mate was in command of the ferry before the first event. Despite reduced visibility, including fog in the area and nighttime darkness, he was proceeding only using the vessel’s electronic chart. The Coast Guard believes the electronic position system malfunctioned while prosecutors charged him with negligence for failing to use other navigational aids such as the radar or to add a lookout.

Based on their interviews with the crew, the Coast Guard investigation shows the crew thought they were to the east of Hanö, a small island off the southeast coast of Sweden, when in fact they were in the channel between Hanö and the mainland. After the first grounding, the master of the ferry took command and he too continued to rely on the electronic chart. The ship went hard aground during the second grounding reporting the incident around 6:25 a.m.

The two officers were each fined with one fine of approximately $3,600 and the other being approximately $1,500. The prosecutor highlighted to reporters that Swedish law provides mild penalties for negligence, which these crimes were judged to be, versus harsher penalties for intentional acts. However, the Coast Guard still can impose a water pollution fee and an additional investigation is underway regarding the seaworthiness of the vessel based on the malfunctions.

 

Shoreline clean-up continues with more resources being added to the effort (Swedish Coast Guard)

 

The Coast Guard highlights that it is responsible for the management of oil pollution in the water and that it has strung a boom around the ferry. Overflights showed that the slick has dissipated but they believe oil continues to leak from the ferry and is under the surface. They positioned clean-up crews near shore trying to prevent the oil from washing up and this weekend are assigning 24 trainees to join the clean-up efforts. In addition, they will be calling up 30 people from the Home Guard in the coming days to join the effort. Additional protective equipment is also being sent to the local base as well as tools such as lighting.

The concern is that they estimate up to 300 cubic meters of oil remain aboard the grounded ship. The longer the Marco Polo remains aground, the Coast Guard highlights the dangers increase. They also reported that the clean-up efforts are being hampered by bad weather.

TT-Line is responsible for presenting the salvage plan that will be approved by both the Swedish Transport Agency and the Coast Guard. The plan is still being prepared, but the Coast Guard reports the vessel’s owners are adding salvage resources to the area. They have reportedly positioned two tugs nearby able to respond if required. The Marco Polo remains aground.