CHIRP Maritime: In 2018, We Have Seen a Continuance of Fatalities

Sanchi fire
Sanchi fire

Published Dec 25, 2018 10:22 PM by Jeff Parfitt

As 2018 draws to a close, it is time for us here at CHIRP Maritime to reflect upon this years’ maritime events as reported in the worldwide media: events that in our view have highlighted safety at sea or more to the point, the lack of it. The decades pass, and we see a monotonous recurrence of the same theme. In some cases, such as the operation of enclosed lifeboats, the situation has failed to show improvement.

We have seen the continuance of fatalities within enclosed spaces; vessel collisions resulting in catastrophic outcome; official government investigations that fail to identify root cause and prefer to apportion blame to the human element; ferry casualties continue to rise, and the fishing industry remains the most dangerous commercial occupation on the planet.

So where is all this taking us? Is there a purpose and a position for CHIRP Maritime in the international maritime context, where sophisticated SMS policies and universal IMO approved legislation exists? We would argue there has never been a more important requirement for CHIRP Maritime to exist. 

Why now? Because there is clearly something going wrong. The maritime world has moved on, ignorance and lack of knowledge have been replaced by enlightenment through research and hard statistics. Yet incidents continue to occur with knowledge, and complicity and that cannot be acceptable.

So what have been our discussion points for 2018? 

In January we commented on a serious lifeboat incident on a cruise ship which resulted in considerable feedback, clearly highlighting the concerns of seafarers everywhere. The vessel was in port at the time of the incident. The incident involved the lifeboat falling to the sea with five personnel on board resulting in one hospitalization. 

Our comment at the time: “If serious incidents are occurring on well maintained, high profile vessels such as this cruise ship, these questions have to be asked: What events are occurring on other merchant vessels? What is the real picture of lifeboat incidents? How many seafarers are being killed or seriously injured? These complex enclosed lifeboats appear to be killing more people than they are saving.”

The publication of the official report in 2018 on the loss of the U.S. container vessel El Faro on October 1, 2015 left much to be desired. The thorough investigation and extensive report detailing the causes and recommendations to the various bodies focused the blame on the Master as the principle cause of the loss. But CHIRP would seek to identify the root cause that led the Master to misinterpret the information available to him and his perception of the risk. The final report gave 81 findings and 53 recommendations. Many of the recommendations were directed to the U.S. Coast Guard, class, the IMO, maritime schools and the company SMS. Blaming an individual will not in itself resolve the issue but in fact will detract from identifying and confronting the root cause.

Our comment at the time: “Why was a 40 year vessel permitted to be at sea with no substantial modifications to her safety integrity being authorized by flag and class (or for that matter the vessel managers)? Ample opportunity existed for an upgrade during her 2005-06 conversion from a Ro/Ro to a Ro/Con. Quote from the report “The Coast Guard did not consider the modification a major conversion.” Why was the vessel approved as “seaworthy” for 40 years? For those who think the answer is “It was a Jones Act vessel,” the Jones Act does not circumvent the inherent safety management of the vessel.”

Fishing safety is a perennial issue covering many aspects. Global fishing fatalities are estimated at some 24,000 per year. CHIRP Maritime welcomed the 2018 global safety initiative from the Lloyd's Register Foundation to look at fishing safety in the developing world. Their report particularly focused on areas of high incidence namely: Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. 

Other issues have come to light in the developed world fishing sectors such as the widespread abuse of recreational drugs with resultant incidents including fatalities. Most disturbingly, recent evidence from official sources suggests there is widespread abuse of labor now termed modern slavery. However, the fishing industry remains a challenging area to engage with.

In January, we witnessed the dreadful aftermath of the Sanchi collision resulting in the total loss of the vessel and crew of 32. The tanker was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate, an ultra-light crude, and was ablaze after colliding with a Chinese bulk ship the CF Crystal spewing cargo into the sea. Of the 32 crew members originally missing from the Sanchi, one body was recovered. 

CHIRP Maritime was disappointed that many articles focused on the threat of environmental damage, the conflict of insurance compensation claims and even the purchase of a replacement cargo – What about the crew? For those of you with tanker experience, you may choose to question the operational effectiveness of the inert gas system. For those of us with an insight in to the reality, our thoughts lay with the family and crew of the Sanchi.

As we close this year, we looked at the loss of life in enclosed spaces – will it never end? Lessons learned 40 years ago have been unlearned. Why? And so we looked at the root cause, training or rather lack of it, and investment. It’s all very well having STCW and SOLAS conventions, but clearly paper is not saving lives. Actions not words are what matters. 

However, we choose to finish on a positive note. It is our opinion that the international maritime industry leads the world (including aviation) on the global initiative to clean up our environment. We have waste separation systems, ballast water management, oil/water discharge and emission controls.  There are environment exclusion zones and anchoring prohibitions, a Polar Code and fishing restrictions. Whilst there is still much to do on this long voyage, the international maritime community has embraced this initiative and is playing its part.

This editorial contains only a small sample of major maritime incidents that have occurred across the globe. Seafaring is and will always be the application of common sense combined with knowledge. Seafaring is a hazardous occupation that requires control, but isolating the seafarer to the world of automation and button pushing does not remove the seafarer from the reality of the sea. Outside of the warm, cosy high-tech control room, the sea is as it’s always been – wild and dangerous. It takes skill, knowledge, experience and dedication to safely operate in this environment.

As we move in to 2019, CHIRP Maritime remains the world’s foremost maritime confidential reporting program and continues to receive increasing acknowledgment from those who share a common objective. We will continue to reach out across the globe and challenge those who need to be challenged, and we will remain the voice of the global mariner. 

We wish seafarers everywhere a happy and safe New Year.

CHIRP Maritime putting the Mariner first!

Captain Jeff Parfitt is Director of CHIRP Maritime.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.