Jul 122009
 

lous
grmercant

seadiamond A council of Greek military officers has absolved large charting errors by the country’s hydrographic office of responsibility for the sinking of the Louis Cruise Lines Sea Diamond in April, 2007 with the loss of two lives out of 1,200 passengers and crew on board. The finding conflicts with an earlier judicial finding  that significant errors on Greek charts of the area played a key role in the disaster (See video in sidebar).

The council, or Junta, of Hellenic coast guard officers blamed the incident on negligence by the Master, Ioannis Marinos, first engineer Emmanuel Patsos and three employees of the ship’s operator, Core Marine.

The Investigative Council for Accidents at Sea, under the Ministry of Mercantile Marine, gave credence to testimony by the chief coastguard on Santorini that Sea Diamond “sailed very close to the rocky shore ‘with serious and clear danger for its safety’ and did not follow the course approved by the captain” and that “the course followed by the cruise liner – prior to hitting a reef – had not been followed by any other vessel in the past.”

It appears, however, that this apparently innocuous reef was a trojan horse on a Greek chart.

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Following the incident Greek authorities defended the integrity of the navy-owned hydrographic office charts. Louis Cruise Lines contracted Greek survey company AKTI Engineering which discovered that the reef that gashed Sea Diamond was 131 metres from shore instead of the charted 57 metres, and at a depth of 3.5 metres to 5 metres instead of the charted 18 metres to 22 metres, a claimed denied by the Hellenic navy at the time.

While the tip of the bulbous bow is now just 62 metres below the sea surface her stern is at about 180 metres. There are concerns that she may slide off the ledge which currently supports her and into the steep-sided Santorini caldera, making it difficult, and certainly expensive, to recover potential pollutants still aboard.

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Charges have been brought against Sea Diamond master Ioannis Marinos, and five of his officer, with the possibility of a five year jail term, but a trial date Has not yet been set. Marinos and Louis Cuise Lines have been fined a total of 1.17m Euros for environmental pollution by the Ministry of Mercantile Marine.

The junta argues among other things, that the ship’s depth sounder, fathomometer in the US, would have given warning of the reef, an argument that Louis Cruise Lines does not accept. Given the steep sides of the Santorini caldera they might have a point – depth sounders look under the keel, not forward.

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  2 Responses to “The Trojan Horse In a Greek Chart – Sea Diamond”

  1. This story raises several questions:

    Why did the ship follow a course that allegedly not been followed by other ships?

    In areas of steep bottom features, a prudent mariner should proceed in a manner that he/she can stop or turn the ship to avoid a bottom feature indicated by a rapidly shoaling trend on the fathometer. Was the ship proceeding at a safe speed? Were tugs made up to assist in maneuvering the ship in the event of an extremis situation? Was the ship’s bridge team actively monitoring and evaluating trends of the bottom sounder?

    In such a well-traveled area, I’m surprised that chart inaccuracies were not identified and reported. Had reports been filed prior to the grounding? If so, did the hydrographic office act expeditiously to issue a notice to mariners and to update the chart?

    Following the grounding and subsequent hydrographic survey, has a notice to mariners been issued or have the charts been updated?

    Finally, from the perspective of improving equipment, why don’t we use forward-looking bottom sounding equipment?

  2. Unfortunately we probably won’t get many useful answers because the Greek ‘investigation’ system is aimed at establishing liability, who to sue, rather than figuring out the truth and how to avoid such incidents in the future. It’s reports are not publicly available and the investigation was not carried out by fulltime professional investigators, none of which is very helpful to maritime safety. It is a system that has been widely abandoned but which is likely to continue even after the new mandatory IMO casualty investigation code comes into force on 1 January 2010.

    Because of the upcoming courtcase it is unlikely that any party is thinking of anything other than “how can I avoid liability”

    As for other ships not following that course or being that close in we only have one coast guard officer’s allegation on that score. There may, however, be a reason for it.

    Sea Diamond was heading for a mooring that is regarded as giving the best view for passengers and the one the vessel usually used. It is, apparently, the closest to the cliffs and Sea Diamond usually arrived in the bay earlier than the other cruise ships so got the best spot. Other ships didn’t get in that far because Sea Diamond got there first.

    It was a regular run and as far as I can tell tugs were not used to assist cruise ships at their moorings. None of the other ships had tugs either and it may be that there was only one tug available on Santorini.

    Apparently the depth sounder was not on at the time. The sides of the caldera are almost vertical so there would be little warning.

    There are no reports that the inaccuracies on the Greek chart were identified at any earlier stage. Inirtially the hydrographic office denied any errors and it was not until after Akti Engineering did its survey that the hydrographic office resurveyed the area, after which, presumably, it would have issued an NTM.

    While there is commercially available forward-looking sonar it is only just acquiring enough range to be useful. I’ve spoken about that with persons who helped developed something similar for a military application who brought up that issue. There is also the cost, around $50,000, which some companies would find a bit stiff. While such devices are in use on private yachts they have yet to find much of a place in commercial shipping.