She’s powerful, unpredictable and pushy. If you don’t keep a firm hold it could mean a rocky relationship gets very deadly.
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Let’s talk about Chandra. That’s not his real name but he was a real master, 44 years old with 27 years seafaring experience and seven years as a master.
The Coop Venture His vessel was the Coop Venture, a Panamanian registered Panamax bulk carrier of 36,080 gross tones witha crew of four Indians and 15 Filipinos. She carried a cargo of
40,280 metric tones of corn from New Orleans, United States, to Shibushi Bay in Kagoshima prefecture, Japan.
A little after 07.30 on July 22, 2002, the ship arrived in Shibushi Bay and began discharging her cargo. Already, there were warnings that Typhoon number 9 was on it’s way and expected to pass south of the bay.
Japan, Kagoshima and ShibushiBay (Image: NASA)
The next day Chandra spoke with the local agent, we’ll call him Koichi. Koichi told Chandra that Japanese authorities were recommending that vessels evacuate from Shibushi Bay. Chandra asked where they should anchor and Kiochi told him that large ships normally sheltered in Kagoshima Bay.
At 10.40 on the 24th Chandra suspended cargo operations and set sail for Kagoshima Bay. Then he changed his mind, it would take 11 hours to reach Kagoshima Bay in rough weather, he didn’t know Kagoshima Bay, and he’d have to return to Shibushi Bay anyway. Staying where he was might shorten the time needed to complete the cargo discharge by a day or more.
Chandra put the starboard anchor out to six shackles on the sandy bottom of the bay 25 metres down and kept an eye on the approaching storm With weather fax, Navtex amd Inmarsat-C.
The officer on watch noted down the wind speed and direction of the typhoon.
At noon the typhoon was recorded travelling west at 17 knots with a maximum wind speed of 127 kilometres an hour. Later the typhoon was downgraded to a severe tropical storm with a maximum wind speed of a little over 100 kilometres an hour expected 24 hours later. In Shibushi Bay the wind speed was about 36 kilometres an hour.
Chandra’s decision seemed to be confirmed when a second large bulk carrier anchored in the northern part of the bay that evening. He was confident that the typhoon would die down.
At 06.00 the next morning Shibushi Bay entered the typhoons gale zone. At 09.00 it was predicted that Shibushi Bay would be within the right, and most dangerous, side of the typhoon.
Chandra kept his anchor at six shackles, expecting that the wind would drop and tht he could maintain the vessel’s position with the anchor, engine and rudder.
At 16.00 the north wind suddenly grew to more than 54 kilometres an hour. Chandra reinforced the anchor watch but stayed where he was.
24 minutes later, Chandra started the ship’s engines. He was going to fight the typhoon with engine, rudder and six shackles.
Then the right side of typhoon ripped into Shibushi Bay. A half hour later the wind changed to North East, pushing the waves up to 3 metres.
Over the next two and a half hours typhoon number 9 dug its claws into Shibushi Bay. By 19.30 it switched direction to East North East, with winds gusting to more than 100 kilometres an hour with 5 metre waves that grew as a swell entered the bay.
At 20.30 Chandra lost the fight – the wind was gusting up to almost148 kilometres an hour with 8 metre waves and the anchor was dragging.
Ten minutes later Chandra tried to heave anchor but could only bring in two of the six shackles, there was too much tension on the anchor chain to bring in more.
For another 35 minutes Chandra fought a battle he’s already lost and at 21.15 the Coop Venture grounded in 10 metres of water and snapped in two amidships sending its cargo and nearly 350 tonnes of fuel oil into the sea. Chandra gave the order to abandon ship and 19 officers and crew donned hard hats and lifejackets and boarded the lifeboat.
The Coop Venture splits amidships
As the lifeboat lowered on the falls in the storm it was smashed against the hull of the stricken ship. The crew evacuated the damaged lifeboat. Fifteen made it to shore and safety.
The ships was a total loss. Worse, four crew members died, four were injured. Typhoon Number 9 won the fight.
The remains of the lifeboat, smashed against the hull
The ship that had given Chandra confidence had anchored in the north east part of Shibushi Bay on the advice of a pilot and put down ten shackles. Her anchor dragged, too, but she did not ground.
The Foreigner Factor
Green segments indicates foreign ship casualties (Left) relative to Japanese vessels and (Right) foreign seafarers dead or missing compared to Japanese
A 2005 report by Japan’s Maritime Accident Inquiry Agency shows that foreign vessels account for just one in 20 casualties in Japanese waters but 16 out of 20 seafarer deaths. That’s because most of those foreign vessels are total losses.
What happened? In part, Chandra was a victim of confirmation bias, a dangerous influence on decision-making. He didn’t want to lose time discharging cargo if he didn’t have to. The 11 hour journey to a bay he didn’t know discouraged him from following the advice of the Japanese authorities. The weather information available to him after he’d left the berth seemed to confirm his decision to stay put. The anchoring of the second vessel in the northern part of Shibushi Bay further confirmed his decision.
When a critical decision can cost lives and lose the ship it’s a good idea to question the grounds for that decision. It’s called critical thinking. Does the presence of another ship really prove that your own is in a safe position? Or has the other master made a bad decision?
Typhoons are notoriously unpredictable. Maybe Chandra could have, and should have, found an alternative way to maintain contact with the local agent and his moment-by-moment knowledge of what the storm was actually doing.
Wind direct, speed and wave height effects
Japan's Maritime Accident Inquiry Agency ran a simulation of conditions in Shibushi Bay that day and found that Chandra could have held his own of he'd only been dealing with a head wind. The holding power of the anchor reduced as the power of the wind on the vessel lifted chain from the seabed but it would have held.
The villain of the piece, the typhoon's secret weapon, was the wave action. Adding that to the wind speed, with six shackles down, Chandra's vessel lost holding power when the wind hit 36 kilometres an hour. When the wind hit 90 kilometres an hour, Chandra needed more than twelve shackles to hold the ship, he only had six.
Above: With headwind only, the vessel holds firm with six shackles. Bottom: Waves double the required shackles.
So when you drop the hook for a typhoon, as far as possible, regularly update yourself from local knowledge on what's happening. When anchoring, bear in mind that the winds will gust as much as twice the given maximum wind speed, and waves can reach double their average maximum height.
Above all, think twice about whether you're going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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