New Third Mate Grounded Empress, Master's Decision 'Poor'

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Jul 242008


Washington, DC – The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the probable cause of the grounding of the Empress of the North was the failure of the officer of the watch and the helmsman to navigate the turn at Rocky Island, which resulted from the master’s decision to assign an inexperienced, newly licensed junior third mate to the bridge watch from midnight to 4:00 a.m. The third mate was not familiar with the route, the vessel’s handling characteristics, or the equipment on the vessel’s bridge.

“The flawed decision making in this accident created the potential for a catastrophic disaster,” said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “Those in leadership positions need to make sure they consider every option possible when making critical decisions that could put lives at risk.”

On May 14, 2007, the 300-foot passenger vessel Empress of the North, operated by Majestic America Line, grounded on a charted rock at the intersection of Lynn Canal and Icy Strait in southeastern Alaska, about 20 miles southwest of Juneau. The vessel was negotiating a turn west out of Lynn Canal into Icy Strait on its way to Glacier Bay, the next stop on a 7-day cruise, carrying 206 passengers and 75 crewmembers. The vessel struck the rock, known as Rocky Island, which was illuminated by a flashing green navigation light.

Passengers and crewmembers were evacuated safely without injuries. The vessel sustained damage to its starboard underside and propulsion system.

In the report adopted yesterday, the Board noted that because of the senior third mate’s illness, the master replaced him with the new junior third mate for the midnight-to-4:00 a.m. watch. The third mate held an unlimited, any-ocean third officer’s license but had never before stood watch on the vessel or traveled the waters of Lynn Canal.

The master had ample time to consider the watchkeeping assignment, the Board stated. However, the Safety Board investigators found no evidence that the master considered other options and did little to prepare the junior third mate for his first underway watch.

The third mate lacked any knowledge of the route and should not have been left to make this critical maneuver on his own, the Board said. The Safety Board concluded that the master jeopardized the vessel’s safety by allowing the third mate to stand a bridge watch before he was familiar with the route and the bridge equipment.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board recommended that state and U. S. maritime academies use the circumstances of the accident to teach students about their responsibilities as newly licensed officers. The Safety Board also recommended that the Passenger Vessel Association inform its members about the circumstances of the accident.

A synopsis of the Board’s report, including the probable cause and recommendations, is available on the NTSB’s website,, under “Board Meetings.” The Board’s full report will be available on the website in several weeks.

Napoli – Time To Box Clever

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Apr 232008

Some container industry executives might have been asking “Where’s the love?” when the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch report on the structural failure of the MSC Napoli landed on their desks this week, most, however would have had an inkling that a rap on the knuckles was in sight.

MSC Napoli was beached in Branscombe Bay, Dorset, by its master after a crack appeared in its hull by way of the engine room during a storm. Analysis showed a weakness in that part of the hull that went undetected because measurements of resistance to buckling were only taken in an area amidships of four tenths of her length overall, which did not include the engine room and which was the only area required to be checked by the classification society rules.

It was not a problem of fatigue or corrosion, but inherent in the design. Typically, a ship structure will maintain much the same configuration along its length, as frames diminish in size towards the bow and stern they effectively match the reduced global bending loads along the length of the ship away from the midships area. In the MSC Napoli, however, the structure was changed from longitudinal to transverse a little fore of the engine room, where stresses were almost as great as at amidships, but the structure itself was weak under the sort of compressive loading the vessel experienced.

A later survey of 1,500 similar vessels, with input from classification societies, discovered another 12 ships with similar problems that needed immediate attention and another 10 which required further investigation. Data on another eight ships had yet to be provided by the classification society concerned.

MAIB comments: “the commercial advantages of containerisation and intermodalism such as speed and quick turnarounds appear to have become the focus of the industry at the expense of the safe operation of its vessels. The industry is very schedule driven, and operators inevitably have an eye on the timetable when making key decisions.”

The MSC Napoli report identifies:”…the decisions to: sail without an operational governor; sail in excess of the maximum permissible seagoing bending moments in order to allow greater flexibility for
the time of departure; to operate at near maximum bending moments when underway; and to keep the ship’s speed as fast as possible when pounding into heavy seas, were symptomatic of the industry’s ethos to carry as much as possible as quickly as possible. However, although these decisions were undoubtedly made in the belief that the ship was operating within acceptable limits, this investigation has shown that unknown variables such as whipping effect and container weights are able to erode or
eliminate the safety margins in place.”

Containerships, with long, relatively narrow designs, are particularly subject to the effects of bending moments in rough seas and the ‘whipping effect’, which can typically increase wave bending
moments on container ships from between 10 per cent and 50 per cent. Any increase in the wave
bending moment above the normal design level would inevitably erode the margin between loading and hull strength. However, MAIB points out : “it is apparent that whipping effect is currently very difficult to reliably calculate or model. Classification societies are therefore unable to predict its magnitude or effect on a ship’s structure, with any confidence, and as a consequence they are not generally calculated during the structural design process.”

Basically, safety margins may be far smaller than accounted for. Indeed, the increase in the size of containerships has outpaced the regulatory environment. Says MAIB: “At the time of build, no buckling checks were required by the applicable rules, and none were made. However, as the current
requirements specified in UR S11 leaves buckling checks outside the 0.4L amidships region to the discretion of individual classification societies, there is a possibility that even if MSC Napoli had been built after 1992, the lack of buckling strength in way of her engine room would still not have been identified. Importantly, it is highly probable that there are a number of other container ships of a similar design to MSC Napoli which are also vulnerable to localised buckling in severe conditions. It is essential that such designs are quickly identified and remedial action is taken where necessary”

Buckling strength, says MAIB must be measured globally, along the length of the ship, not just the .4 of a ships length amidships. This was less important for yesterday’s shorter vessels: It’s easy to break a full-length matchstick, but harder to snap shorter lengths, for instance. A single common method for establishing buckling strength is vital for today’s containerships.

How soon is that likely to happen? Lloyd’s List quotes IACS principal technical officer Colin Wright “We always respond to MAIB recommendations and they have sent out a message that says please get on with it. It is already in hand, though when it will be finished is another matter,” he said. Not, prehaps, the most exciting of responses.

“No ship is unbreakable. Classification societies apply structural strength limitations which are contingent on the application of good seamanship and prudent operational practice. It has been apparent during the course of this investigation that these caveats are not widely recognised by many in the container ship industry. Unlike other large vessels such as bulk carriers, which can frequently disregard the effect of the sea, due to their lines and limited engine power, container ships cannot. It is essential that companies recognise this difference and put in place controls and procedures to ensure that container ships operate within safe limits at all times,” says the MAIB report.

There were, however, other safety issues raised in the report that were related to container operations. Calculations showed a great discrepancy between declared container weights and their actual weights, which might not have directly led to the hull failure but would have contributed to the reduction of the safety margin between the total bending moment experienced and the strength of the hull. Without accurately weighing containers, the stresses on the hull cannot be accurately predicted.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no dedicated trade organisation for the containershipping industry to provide guidance on best practices. In its report on the collapse of containers on the Annabella, MAIB commented “Working practices relating to the planning, loading, transportation and discharge of containers are largely unregulated and have been understandably focussed on the need to maximise efficiency and speed of operation. While key industry players will attest that safety is of paramount
concern, evidence obtained during this and other MAIB investigations into container shipping accidents suggests that in reality, the safety of ships, crews and the environment is being compromised by the overriding desire to maintain established schedules or optimise port turn round times.”

In response, the International Chamber of Shipping has convened a group of container ship industry experts and, with the assistance of the World Shipping Council, has started work to develop and publish a code of best practice for the industry. The code is expected to be completed by the end of 2008, after which it will be presented to IMO for adoption.

The Maritime And Coastguard Agency has added inspections of container weight and ship longitudinal strength checks on containerships to its paper to the Paris MOU Port State Control Subcommittee on the subject of operational checks and the human factor in loading of ships and whether adequate checks were being carried out prior to sailing. The UK will lead a task force to consider these checks for a concentrated inspection campaign planned for 2010, taking into account the findings of the MSC Napoli report.

The message from MAIB to the industry is clear: Get your act together, or, at least, learn to box clever.

Praiseworthy MSC Napoli Crew Knew The Drill

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Apr 222008

We’ll be covering the MAIB’s 56 page and two annexe MSC Napoli report in more depth anon but a footnote got our immediate attention:

“It was evident during the investigation that the master had placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of safety drills and the maintenance of lifesaving equipment, and that the preparation and lowering of lifeboats had been well-practiced in accordance with company policy.”

No-one was hurt during the evacuation from the ship, and that may be owed to the seriousness with which the master took safety procedures and drills.

The abandon ship did not go without a hitch, “the crewman sitting nearest the forward painter release could not pull the release pin sufficiently far to allow the painter to disengage. He was squeezed between two other crew and his movement was restricted by his immersion suit. The painter was eventually cut by the chief engineer, who had a knife, and was able to reach the painter via the lifeboat’s forward hatch.”

Conditions in the lifeboat were far from easy: “The motion of the lifeboat was violent and the atmosphere in the lifeboat was very uncomfortable; all of the crew suffered from sea sickness. Although the lifeboat was certified to accommodate up to 32 persons, the 26 crew wearing immersion suits and lifejackets were very cramped. They were very warm and several felt faint and de-hydrated. The situation became more tolerable after the crew cut off the gloves from their immersion suits with the chief engineer’s knife. This allowed them to use their hands more effectively, and they were able to drink from plastic drinking water bottles
they had brought with them.”

Says the MAIB report: “The abandonment of a vessel in any conditions is problematic. Therefore, the abandonment and successful recovery of the 26 crew from MSC Napoli, in the severe conditions experienced, is praiseworthy. By the time the master arrived at the lifeboat embarkation position, the crew were on board and wearing immersion suits and lifejackets, the engine was running, extra water had been stowed on board, and VHF radios, SARTs and the EPIRB were ready for use. Despite the vessel rolling heavily, the enclosed lifeboat was lowered without incident and then manoeuvred clear of the stricken vessel. Although there were a number of practical issues that should be noted, this successful abandonment clearly demonstrates the importance and value of regular maintenance and drills.”

Sadly, drills are often carried out for the sake of filling in bits of paper, and sometimes not at all, but drills are a pretty good insurance policy.

Container Shifters To Get Bloody Knuckles For Napoli Grounding?

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Apr 162008

Whatever the details of the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch report on the 18th January 2007 structural failure and grounding of the MSC Napoli, scheduled for release on 22nd April, the container industry can expect to be walking around with painfully rapped knuckles for sometime afterwards. The size of the investigation and the importance that the MAIB places on it can be judged by the fact that 8m euro, around $13m, is understood to have been spent on computer simulation alone. Last September saw the first shot across the industry’s bows with the release of the MAIB’s report on the February 2007 Annabella incident in the Baltic in which several containers in a stack collapsed during heavy weather with damage to three containers carrying a hazardous cargo, butylene gas. The usually restrained MAIB forcefully called for a code of practice for the industry to prevent further disasters: “(Napoli and Annabella) identify a compelling need for a code of practice for the container shipping industry”. That call is likely to be reiterated with even greater force in the Napoli report itself. Early this year a MAIB official told MAC: “The investigation has been complex and has required in-depth research in several areas including the vessel’s structure and container vessel operation.” These incidents are far from new. MAIB itself investigated similar issues surrounding a stack collapse, and leakage of a tank of hazardous material, in 2001. In 2006 at least 300 containers were lost in a half dozen incident in European waters and some estimated put the worldwide level of losses at 10,000 teu. It is expected that the report will, in part, focus on how the speed of container operations has outstripped the speed of communications between the various parts of the transport chain, leading to the loss of control of stacking operations due to poor information flow between shippers, planners, the loading terminal and the ship itself arising from the ‘need for speed’. Container accidents are expensive. According to the North of England P&I Club, of 16 cargo claims in 2007/2007 only two involved containers but those two accounted for 30 per cent of the $1m losses. Many of the increasing number of container-related claims occur in heavy weather. “Container losses and collapsed stows in heavy weather continue to occur,” says the club’s head of loss-prevention Tony Baker. ‘Such weather is not altogether unexpected and it has highlighted a number of areas of poor practice that need to be rectified if the industry is to keep a lid on spiralling claims costs.” Baker says there are four principal factors behind recent incidents: failure of automatic twist-locks in lashing systems; failure to stow and secure containers in accordance with the ship’s cargo securing manual; mis-declared overweight containers; and failure to anticipate and minimise the effect of heavy weather. Another issue that may be explored in the MAIB report is the lack of knowledge about the dynamic forces affecting container lashing systems. There has been little study of how the real-world compares to computer models and how they are affected by ship design. Marin, the Netherlands Maritime Institute, has a two-year ongoing study, Lashings@Sea, supported by eight ship owners, three lashing suppliers, three class societies and the Dutch Department of Transport. At the moment, is seems, nobody really knows quite what’s going on when heavy seas and containerships get together at a time when the pressure is on to reduce lashing to cut turnaround times and costs. Of concern also is that the rise in container accidents appears to parallel the introduction of fully automated locks, International Standards Organisation standards have not kept pace with the development of FAL systems, and destandardisation of container sizes have added more complexity to the mix. Of course, the real question isn’t what the MAIB will say, it will certainly run along the lines of “get your act together”. The real question is whether anyone will be listening.

MAIB hits container dangers

Container Crunch Too Much

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