Lucky is an understatement. Tarahoa Express, an ageing bulker came within a hair’s breadth of capsize and catastrophic hull failure as it struggled to leave the New Zealand’s Tarahoa Port in bad weather to seek shelter in Tasman Bay on 22 June 2007. Yet again, failures in a system that involved the ship, onshore personnel and port authorities failed, putting seafarer’s lives at risk, in part because many of those involved didn’t know who was responsible for what.
The vessel had previously been drydocked for survey and repairs and cope holes had been left unsealed. While loading iron sand slurry water entered her duct keel through the cope holes. As a result valves in the bilge, ballast and cargo dewatering systems were put out of action.
Uncertainties about responsibilities and lack of established protocols between the ship and ship and shore-based management led to an extra 5,000 tonnes of water being loaded after the control systems had failed.
In deteriorating weather the vessel was forced to leave her mooring at the port with 17,800 cubic metres of water on top of the cargo and another 11,500 in the slack Number 6 ballast hold.
With stability already severely compromised the cargo shifted the cargo shifted causing damage to the aft bulkhead in the Number 1 hold and she took on an increased list.
At about 0155, the ship took what was reported to be a violent roll, which woke the pilot. Concerned at what he thought was a large list and the unusual motion of the ship, the pilot made his way to the bridge where he found only the second mate and the look-out. The pilot suggested to the second mate that he alter the ship’s course to 270º and reduce the engine from full ahead to slow ahead. The second mate wanted to telephone the master, but the pilot more strongly reinforced his view that the course and speed alteration should be effected immediately.
The second mate then carried out the pilot’s request before calling the master.
Says the report:
“When the Taharoa Express sailed from Port Taharoa on 21 June 2007, nobody on the ship, in the ship management company, in the port loading operation and in the various regulatory authorities had sufficient knowledge of the properties of the iron sand on board; nor did they recognise the peril the ship and crew faced from potential structural failure owing to sloshing, and potential capsize owing to cargo shift and the free surface effect of water in the cargo holds of the ship.”
“The regulatory involvement and oversight of the Port Taharoa operation had been below standard for more than 30 years until the introduction of the port safety code corresponded with the timing of a series of incidents involving the Taharoa Express.”
“Every person or entity that had some responsibility for oversight of the ISM system on board the Taharoa Express did not ensure that safety-critical systems were identified and managed, did not ensure that repair and maintenance were being carried out to standard, did not ensure that compliance with New Zealand rules, flag requirements and international conventions was being achieved, and did not ensure that the required level of communication on board and between other stakeholders was being achieved.”
“At the time of the incident the risk assessment undertaken by Maritime NZ and NZ Steel Mining for Port Taharoa in preparation for building a safety management system for the port has not been completed in line with Maritime NZ guidelines and, in its draft form 3 years after having started, was significantly flawed.
“The potential for the Taharoa Express or previous export vessels to capsize and/or sustain major structural failure owing to cargo shift and sloshing by free water in the holds was a foreseeable risk that should have been identified many years before this incident.”
“The Taharoa Express is exhibiting the signs of an ageing bulk carrier that was built in the “optimisation period”. The type of local and structural failures occurring during both normal and abnormal operations suggests the ship should be entered into a more rigorous survey programme until retired from the Taharoa trade.”
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