Sep 022009

Riverdance "I've fallen over"

Britain’s MAIB has issued a safety flyer to the cargo industry to coincide with the release of it’s report into the grounding of the Bahamas registered ro-ro cargo vessel, Riverdance, on a popular beach near Blackpool, Lancashire.

The report also gives some insight into the challenges facing maritime investigators: “In the days following the grounding of Riverdance, poor weather prevented access to the vessel for all except those directly involved in the salvage effort, under the oversight of the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP). Since MAIB inspectors were prevented from boarding the vessel, and salvors’ personnel did not prioritise the recovery of perishable evidence, valuable information was lost regarding the vessel’s physical condition upon grounding, together with much of the ship’s documentation and her operational records.

Additionally, although Riverdance was fitted with a voyage data recorder, the equipment had not been commissioned at the time of the incident.

image To follow the logistics chain, hauliers, or trucking companies, did not factor in the possibility of rough seas on cargo security. As a result, while vehicles themselves were secured by trestles to the deck the pallets within were not. Cargo shifting in heavy seas detracted from the vessel’s stability as it hit increasingly rough seas.

Says MAIB: “Hauliers and shippers should be provided with guidance on the additional securing of cargo needed on trailers intended for shipping by sea, to withstand the greater forces that may be experienced.”

The master of the vessel did not carry out stability calculations before departure and could not do so because key data was not available: trucks were not weighed or inspected before being put aboard.


An MAIB recommendation says: “The stability of the vessel and security of its cargo should always be verified before sailing… Terminal operators should have procedures in place to ensure vessels are given accurate cargo information, including the weight and stowage of cargo to be loaded, so that vessels can accurately calculate their stability… The owner’s shore based crisis management team did not have access to accurate stability information. Had this been available, they would have been able to provide better support to the master.”

There is, says MAIB a need for ”…an urgent study into stability and operational issues which impinge on the safety of ro-ro vessels operating from UK ports. In particular, the study should identify how the stowage plan should be produced and implemented, how masters can establish the stability of their vessel before sailing, and under varying conditions of service, the securing of trailers, and the securing of cargo within trailers to prevent their movement whilst at sea.”

Few of those connected with Riverdance avoid a rap on the knuckles. The Bahamas registry is recommended to “Take urgent action to review the validity of Seatruck
Shipholding Limited’s Safety Management Systems to ensure they are sufficiently robust for safe operation of its vessels” while Seatruck Shipholding Limited has been told to “Take urgent action to review the validity of (it’s) Safety Management Systems to ensure they are sufficiently robust for safe operation of its vessels” and “Conduct an urgent review of the fundamentals of the existing Seatruck Safety Management system, to ensure these are adequate for the purpose in the short term, until a full review of the system can be completed”.

Of note, too is the recommendation to “Provide guidance to suitably trained internal ISM auditors on the scope of their responsibilities, including assessment of crew
knowledge, departmental management and inter-departmental communications… Undertake a review of the onboard risk assessment procedures to ensure its vessels comply with Seatruck Ferries Shipholding Limited’s policy”.

Seatruck has responded positively to the MAIB recommendations. It is a pity that it had to take a serious casualty, the loss of a ship, potential – though thankfully unrealised – danger to the seafarers aboard and the potential damage to an economically important area – again thankfully unrealised – to teach a lesson that was screamingly obvious in the first place.

It is fairly apparent that, like many companies, Seatruck put an SMS aboard the ship because the rules told it to do so, not because the SMS might save lives, vessels and the environment. If it was otherwise it would have ensured adequate ISM audits, which it did not.

Worth noting, too, is MAIB’s recommendation to the International Camber of Shipping to “Review existing guidance to owners on “Emergency Preparedness” and
promote careful consideration of the merits of using Emergency Response Services.”

This, perhaps, tells us something about MAIB’s concerns with the shipping industry and its failure to effectively develop safety cultures onshore and aboard. A company that takes safety seriously will have both an effective audit process in place to ensure that SMS procedures are being followed but also have an effective emergency response team trained and prepared to give a master the support he needs when things go bad.

Very clearly, that isn’t happening.

Note: In February MAIB issued its report on the grounding of the Seatruck ro-ro ferry Moondance which occurred six months later. Many of the recommendation to Seatruck were the same.

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