It was not so much Transport Canada’s decision to investigate the capsize and sinking of the Barbados-flagged sailing vessel Concordia that raised questioning eyebrows as the apparent implication that TSB did not trust the Barbadian maritime authority to do the job properly. The issues surrounding the investigation of what happened to the 58 metre tallship Concordia and the subsequent search and rescue operations, SAR, may go somewhat deeper.
Concordia, built in Poland and completed in 1992, apparently capsized swiftly and without warning on 17 February off the coast of Brazil. Its 64 passengers and crew were rescued 40 hours later by a merchant ship and subsequently transferred to Brazilian Navy rescue helicopters.
Concordia was registered as a sail-training yacht and operated as a “floating classroom” by Class Afloat, for which it was built. It is Canadian-owned and operated out of the port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
What caused the capsize is yet to be determined. Some accounts suggest that she was knocked down by a microburst, a brief strong downblast of air that has been blamed for aircraft crashes and ship losses. Descriptions of what happened to Concordia are very similar to accounts of the losses of the Albatross, also a floating classroom, in 1961 and Pride of Baltimore in May 1986.
Another potential culprit may be keel failure. There has been rising concern regarding keel failures from yachts for some years. In 2006 the yacht Moquini was lost with all hands during the Mauritius to Durban Yacht Race apparently due to keel failure. In April 2006 ten Dubois 68 vessels participating in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race were diverted to Subic Bay Freeport for seven weeks after problems appeared with keel bolts loosening. The discovery was largely accidental and examination showed the problem existed throughout the fleet.
For the moment, however, the cause of the Concordia sinking remains unknown.
Barbados, Concordia’s flag state is a white-list registry. It has announced an investigation which will also cover the Brazilian SAR response. Brazil’s navy has been criticised for an allegedly tardy response, which the navy disputes.
Currently little is known of the Barbados expertise in maritime accident investigation. Of 15 casualties involving vessels in the Barbados registry lodged with the IMO since 1996 only one records a report being lodged with the IMO and none can be found online. This is not unusual among open registries, an unfortunate number of which consider accident investigation reports to be confidential between the flag-state and the shipowner rather than a matter of improving safety. Such investigation, one may suspect, are unlikely to find much wrong with the shipowner’s management.
In 2006 Barbados announced the implementation of safety-based, open investigations. However, it has, as yet, failed to demonstrate a commitment to transparency.
Such a lack of transparency will not sit well with Canada since the vessel was Canadian-owned and 48 Canadians were aboard at the time.
Brazil, as the coastal state, may also launch an investigation by the Comissão de Investigação e Prevenção dos Acidentes da Navegação, CIPANAVE. This is, however, under the authority of the Brazilian Navy, which would raise concerns about its independence in an investigation which must necessarily examine the SAR effectiveness of the Brazilian Navy.
In fact, recently, Brazil has made greater efforts to actively engage the maritime safety and investigation community and greater transparency. It may be that Brazil’s investigation capabilities are independent and that its military superiors support that independence.
Rightly or wrongly any investigation carried out by Brazil will necessarily be assumed to be tainted by self-interest on the part of the navy. Ceasar’s wife must not be beyond reproach, she must be seen to be beyond reproach.
Inevitably, there is a political aspect. Given the circumstances a Canadian government minister will be required to face the country’s parliament and a vibrant opposition, and the Canadian public and a free and questioning press, to field questions surrounding the investigation.
It is, to say the least, difficult to conceive such a minister being able to persuade parliament, the public and the media that such an investigation may safety be left in the hands of a registry run out of a London office under contract with the Barbados government, whose purpose is to raise funds for that government, with no publicly verifiable competence or integrity in maritime accident investigation.
Those who wish to read the entrails of this nautical goat will read closely the official statement by the TSB. An investigation of this sort has defined objectives: How did the incident happen, why did it happen and what can be done to reduce the chances of it happening again. It is not unusual for two or more agencies with significant interest to work together on an incident which covers different jurisdictions.
Says TSB: “Since the accident, the TSB has gathered information, in accordance with its own procedures, in order to assess the occurrence. Having gathered enough information to complete its assessment, the TSB decided to conduct a parallel investigation into this accident independently of the Barbadian investigation. The TSB made the decision to investigate because the scope and methodology used to uncover causes and contributing factors will likely be different than that of the Barbados authority.”
There is much in that statement, none of it encouraging for the credibility of the Barbados registry.
(Gatineau, Quebec, March 3, 2010) – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has decided to conduct a safety investigation (M10F0003) into the capsizing and sinking of the sailing vessel (SV) Concordia, which occurred on February 17, 2010, off the coast of Brazil.
Barbados, the flag state of the SV Concordia, has opened an investigation.
Since the accident, the TSB has gathered information, in accordance with its own procedures, in order to assess the occurrence. Having gathered enough information to complete its assessment, the TSB decided to conduct a parallel investigation into this accident independently of the Barbadian investigation. The TSB made the decision to investigate because the scope and methodology used to uncover causes and contributing factors will likely be different than that of the Barbados authority. Meanwhile, in accordance with the provisions of international conventions, the TSB remains committed to providing assistance to the Barbados authority as it proceeds with its investigation.
On February 17, 2010, at approximately 14:22 local time, the SV Concordia capsized and sank off the coast of Brazil; the 64 passengers and crew were rescued 40 hours later by a merchant ship and subsequently transferred to Brazilian Navy rescue helicopters.
IMO 15 incidents since 1996
Only one report appears to have been logged with the IMO