Nov 022010

MV Gabriel

An inadequate watch system led to the grounding of the German-registered MV S. Gabriel says Germany’s Bundesstelle für Seeunfalluntersuchung, Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation, BSU. Subsequent flooding of the engine room was due to an open manhole cover, say investigators.

At 0500, with no lookout and a single officer on the bridge, the vessel grounded about 5 nm east of the port of Ponta Delgada and began to take on water. A 6/6, two-watch, system was in effect.

The vessel was towed to Punta Delgada and declared a total loss.

In its investigation, BSU concludes that the grounding was due to: “inadequate shipboard working arrangements… We are unable to exclude the possibility of the officer of the navigational watch being affected by fatigue caused by an excessive workload due to a watch system which is inadmissible for a vessel of this size and area of operation as well as the course of the voyage… legislation does not permit the operation of a two-watch system on the MV S.Gabriel. Switching from the approved three-watch system when the vessel is in sea operation to a two-watch system for island routes is inadmissible by law. Furthermore, it is not – nor can it be – approved”.

The vessel operator Briese Schifffahrts GmbH prefers to solely blame the second officer who was on watch.

According to the BSU: “The constructive total loss of the vessel caused by her running aground was due to misconduct during the navigational watch because a proper lookout was neither kept nor was a crew member assigned the role of lookout on the bridge; the watch alarm was switched off during the watch; no consistent course and position monitoring was carried out from 0523 onwards… Based on the time sheets, it may be assumed that the duty officer’s ability to concentrate was impaired due to lack of sleep. It is even possible that he was asleep for the thirty minutes leading up to the grounding”.

Sufficient clarification of the events surrounding the water ingress in the engine room, in which the main engine, auxiliary engine and all electrical fittings positioned below the engine room’s intermediate deck were damaged or destroyed, has not been

possible since dry docking had not taken place up to the time at which the investigation report was prepared. However, says BSU: “Information given by marine engineers and inspectors indicates that in spite of clear instructions to keep openings permanently closed at sea, it is relatively common practise for such manhole covers to be opened at sea in order to ventilate the pipe tunnel.

“The required shipboard simplified voyage data recorder (S-VDR) does not record whether the pipe tunnel cover is open or closed. In contrast, the enhanced performance requirements for a full-spec. VDR stipulate that these must monitor and record the status of watertight and fire-screen doors…

“…the BSU presumes that on the MV S.Gabriel the manhole cover of the pipe tunnel in the engine room was open at the time of the accident and it was not possible to close it properly after she ran aground. It was not possible to properly ascertain whether this was due to a design fault, incorrect installation of the central locking system or the cover seal being defective or worn. It was also not possible for the BSU to clarify whether late intervention or an operator error were contributory factors or whether debris lodged between the seal and cover due to the water pressure in the flooded pipe tunnel”.

The report notes: “The written testimony of the crew members is not consistent with the actual course of the accident. With the available evidence, in particular, the acoustic recordings of the voyage data recorder, it was possible to make a detailed and different analysis of the events. During the watch period from midnight until the vessel grounded, the sounds recorded by the voyage data recorder were made by only one person on the bridge. Accordingly, the watch was carried out only by the second officer”.

Notes MAC: “What we seem to see here is ship operations based on an assumption that there is less chance of grounding or collision in coastal or interisland waters than in deep sea. It is an assumption that defies commonsense – as do the work records of the officers in this case. It is an illusion that does, however, save a few bucks”.

Read the full report here

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