Voyage aboard a sail training vessel should be a challenging, life-affirming experience but too often cost-cutting and tap-dancing around safety provisions result in loss and tragedy. Such appears to have been the case with the grounding and write-off of the Sail Trainong Vessel Astrid off Ireland’s southern coast, the investigation report of which has been released by the Eire Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB.
Astrid was a 42-metre Dutch registered sailing ship built in 1924. She was of steel construction and brig rigged. was anchored in Oysterhaven Anchorage, On the 24th July 2013 the ship was scheduled to be one of the flotilla of boats taking part in a sailing festival called The Gathering between Oysterhaven and, where she was anchored, Kinsale.
The ship hauled anchor at 11.00 hrs and proceeded out of Oysterhaven, using engine power. At approximately 11.35 hrs sails were being hauled and the course was altered. Whilst hauling sails the engine was still being used and the ship proceeded in a SW direction at a speed of approximately 3 knots.
At about 11.40 hrs the engine failed and the ship was unable to sail out of the situation that grounded the “STV Astrid” on the coast 0.7 NM North West of the Big Sovereign, a small island just outside Oysterhaven.
Rescue services were alerted and all trainees and crew were safely evacuated and landed in Kinsale, no-one was injured. The ship sank but was subsequently salvaged and deemed an economic write-off.
The cause of the engine failure was contaminated fuel. A couple of days earlier, when the vessel was taking on fresh water, the water filling hose was inadvertently placed into a fuel tank filler contaminating the starboard aft fuel tank with approximately 1,000 litres of fresh water. ashore prior to the ship’s departure from Brighton. The fuel tank was isolated at this time and not used since.
The incident was not noted in the ship’s log.
Says the MCIB: “It is apparent that fresh water got into the starboard aft fuel tank as well as intoone of the forward fuel tanks which was being used at the time of the casualty. The fuel tank venting system has a common manifold with just one vent exiting above the main deck and this was a possible source of the ingress. If, during the filling of the starboard aft fuel tank with fresh water, the tank was filled to
capacity it is possible that it could have contaminated other tanks through the venting system.
“If the appropriate procedures were in place for the filling of fresh water tanks, contamination of fuel tanks with fresh water would not have occurred. If an efficient fuel tank sounding and monitoring system was in place it would have been apparent that more than one tank was contaminated and the
necessary corrective action could have been taken,” says the MCIB.
Regulatory compliance with STCW and SOLAS was a mess, as indicated by the fact that no crew were adequately qualified for the manning of the Astrid: The Master did not have a Certificate of Competency that met with the requirements of the passenger ship’s safe manning certificate, namely a STCW
II/2 Certificate. The Master’s certificate was a II/3, which is not as high a qualification as a II/2 Certificate. His certificate had had not been revalidated and was out-of-date.
The Mate’s certification consisted of a STCW II/4 Certificate. This is a certificate for a rating forming part of a navigational watch. The two other permanent Crew Members were students at the Belgium Maritime Academy. Whilst they were on-board the “STV Astrid” they were gaining their sea time for their certification as an Officer of the Watch. Their certificates were for ratings as part of a navigational watch.
Added to which anchor watches were kept by the passengers/trainees. This would not be considered adequate to maintain a safe watch at all times. Indeed, the ship dragged its anchor whilst at anchor in Oysterhaven Bay.
Every ship at an unsheltered anchorage, at an open roadstead or any other “at sea” conditions in accordance with Chapter VIII, Section A-VIII/2, part 4-1, paragraph 51, of the STCW Code should ensure that watchkeeping arrangements are adequate for maintaining a safe watch at all times. A deck officer should at all times maintain responsibility for a safe anchor watch. Effective watchkeeping
was not in place.
Almost inevitably, passage planning of the voyage from Oysterhaven to Kinsale was inadequate, for a passenger ship navigating a course within 300 netr of a lee shore in a Force 6 wind. Says MCIB: “The passage planning appears to have been influenced by the desire for photograph opportunities for the ‘Gathering Cruise’ event. Priority should have been given to safe navigation and avoidance of dangerous situations.”
Sail Training Ship is a loose term. It is not a term with legal standing in the International Maritime Conventions regulating maritime safety. The main convention regulating maritime safety is the SOLAS Convention, which applies to ships on international voyages, under which there are essentially two types of ship, the first is a passenger ship which is any ship carrying more than 12 passengers and by
definition any ship which is not a passenger ship is a cargo ship. On this basis as the Astrid was a ship on an international voyage and it was regulated by SOLAS and as it carried more than 12 passengers it was a passenger ship.
Some sail training ships may be declared by their flag administration as “not propelled by mechanical means if fitted with mechanical propulsion for auxiliary and emergency purposes”. The importance of this is that the SOLAS Convention only applies to ships which are propelled by mechanical means and by declaring that their ships are notpropelled by mechanical means may be an attempt to exempt the ships from the safety requirements of SOLAS.
“This is not permitted…” notes MCIB, “…as the ships do have an engine and they use it for manoeuvring in port, for transits of canals and for passage at sea when there is insufficient wind or for motor sailing. Therefore, it is not possible to exempt a sail training ship fitted with an engine from the requirements of the SOLAS Convention, and depending on the number of passengers carried, such sail training ships are either passenger ships or cargo ships.”
Astrid had an engine and was propelled by mechanical means as it carried out a passage from Weymouth to Penzance and was departing Oysterhaven propelled by mechanical means only. It cannot be reconciled that the ship on a scheduled voyage could travel in the case of unfavourable wind and weather conditions without using the engine as a means of temporary propulsion.
Curiously the Netherlands has issued a declaration for many of its sail training ships stating that they are not propelled by mechanical means and as such SOLAS Chapter XI – 2 does not apply and by implication none of SOLAS applies.
Says MCIB: “There is considerable confusion with the certification issued to the “STV Astrid” as the ship held a passenger liability certificate under the Athens Convention which would imply that it was a
passenger ship. The ship also held in the past a passenger ship safety certificate under the EU Directive 2009/45 again implying a passenger ship, and the ship was registered as a Passenger Sailing Vessel.”
Consequently, the certification status of the “STV Astrid” was contradictory as it appeared to be trying to comply with the Passenger Ship EU requirements, IMO SPS Code requirements, and the international passenger ship requirements. It didn’t comply with any of these requirements on the date that the casualty occurred nor in the time running up to the casualty.
Sadly, such situations are not unique among sail training vessels, as the loss of HMS Bounty in 2012 and others have tragically demonstrated.