We’ve been asked to re-publish our three-part series on the resignation of Bulgaria’s chief maritime investigator and the enquiries into the losses of MV Vanessa and MV Tolstoy. What Papukchiev has to say is disturbing. He identifies significant shortfall in communications between port state controls, the IMO and flag states, and highlights the challenges faced by maritime investigators in those jurisdictions in which independent investigations are difficult to achieve.
Just one day after being tasked to lead a re-opening of the investigation into the January 2008 sinking of the general cargo ship Vanessa Captain Hristo Papukchiev resigned as chairman of the Commission of Investigation. It was a frustrating end to a mission to enhance safety for seafarers on Bulgarian ships and in Bulgarian waters.
Papukchiev’s story raises issues regarding the country’s commitment to maritime safety, safety investigation, and search and rescue. The issues are not unique to Bulgaria,they are common in those countries where shipping interests wield tremendous political power, power enough to make or break presidents. What makes his story unique is that such tales are usually kept behind well-closed doors but Papukchiev has gone public.
It is probably fair to say that Papukchiev’s frustration, and anger is not aimed at the Bulgarian authorities alone but also at the failure of the international maritime community to give him the support he desperately needed to make change. it was, in particular, a test of the IMO’s commitment to transparency, a test which it failed.
For the first time in Bulgaria’s history, on Papukchiev’s watch, Bulgaria filed an accident report with the IMO, in this case the tragedy of the M/V Tolstoy. He expected a response, he expected action, there was none.
The Tolstoy investigation was the first one completed with Papukchiev as the lead investigator. It identified serious regulatory failings, inadequate vessel monitoring and a serious shortfall in Bulgaria’s SAR capability and in VTS operations. It should have led to a serious enquiry aimed at improving the situation, it did not.