Thursday, June 8, 2000

Polish class society "surprised" at
expulsion from IACS

The Polish class society PRS has reacted to the decision taken by IACS Council to terminate its Associate membership stating: "We were very surprised by this and we do not believe such a course of action was merited by the facts associated with LEADER L and the period during which it was classed by PRS".

[The 38,975 gt, 1977-built LEADER L sank 400 miles northeast of Bermuda, hours after placing a distress call on March 23,saying that a 45-foot steel hull plate had come loose & water was flooding into the hold. Of the crew of 31, 13 were rescued in a dramatic operation, with Canadian & U.S. aircraft dropping life rafts to survivors, six bodies were recovered and the remainder were unaccounted for. Radio transmissions from the Leader L continued until just seconds before it went under, suggesting some crew may never have escaped the vessel. The Panamanian-flagged ship was owned by Leoninus Shipping and operated by Cavo Doro Navigation, both sharing the same Piraeus, Greece, address. ]

"After more careful review and consideration of IACS Council's statement, we consider the explanations and justification given for this decision do not address the primary reason for IACS' investigation, which should be focused on the cause of LEADER L's loss", commented Dr. Jan Jankowski, Director General of Polski Rejestr Statków and Managing Director of its Marine Division.

"PRS does understand the intention which lies behind this decision", he added, "which is to eliminate substandard ships. But the expulsion of PRS from IACS is considered to be an excessive reaction to the circumstances which relate to LEADER L and it will not change the situation in classification nor will it improve safety at sea".

PRS also said the speed with which the IACS decision was reached was also of concern to PRS, as the full report of its investigation into the loss of LEADER L had not yet been completed. A summary of the Preliminary Results of PRS investigation was presented by Dr. Jankowski at the Council's meeting on 31 May, which indicated that there were significant findings related to the sinking which could be relevant to other bulk carrier losses.

The Polish Register of Shipping also firmly contradicted IACS statements that LEADER L was "evidently in poor condition, for some time", while operating under PRS class.

"Any independent unbiased review and assessment of the vessel's survey history from the time of its transfer of class from LR to PRS, in May 1997, will confirm that the surveys carried out were made strictly in accordance with the recognized system for such surveys and the results of these surveys were satisfactory", stated Dr. Jankowski.

"From the class point of view, within the system applied, there were no significant deficiencies or structural defects identified during our surveys that would cause or contribute to the vessel's sinking", he explained.

The results of IACS Ad Hoc Audit in May confirmed this situation, and the audit report was not disputed by PRS. It was considered to be a fair representation of the facts, but it gave no grounds for the conclusions reached by IACS Council.

After the 1999 Annual Survey the ship was also subjected to inspections by various other respected organizations, including the underwriters (May 1999 and March 2000), the US Coast Guard (July 1999), the US Department of Agriculture (July 1999: inspection of all holds, which were found fit for the shipment of grain), and Panama Flag State (August 1999). No class related deficiencies, serious or otherwise, were found during this range of independent inspections.

IACS is aware of this history, and of the positive results recorded, which seem to have been ignored when reviewing and commenting on the IACS auditors' report from the special audit.The Council's conclusion that "this review showed evidence of serious managerial shortcomings on the part of PRS" is a view that is strongly rejected by the Polish Register, which considers that it has acted strictly in accordance with the requirements and disciplines imposed by the IACS Quality System Certification Scheme (QSCS) under which PRS operates.

"Our after-casualty investigations did, however, reveal irregularities by a PRS surveyor who carried out a survey of LEADER L in early March 2000, requested by the owner", Dr. Jankowski discloses. "The results of this survey were not approved by PRS Head Office, and the documents were invalidated. The survey was not required in March anyway, as the existing 1999 documents were valid until 13 May 2000".

"This situation had no material relevance to our records of the condition of LEADER L at the time of the survey, nor to our investigation into the vessel's loss, and IACS auditors performing the Ad Hoc Audit were fully informed of these facts", he added.

Because the surveyor had breached the Code of Ethics his permit to perform surveys was immediately suspended and he was dismissed from PRS as a consequence.

Report of PRS investigation into the loss of LEADER L

The full PRS investigation report is nearly completed and should be available by end June or mid July at the latest, depending or whether or not any further information is received from outside sources.

PRS says the investigation has been wide ranging. As well as including information from PRS surveys, it covers statements from the surviving crew members, a Master and Officers who had served very recently on LEADER L, and communications between the Master and Owner during the period leading up to the vessel sinking.

Distribution of the full report is scheduled to be made to the Flag State (Panama), IACS, Intercargo (which has specifically requested a copy as soon as possible), the owner, the Greek Committee of PRS, and others such as the US Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Bermuda Government Registry of Shipping. A copy will also be freely available in response to requests from any organizations.

PRS believes there will be considerable demand for the Report, which includes important information revealed by its analysis of the circumstances and simulation of the sinking of LEADER L.

"We have reached the following preliminary conclusions as a result of the data produced", states Dr. Jankowski. "Firstly, the evident problem with bulk carrier safety is not restricted to Hold No.1, which has been the focus of IACS attention in the past. LEADER L's problem started in Hold No.4, leading to the progressive forward collapse of bulkheads to Hold Nos. 3, 2 and 1, and the consequent sinking of the vessel"

"Secondly, there is the need to consider impact caused by sloshing, which must be recognized as a potential contributory factor in the sinking of bulk carriers", he added.

"This especially applies to bulk carriers loaded with cargoes which will readily go into solution with water, such as the salt carried by LEADER L, or when the ship is loaded in alternate holds."

"These are important findings related to the loss of bulk carriers", concludes Dr Jankowski. "PRS would have preferred to communicate its findings to the industry at large under the "umbrella" of IACS, as the qualified and recognized control voice of the classification industry, but unfortunately we are now unable to do so".

as of 29 May 2000

1. The ship was transferred to PRS class from LR in July 1997 after a special survey (with thickness measurements taken) which was commenced by LR in February 1997 and completed in July 97 by PRS. All recommendations of losing society were executed. Class was granted for 5 years. 
2. Consecutive annual surveys were carried out in February 1998 and April 1999. The certificate of class confirmed in April 1999 remained valid till 13 May 2000. There were no outstanding recommendations left. 
3. After the 1999 annual survey the ship, according to data held, was subjected to the following inspection:


a. May 1999: by the underwriters;
b. July 1999: by USCG - no deficiencies found
c. July 1999: by US Department of Agriculture for grain carriage (inspection of all holds) - holds found fit for grain carriage;
d. August 1999: by Panama flag state - said to have taken place with no deficiencies found;
e. March 2000: by the underwriters'.


4. In March 2000, intermediate survey was commenced at the request of the Operator. Because of the way it was performed the hull related part of that survey had been invalidated (class confirmed in 1999 remained valid till 13 May 2000). 
5. The actual cause of leakage leading to the casualty has not been firmly established yet. No video tapes/photos have been found available to PRS as yet (we are not certain as to whether any exist). Statements of rescued crew members as well as senior officers who disembarked the ship before the last voyage are contradictory one to another with reference both to ship condition and events and thus are of little assistance.
6. The following reasons could have caused the sinking (with no preference to any of them at this stage):


a. external reason (e.g. ship struck by alien object);
b. 'Force Majeure' (unfavourable weather conditions and/or defects undetectable during operation of ship and surveys - e. g. small fatigue cracks);
c. inappropriate technical condition of hull structure;
d. other reasons.
The information (telex) sent by Master to Operator on the day of sinking, which states:
"Please note, that the steel plate removed from the weldings but still remains at position"
may suggest reasons 6b or 6c or their combination. 


7. Irrespective of the actual cause of the casualty, which is under investigation, the case mentioned in 6c is the one to be seriously considered as it lies on the classification side. The findings may give opportunity for improvement of bulk carrier supervision system, which could refer not only to class but also to other parties in maritime industry.
8. The side structure was designed with frames made as T-beams with integrated brackets (considered to be a good solution).
The as-built side structure as well as structure of corrugated bulkheads satisfied PRS Rule requirements.
Moreover, for cargo carried on last voyage, the net scantlings (neglecting corrosion addition) of corrugated bulkheads satisfied new UR S18 requirements for new ships (except bulkhead between holds Nos. 1 and 2).
Thickness measurements taken under LR and PRS supervision showed that the corrosion diminution was within the permissible limits. During the special survey grooving corrosion of the frames had been found but still within permissible limits.
The casualty could have been initiated by local fracture in hold No. 4 caused by reasons listed in item 6. This could have led to flooding of the hold and partial dissolving of salt carried and, in heavy weather conditions, could have given rise to dynamic loads (sloshing) acting on hold structure. The impact caused by sloshing lifted up the hatch covers (noted by Master and others on deck) and overloaded the corrugated bulkhead which led to progressive flooding.
According to calculations, with three holds flooded (Nos. 4, 3 & 2) the ship was still afloat.
9. It took six hours from 1:30 p.m., when hold No.4 was flooded, till 7:30 p.m. of local time for the ship to sink. Almost all crew , who were on deck or in the lifeboats hung to the davits, have been rescued.
There was half an hour from the moment when the bow submerged (7:00 to 7:30 p.m.) till the ship sank, enough to abandon the ship.
Loading instrument installed on board was, according to the requirements of UR S1A, supplied with programs for assessment of longitudinal strength, buoyancy, and stability in intact condition. The sequence of events between initiated flooding and sinking could have been analysed, if the program had also included the possibility of assessing damage stability.


Preliminary general conclusions

1. Damage of side structure and resulting hold flooding occurred in heavy weather conditions. Salt dissolved and sloshing was induced. The same can happen in case of other cargo or empty holds. The corrugated bulkheads are not able to sustain the sloshing loads. 
Thus flooding of any hold (and not only the first) can lead to progressive flooding and the sinking of the ship.
2. Local damage of bulk carrier side can lead to sinking. Maintaining sufficient local strength by conducting solely periodical surveys is questionable.
Periodical surveys with thickness measurement enable to assess and maintain zone and global strength of the ship structure. To assure its local strength, the structure should be, in addition, continuously supervised. This requires close co-operation of class, shipowner and crew (records of noticed damages and defects) and should be covered by QS. This leads to the concept of self-regulation.
3. To make the surveys more reliable, PRS introduces in this Society more frequent spot reinspection surveys on board during survey in progress or on completion, in order to ensure better inner feedback.
4. In view of item 9, PRS is of the opinion that it is justified to consider extension of the requirements contained in UR S1 to include damage stability conditions.

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