Swanland sinking report raises major concerns

Swanlandreport-3JUNE 14, 2013 — A report issued this week by the U.K. Marine Accident Investigation Branch underscores the dangers of improperly loading high density cargoes and shines a light into that part of shipping where elderly ships fly the flags of states on the lower end of the "Gray List" and are classed by little known "Recognized Organizations."

The MAIB report on its investigation of the loss, with six of its Russian national crew of eight, of the 34 year old Cook Islands registered general cargo ship Swanland in the Irish Sea on November 27, 2011, says that the ship experienced a structural failure when heading directly into rough seas and gale force winds while on passage from Llanddulas, Wales to Cowes, Isle of Wight with a cargo of limestone.

The vessel sank about 17 minutes later.

Two of the vessel's eight crew managed to swim clear and were rescued from a liferaft. The body of the chief officer was recovered from the sea during an extensive air and sea search but the remaining crew were not found.

There was no significant pollution.

The wreck of Swanland was subsequently found 12 miles off the Welsh coast in a depth of approximately 80m. Sonar and underwater surveys showed that the vessel was inverted on the seabed; the hull appeared to be in one piece. The upper part of the vessel's structure had failed in the midships region, on both the starboard and port sides.

The investigation identified that the major factors contributing to the structural failure were:

  • The limestone was a high density cargo that had been effectively loaded as a single pile within the central section of the hold. As a result, significant stresses were generated in the vessel's midships section.
  • The stresses in the midships section were exacerbated by the rough seas in which the wavelength was similar to the length of the vessel.
  • Swanland's longitudinal strength had probably weakened significantly over the previous 2½ years through corrosion and wastage. The maintenance and repair of the vessel had lacked focus and oversight; no structural repairs had been undertaken since 2009.

Other contributing factors included:non-compliance with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargo Code, insufficient loading information, a lack of effective safety management, poor quality of survey and audit, lack of oversight of the classification society by the Flag State and the financial pressures of operating this type of vessel in the current economic downturn. The investigation also identified several safety issues concerning the immersion suits and lifejackets available on board the vessel.

"Sadly," says the report, "none of these factors are new. Swanland is one of 248 general cargo ships that are known to have foundered worldwide since 2002 with the loss of over 800 seafarers; 226 of the vessels were 15 years old or more, 139 of which were 27 years old or more. Concerns surrounding the safety and high loss rates of similar general cargo ships have been repeatedly raised at the International Maritime Organization. However, progress to address the problems appears to have been slow. It is hoped that the loss of Swanland and her six crew will be a catalyst for the work already being undertaken by the International Maritime Organization to tackle the global issue of general cargo ship safety.

"The Cook Islands has undertaken to ensure that the findings of this investigation are taken into account at the International Maritime Organization when future measures to improve general cargo ship safety and the development of goal-based standards for life-saving appliances are decided. It has also started to take action aimed at improving the quality of the ships accepted onto its register and the oversight of the recognized organizations which are authorized to act on its behalf."


Today,the ITF issued the following statement:

After fully studying the United Kingdom Marine Accident Investigation Branch's (MAIB's) report into the Swanland sinking, the ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) has issued the following statement.

The ITF condemns the lack of effective regulation and control in the international shipping industry that allowed this tragedy to occur.

The MAIB report reveals how cost cutting and negligence led to the sinking of the general cargo ship Swanland in the Irish Sea in November 2011, with the loss of six Russian seafarers.

As the MAIB notes, the Swanland is one of nearly 250 general cargo ships that have foundered in just over 10 years. In this period over 800 seafarers have perished in often ageing vessels. The Swanland was over 30 years old when the sinking occurred.

It is questionable whether such an old ship should have been trading at all; but as a minimum it needed regular maintenance and structural repairs. This report highlights the failures in its maintenance of the ship, and the fact that no structural reviews had taken place since 2009.

Even more alarming is the fact that Swanland Shipping Ltd changed the classification society of the ship from Lloyds Register to the International Naval Surveys Bureau in 2009 to reduce their fees by 30 percent. The report highlights the fact that unscrupulous operators can make savings by cutting back on repairs and the rectification of deficiencies.

The report also reveals that the ship managers, Torbulk, did not make available to the chief officer the means to conduct the strength and stability checks on board the ship which are necessary prior to cargo loading. In addition the owners and managers of the ship seemed to be unaware of the risks of carrying high density cargoes and the importance of obtaining accurate information so that the ship could be safely loaded.

The MAIB further reveals that during the course of its investigation it became evident that many shipowners and managers are unaware of the importance of compliance with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC), and that they may believe it only applies to bulk carriers.

The ITF believes that this accident investigation report must now be the catalyst for urgent action – in particular for general cargo ship safety to be made a priority at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The fact that at the time of the accident the Swanland had been certified as being in compliance with all applicable statutory requirements makes a mockery of the existing regulatory framework, the ITF states.

National governments and the international shipping community can no longer stand on the sidelines as this terrible loss of life continues. The ITF is calling for:

  • A wholesale review of general cargo ship safety by the IMO
  • Stricter enforcement of all existing regulations
  • Additional checks and safeguards to guard against the potential precarious safety of older general cargo ships

Read the MAIB report HERE

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