The loss of the Cemfjord in the Pentland Firth, January 2015: MAIB Report
The early days of January 2015 brought the sad news of the loss of the freighter (bulk cement carrier) Cemfjord in the Pentland Firth, with the tragic loss of all hands onboard – eight men in all.
I commend you to read Robert Straughton’s “Coastal Commentary” in the June 2016 edition of Sea Breezes, covering the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) report into Cemfjord’s loss. This should bring us all up short; these seafarers lost their lives when their vessel was overwhelmed suddenly and catastrophically, giving them no chance of escape or rescue. In my April 2015 “Message From The Bridge”, I said in reference to various maritime disasters, “Whether investigations ultimately reveal flawed systems and procedures, human error, poor maintenance, failure by regulators and inspectors, faults in vessel design, or indeed a combination of more than one of these factors, we owe it to all who sail on ships – big or small – to take every possible step to make safety at sea our number one priority.
Well, this thorough MAIB report into the loss of the Cemfjord, reveals quite clearly, that there were serious shortcomings in several areas of the operation of this cargo vessel. I still feel sadness over the loss of all onboard the Cemfjord, but having read the report also feel anger. Every seafarer’s life is precious and we should remember that the men of the Cemfjord had families far from the scene of the disaster who are left to mourn. We owe it to them and to all seafarers in the coastal trades, that action is taken urgently to address the shortcomings exposed in this report to prevent such an incident in the future. Methods of operation, including working hours (the two navigating officers Master and Chief Officer worked a ‘6hrs on - 6hrs’ off system of watch keeping at sea and had other duties both at sea and in port) should be in line with the standards we expect in the 21st century.
In a recent Press Release, Steve Todd, National Secretary of the RMT, talking about the loss of the Cemfjord, said’; “If the coastal sector was compliant with international safety standards, eight seafarers would be alive today and their families would not be grieving their loss. We welcome the MAIB Report which tells us that this catastrophic incident could have been avoided. Coastal cargo freight should be a success story for maritime skills and in shifting more cargo off roads. Instead, it is an industry that plays fast and loose with international maritime regulations and ultimately with seafarers lives. Whilst we note that mandatory reporting in the Pentland Firth has recommenced, the UK Government needs to stop describing high maritime safety standards as “gold plating” and get a grip on this vital, but badly regulated sector, before more seafarers lose their lives. A Public Enquiry into coastal cargo shipping would be the best way to achieve that.”
I commend readers to read the MAIB Report on this tragic incident. It is available online at; www.gov.uk/maib-reports/capsize-and-sinking-of-cement-carrier-cemfjord-with-loss-of-8-lives
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR