Sea Breezes Editor, Hamish Ross

Time for a full investigation of the coastal sector

In Sea Breezes we have raised the matter of the loss of the cement carrier MV Cemfjord (Cyprus Flag) on several occasions. At the beginning of January 2015, in severe weather, the Cemfjord was in the Pentland Firth when she was overwhelmed suddenly and catastrophically with the loss of all hands onboard – eight men in all.

The subsequent Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) report into the loss of the Cemfjord revealed quite clearly that there were serious shortcomings in several areas of the operation of this vessel. Readers can access this report at www.gov.uk/maib-reports/capsizeand- sinking-of-cement-carrier-cemfjord-with-loss-of-8-lives.

I said in my Message From The Bridge, Sea Breezes, July 2016, that we owed it to the men lost on the Cemfjord, and indeed to all seafarers in the coastal trade that action should be taken to address the shortcomings exposed in the MAIB Report to prevent such an incident in the future. Cemfjord was at sea with significant safety shortcomings and indeed it was only the granting of Flag State exemptions from some safety regulations that had allowed the Cemfjord to proceed to sea. I also said in reference to various shipping disasters “Whether investigations ultimately reveal flawed systems and procedures, human error, poor maintenance, failure by regulators and inspectors, faults in vessel design/construction 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 yes indeed – as we are all fond of saying “lessons will be learned“, but will they?

Looking up on my computer the list of “Foreign Flag Ships under detention in the UK during February 2017“ (published in March 2017) I noted that the cement carrier Cemgulf (Cyprus Flag) was detained at Ellesmere Port from 15th February-24th February 2017 with six deficiencies – with four grounds for detention. These deficiencies included – missing nautical publications; onboard training and instruction – lack of training; inoperative lifeboats; ISM – not as required; voyage and passage plan – lack of information.

In my July 2016 piece I also reported that in a Press Release following the loss of the Cemfjord and the publication of the MAIB Report Steve Todd, National Secretary of the RMT 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 loss could have been avoided. Coastal freight traffic 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 shipping would be the best way to achieve that.“

“In recent months I have read of several examples of ships operating around the UK coast flouting safety and labour standards. I therefore would support the need and call for a full investigation of the coastal sector of our shipping industry.” In the meantime our ‘coastal state‘ inspection regime should be strictly implemented and applied.

HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR