The New Year was only a few days old when those aboard the Aberdeen-Orkney Ferry Hrossey, at the entrance to the Pentland Firth, saw the awful sight of the bow of the cement freighter Cemfjord upright protruding from the sea with her accommodation far below the surface.
No emergency signals had been heard, or it seems sent and little wreckage seen. Eight crew, mainly Poles, are apparently lost. Cemfjord 1,850,’84 German built as the Margareta and converted to cement transporter in ’98, was German owned and operated by the Baltrader Group and worked usually out of Aalborg, recently visiting Goole and Runcorn as well as Baltic ports. She had been on her way to Runcorn once more. The weather was bad and a freak wave has been mentioned as a cause and possible liquefaction of the powder cargo causing instability.
She had recently had her problems. Last July she was aground in the Kattegat with little or no damage, but subsequently her Russian captain was fined for having excess alcohol. More ominously, she had been detained in Runcorn in December 2013 with issues including faulty launch apparatus for her lifeboats and her safety management did not meet the required standard. She was released after a few days and it is an open question whether such problems could have a bearing on the catastrophic accident she suffered. Owners, insurers, maritime authorities and seafarers, will all want explanations from this, one of the strangest wrecks for many a year.
Coincidentally, not far from this position a few months before, there was a serious fire board a nuclear waste transporter. The Danish ro-ro freighter Parida was taking irradiated waste in cemented drums ex Dounreay from Scrabster in Caithness to Antwerp when, according to reports, she caught fire in her funnel exhaust when 20 miles off Wick.
As is often the case in such waters, an oil rig was sufficiently close to the drifting ship so that it had to be evacuated by helicopter. The Turkish built Parida 5,801,’99 was first towed to anchor and then for immediate repairs in Cromarty Firth. Of course, an investigation and safety review will follow.
Politics also raised its head as the Scottish Government does not have control over the transportation of radioactive waste and so Westminster is being taken to task to ensure lessons are learned.
Perhaps there will be pressure to devolve the relevant powers to the Scottish Parliament. Monitoring showed there was no risk to the public or the environment.