A UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report stated that the fatal hazard that caused the sinking of the Cyprus-registered cargo vessel Cemfjord last January in the Pentland Firth, Scotland, could have been avoided.
The capsize and sinking of the cement carrier in the Pentland Firth between Orkney and the Scottish mainland led to death of eight crew members.
The MAIB in its report stated that the decision by captain Pawel Chruscinski to enter the Pentland Firth and not seek shelter from storm ‘was almost certainly a result of poor passage-planning, an underestimation of the severity of the conditions and perceived or actual commercial pressure to press ahead with the voyage.
‘Critically, this decision will also have been underpinned by an unwillingness to alter course across the heavy seas after the experience of a cement cargo shift in similar circumstances about three months before the accident.
The MAIB also urged the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to make reporting system for vessels passing in the Pentland Firth compulsory, besides having a new local warning system for captains due to ‘the frequent and extreme local sea conditions’.
Carrier owner Brise Breederungs stated that responsibility for routing decisions lay with a ship’s captain and charterer.
The charterer of this vessel was cement company Aalborg Portland.
Hamburg-based Brise Breederungs was quoted by The Guardian as stating: "We wish to express, once again, our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives."
It also added: "We will never know the exact basis on which [the skipper] took this decision."
Refuting this account, Aalborg Portland supply chain management director Peter Boltau was quoted by The Guardian as stating that the Brise Breederungs would ‘always remain responsible for the navigation of the vessel, also for any deviations or loss of time caused by, for example, poor weather conditions’.
The MAIB had stated that it brought up several safety issues that were found during its probe with the ship’s owners and the Cypriot authorities. Following which, it directed Brise to upgrade training in new stability systems and cargo management.
Meanwhile, maritime union RMT has urged a public inquiry into coastal cargo sector in light of this MAIB report.
RMT national secretary Steve Todd said: "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 freight off roads. Instead, it is an industry that plays fast and loose with international maritime regulations and, ultimately, seafarers’ lives."
Image: An upturned cargo vessel Cemfjord. Photo: courtesy of the UK Government.