The sinking of a general cargo ship in the Irish Sea in 2011 has prompted the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) to circulate a flyer to industry with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s findings.
It was in November 2011, that six Russian seafarers including the master of the Swanland were lost when the vessel foundered after suffering a catastrophic structural failure and darkness in heavy seas.
The report states how the officer of the watch sounded the general alarm to alert the crew, who were asleep in cabins, and a Mayday message was broadcast by the Master. The message was very brief and so over the next four minutes the Master was prompted by coastguard operators to provide more details about the vessel’s cargo, damage and liferafts.
The crew started to assemble on the bridge and immersion suits were collected from below, but they were a mix of different types – some were required to be worn with lifejackets while others did not. However, the cook was never seen and some of the crew went back to cabins to collect valuables and did not return.
As the vessel’s freeboard reduced, the Master realised the ship was sinking and ordered the crew to prepare to launch the liferafts and at the same time the second officer collected the two search and rescue transponders (SART) but had difficulty activating them due to the design of the gloves integral to his immersion suit and had to use his teeth to operate them.
Four of the crew preparing to launch the liferaft were covered by a wave and the Swanland started to sink beneath them. The second officer and able seaman soon surfaced and climbed into the liferaft but its internal light soon went out and the survivors continued to be hampered by the gloves.
Around one hour after the Swanland foundered, a rescue helicopter arrived and spotted the survivors in the liferaft. No other survivors were seen so the liferaft winched the second officer and AB onboard, cold but uninjured. The body of the chief officer was recovered several hours later – wearing an immersion suit but no lifejacket. The master and remaining four crewmen have never been found.
The flyer includes the MAIB report’s advice to improve safety including ensuring all crew are fully briefed on mustering procedures and carry out drills including the donning of immersion suits and jackets; also, providing the same type of immersion suits – so either all have built-in buoyancy or they all need to be worn with a lifejacket.
The full report may be downloaded from the MAIB website at www.maib.gov.uk