Friday, September 28, 2012

Enough already

Sage Sagittarius from
I have been writing this blog for many years and can't remember this many deaths aboard ship being in the news. I hope it's because I am paying more attention, I certainly hope it's not a trend, but it's worrying.

The Australian Federal Police briefly placed a ship under crime scene tape in the Port of Newcastle, after the 55 year old Filipino Chief Engineer was carried off the coal bulker, dead, of unexplained causes, September 14. Trouble is, that the ship, the Sage Sagittarius, had another suspicious occurrence - the disappearance of another Filipino crew member, the Chief Cook, two weeks before, on September 2, some 400 mile offshore. The ITF is suspecting foul play in retaliation for complaints of poor conditions aboard the NYK owned bulker; a 105,708 dwt ship built in 2001.

Weaver Arrow in Port Alice, BC
On a different bulker, the Blue Wave, a 36 year old Ukrainian sailor went missing from the Greek owned ship, while sailing off Australia in July.

On September 23, another tragic occurrence, an Australian stevedore was crushed to death on the ship Weaver Arrow, while unloading a 20 ton lift of aluminum at the Port of Newcastle. He was identified as 56 year old Greg Fitzgibbon, and leaves a wife and two children behind.

Be careful out there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ship's cook, victim of homicide onboard

Francois Hebert, Chief Cook,
MV Umiavut, RIP
The death of Francois Hebert, Quebec City based Chief Cook on board the Canadian flagged cargo ship MV Umiavut, has been ruled a homicide by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He is reported to have died on Saturday, Sept 15th, but was discovered in his cabin, at around 9am the following morning, when he did not report for work. At the time, the ship was sailing through the Strait of Belle Isle, on the Labrador coast, on it's way to Montreal from Nunavut. Mr Hebert was a permanent employee of the Canadian shipping company, NEAS, having worked for them for three years prior.

Shortly after the discovery, the Captain notified Canadian Coast Guard which instructed the ship to proceed to anchor, off nearby Blanc Sablon, Quebec, in the far eastern reaches of the province. The sailor's body was landed, and sent to St Johns, Newfoundland, for an autopsy. The Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force, first responded to the call, and determined that the vessel came under the RCMP's jurisdiction. They then assisted the local RCMP and the Major Crimes Unit from Corner Brook in the investigation. The 21 crew members were questioned, as the death was being investigated as a "sudden death".

The RCMP spent considerable time aboard the vessel while it was at anchor off Quebec, gathering information and conducting interviews of the crew members. The ship was released several days later, on Wednesday Sept 19, and proceeded on its voyage, arriving at it's home berth in Valleyfield, outside Montreal, late Friday afternoon, Sept 21. The death was subsequently determined by the coroner, to be a homicide.

NEAS fleet photo by NEAS
The MV Umiavut is a 9,682 dwt Canadian flagged, ice strengthened, general cargo ship, used for arctic community resupply. It was built in 1988, and is owned by Umialarik Transport of Montreal, and operated by Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. (NEAS). She is scheduled for one more trip north, before the end of the 2012 resupply season.

Investigators from Newfoundland are currently in Montreal, continuing their work. The RCMP spokesperson decline comments on possible suspect(s), and no arrest have been made in the case.

I extend my condolence to Mr. Hebert's family on this tragic event. His funeral will be held in Quebec City, this Saturday, Sept 29th; you can click here for more information. You can read the RCMP press release, and here is a news story.

Working on a ship provides an abundance of challenges, the trickiest ones are always the interpersonal relationships on board. The confining nature of mother nature and the steel box that is a ship, offers very few avenues for solace, and serve to amplify tensions on board. Perhaps the ever increasing workload, physical, regulatory, commercial, etc, have become excessive stresors to seafarers. The ever present and enhanced financial pressures of distant home life poses additional challenges to the psyche of a sailors. The pressure cooker feel of ship life may have played a role in this homicide.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrate Titanic's accomplishments

The  World Maritime Day theme for 2012 is “IMO: One hundred years after the Titanic”, which will focus on the Organization’s roots and raison d’├¬tre, i.e. safety of life at sea. 

One of the consequences of the sinking, in 1912, of the Titanic, in which more than 1,500 people lost their lives,  was the adoption, two years later, of the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (the SOLAS Convention).  The 1914 version of the Convention was gradually superseded, respectively, by SOLAS 1929, SOLAS 1948, SOLAS 1960 (the first adopted under the auspices of IMO, then known as IMCO) and SOLAS 1974.  SOLAS 1974 is still in force today, amended and updated many times.

This year's World Maritime Day theme will provide an opportunity to take stock of the developments in maritime safety since that disaster and to examine which areas of ship safety should be given priority in the years to come.

The traditional diplomatic reception to celebrate the Day will be held at IMO Headquarters on 27 September 2012.

World Maritime Day Parallel Event
The World Maritime Day Parallel Event will be held in the Kingdom of Bahrain from 17 to 18 October 2012.

To find out more, visit IMO webpage on the event.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anatomy of a salvage

MSC Flaminia is now back in Germany after a major fire in it's cargo hold. This incident claimed the lives of two sailors, and lead to the crew abandoning the ship in the middle of Atlantic Ocean. They were rescued by another ship, and the ship was salvaged, and as now been towed back to Germany. Now the cargo salvage is to be carried out. You can read an excellent chronological account of the events so far, from the Maritime Bulletin.

MSC Flaminia

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arctic jostling

Arctic ice cap 2012, source
Scientist are announcing a record low level of ice coverage in the arctic during this past summer. Words like "staggering", "collapse" "record minimum" are being used to explain the extensive loss of sea ice in the arctic region. The arctic polar ice cap is important to regulate the planet's temperature, significant ice loss delivers proof that the planet is indeed much warmer than it used to be.

The impacts of the record loss are severe and far reaching. One of those is of course the reduction of challenges while traversing the waters of the Arctic Ocean. This is predicted to have a major impact on world trade due to new shipping routes opening up. The development and foraging of arctic resources, in the mining and petroleum sectors, are also high on the corporate agenda.

On the oil and gas front, Shell has just announced it is suspending it's drilling plan somewhat. They are still drilling, but not for oil at this stage, due to damage to equipment required in their agreement with the US government. However, preparatory drilling continues in the Chukchi Sea, expected to go on for another week, before moving to the Beaufort Sea, to drill for another month.

Drill rig Kulluk in Seattle, by AP
Shell is reported to have spent $4.5 billion on the project, and has had some scary moments already, proving the North might be more ice free than before, but still no picnic either. British Petroleum (BP) in it's arctic quest for oil, has shelved plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea, citing challenges in meeting requirements.

Meanwhile on the Northern Sea Route, state owned shipping fleet operator Sovcomflot is salivating at the thought of increased traffic from Asia to Europe, using the Arctic. In this article, the benefits - and there are many - of the Northern Sea Route, versus the Suez Canal, is heralded.

All has to be taken into context; Sovcomflot is about to go to an Initial Public Offering (IPO), meaning those wonderful Wall Street types are getting ready to steal yet another Russian public asset, probably for pennies on the dollar. Just what the world needs more of, tankers operating in harsh Arctic conditions, run by thieves and liars whose only priority is quarterly reports. Sounds promising.

Although there might be less ice, there still is ice, and the passage of commercial traffic, including those of future "public owned" Sovcomflot, is heavily dependent on the ability to keep the sea lanes open, which of course, will fall on the Russian public, and its fleet of icebreakers, primarily at Atomflot. However, 12 of the 15 powerful ice breaking ships in Russia's fleet need to be retired by 2020. The replacement cost will be borne by the Russian public, as announced by Lord, uh I mean, President Putin, back in June 2012, at a predicted cost of 143.5 billion Rubles (about USD4.5 Billion).

China's Snow Dragon
Meanwhile, the Chinese are celebrating their first crossing of the Arctic Ocean, using the Northern Sea Route, arriving in Iceland, in mid August of this year. They observed very low ice on the voyage and intend of doing the return trip, using a even more northern route, on their way back to China.

The Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, is a government owned research icebreaker. Typically used in their Antarctic operations, it has made several trips into the Arctic, including a "surprise" visit to Tuktoyatuk in 1999... which kinda pulled down the pants on the Canadian government.

Originally built by the Russian in 1993, as a ice breaking cargo ship, the Chinese have extensively refitted her for scientific survey in 2007, with another refit expected in 2013. The 10,225 dwt Shanghai based ship, is powered by a singled B&W diesel engine delivering 13,200 kW to a single fixed pitch propeller. She features a helicopter and an Arctic class Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, and is crewed by a crew of 34. China is expected to take delivery of its second polar icebreaker in 2014 - pictured below.

New Chinese research icebreaker being designed by Aker, expected 2014

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dayra Wood Pino, Engineering Cadet, RIP

How would you feel, sitting down for dinner in the ship's mess, and knowing that for nearly three weeks, one of your dead crew mates has been lying in the ship's cool room, next to the vegetables and foodstuff. Despite this, the vessel carries on calling at ports and handling cargo; business as usual. I suspect you would be pretty shaken up, I know I would be.

Believe it or not, this outrageous situation has just occurred on the Panamanian flagged tanker, El Valencia. 22 year old Engineering Cadet Dayra Wood Pino, who had paid to be on the ship, in order to get her sea time to complete her Marine Engineering certificate requirements, was reportedly killed during a workplace accident on August 4th, 2012. She was a recent graduate of the International Maritime University of Panama, and on her her first voyage.

Ms. Dayra Wood Pino, Panamanian Engineering Cadet, RIP, August 4, 2012
Her body was removed from the scene in the engine room, without investigation, placed in the ship's refrigerator, where it remained until Mexican official removed the body on August 22, in the Port of Veracruz, a full 21 days after her death. She was repatriated to Colon in Panama, where she was buried by her family on August 31st 2012.

The death was not investigate nor was her body landed for 17 days, despite the ship making two port calls, on a voyage commencing August 1st, from Balboa, Panama, to Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, Mexico. The ship left there, and was refueled in Dos Bocas, before Mexican official finally ordered the ship arrested, where it berthed in Veracruz, Mexico, in order land the body and start the investigation.

The initial tragedy that claimed her life, occurred Aug 4th, in the engine room of the tanker, while the ship was sailing, while she was performing a routine bilge transfer operation at around 17:00hrs. The first person ashore reportedly notified by the Captain, was the ULTRAMAR agent in Panama, about one hour after the accident. Within minutes of that contact, the agent replied with an emailed Death Certificate and instruction on what to do.

MV El Valentia - Source
Three days after the accident, it was reported to the Panama Maritime Authority, but it was not until August 18, that they in turn, notified the Mexican authorities. It appears, this only occurred at the prodding of Captain Luis Fruto, President of the Panamanian Association of Merchant Navy Officers, who is also a Panamanian ITF inspector, coordinating with his Mexican counterparts.

The death of Miss Wood Pino remains unexplained by the ship's senior officers, although reports state that she was working on a defective bilge pump, under the direction of the Ship's Mate, and was caught up in the operating mechanism, mutilating her person.

Mexican officials have found 30 other deficiencies with the vessel, and the Panamanian Authorities have revoke all certificates for the ship. The ship's Panamanian crew remains in Mexico, but two other cadets have returned home to Panama. The Captain, Jose Galloway Molina, is under investigation for incompetence, as it appears he has no formal training to be a Master Mariner. Investigators in Panama and Mexico have ongoing investigation into the matter. 

The ship, El Valencia, (ex Alanje, Eco, Teco, Takis E, ...etc) is a product tanker of 3340 DWT built in 1972 and is not classed by any IACS members. It is owned by Top Agents of Panama City, Panama, it is reported that this company is associated with the Fern├índez brothers, who run the Astilleros Braswell shipyard in Panama.

Edwin Wood Pino, brother of Dayra
Wow, what an unbelievable story. Again, few words can relay my dismay to Ms. Dayra Wood Pino's family. The lack of basic decency towards a professional sailor, never mind, a human being, is appalling. The lack of coverage in trade and general media alike, is even more discouraging - the apathy shown for professional mariners who facilitate the move of nearly all of the world's trade, is unforgivable.

My deepest condolence to the family.

You can read the news release by the ITF here with more details of the events; here are news stories from Panama, here, here and here. Here is a spanish article on her being repatriated to Panama. Barista Uno, the astute Filipino blogger that first alerted me to the situation makes a sober observation here. A bit more details on the ship can be found here.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Turn for the worst

MV Orna, discharging in Canada
Problems in my life seem so very trivial compared to the sad story I read about last week. I first read about it, amidst my "problems"; a hectic week, where the kids, after a long summer re-entered school, and I've returned aboard my ship. Somalian pirates have reportedly executed a crew member, in order to speed up the payment of a ransom for the pirated vessel Orna.

The MV Orna, is a 27,915 DWT bulk carrier, built in 1984, that was captured nearly two years ago, on a passage between South Africa and India with a full load of coal. The UAE based owners, Sirago Ship Mngt., and manager - Swedish Ship Management, both of Dubai, have all but abandoned the crew on-board, despite a relatively low ransom demand of 2.2 million dollars.

It's hard to imagine what the hardships sailors on currently held ships might be enduring. But this particular crew members, a Syrian sailor, and his family back home have probably endured the most horrible torture imaginable.

Probably hired on very low wage, he spends nearly two years being held prisoner by pirates. While in captivity, the accommodations catch fire, forcing them to evacuate. The ship's crew has been abandoned, with the owner of the vessel refusing to pay the agreed ransom. Of course, all this is happening while his family back home in Syria, is taking shelter from the violence of the civil war there, which has already claimed at least 4000 lives.

How bad can life get for one family? My sincerest condolences go to this Syrian sailor's family, who are enduring unimaginable stress in their lives.

This very sad story is feared to be be signalling a development in the negotiation tactics by Somalian pirates off the horn of Africa. The overall piracy count off of Somalia is down dramatically this year, probably due to the huge naval presence in the area. The same cannot be said of the west coast of Africa, where a resurgence of attacks on commercial ships, have hit Nigerian / Togo waters. Here is an interesting 'matter of fact' summary of piracy in Puntland, Somalia.

At the end of the day, many real sailors, and their families, are caught up in this disastrous situation.