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Corrosion, Overloaded Cargo Sank Ship

Friday, June 14, 2013

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Corrosion and a significantly weakened structure contributed to a sinking cargo ship that saw the loss of six lives, according to an investigation report published on Wednesday (June 12).

Swanland sank 17 minutes after a failure in the middle of the ship's hull on Nov. 27, 2011. Only two of the vessel's eight person crew survived and were rescued by a helicopter co-piloted by Prince William. The body of the chief officer was recovered from the sea during an extensive air and sea search, but the remaining crew were not found.

An investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the structure had significantly weakened due to corrosion, the ship was overloaded with cargo and other elements doomed the vessel.

Swanland vessel
Robert Smith (Robenco) / MAIB

Swanland's structural integrity and a lack of maintenance, combined with rough seas and high winds, caused it to sink in 2011, killing six of the eight crew members.

The MAIB examines and investigates all types of marine accidents to or on board UK ships worldwide and other ships in UK territorial waters.

Overloaded and Old

The ship was overloaded and carrying nearly 3,000 tonnes of limestone when it hit rough seas and gale force winds off the north coast of Wales, traveling from Llanddulas in Wales to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Swanland was 34 years old and nearing the end of her service life. While the vessel was still in compliance with rules of her classification society, the International Naval Surveys Bureau, most maintenance had been overlooked.

A general cargo ship, Swanland carried solid bulk cargoes but was not regulated the same as vessels classified as bulk carriers.

Swanland was owned by Swanland Shipping Ltd. and operated by Torbulk Ltd.

Torbulk Ltd. said it was studying the detail of the report, stating, "It is a huge report and we are studying its detail. Until we have done that we will not be making any further comment," BBC reported.

Maintenance 'Lacked Focus'

The investigation found that lack of repairs was a major factor in the structural failure, and the vessel's longitudinal strength has probably weakened significantly over the last two and a half years because of corrosion.

ship corrosion

A previous modification to the ship likely trapped water causing corrosion.

Noting that no structural repairs had been done since 2009, the report stated that "The maintenance and repair of the vessel had lacked focus and oversight."

The 2,730 tonnes of limestone the ship was carrying was a high density cargo that had been loaded into a single pile in the central section of the hold, causing "significant stresses" in the midships section. Those stresses were exacerbated by the rough seas. The ship was also 91.2 tonnes overloaded.

Other contributing factors included:

  • Non-compliance with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargo Code;
  • Insufficient loading information;
  • A lack of effective safety management;
  • Poor quality of survey and audit;
  • Lack of oversight of the classification society by the Flag State (Cook Islands); and
  • The financial pressures of operating this type of vessel in the current economic downturn.

As part of the investigation, MAIB contracted Braemar Technical Services Limited, a marine consultancy firm, to assess Swanland's structural design and repair history.

Braemer noted that the only ship modification took place in 2003, when self-discharging equipment was added. This addition included installing rails on either side of the hatch coamings, which created a water "trap" area where corrosion would have been more likely to develop.

International Maritime Organization
Royal Air Force / MOD

One of the survivors can be seen waving from the liferaft after Swanland sank.

Several structural elements contributed directly to the failure of the ship, according to the report. "An apparent lack of focus" on maintaining structural integrity allowed the primary structure to degrade; no repairs had been undertaken since 2009, and it is estimated the vessel's upper longitudinal strength was weakened due to corrosion by approximately 18 percent.

Regulations Needed

According to the MAIB, 248 general cargo ships, including Swanland, have sunk worldwide since 2002, with a loss of over 800 seafarers.

"It is hoped that the loss of Swanland and her six crew will be a catalyst for the work already being undertaken by the International Maritime Organization to tackle the global issue of general cargo ship safety," the report stated.

In November 2008, the IMO adopted a resolution that provided guidance for ships which were not determined to be bulk carriers but occasionally carried dry cargoes in bulk. The guidance applies to vessels that had their keel laid on or after July 1, 2010.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Fatalities; IMO; Marine; Shipyards

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