Super Yacht Crews Can Learn from Cargo Ship Foundering

Captain Adrian McCourt is a super yacht manager and is the man who heads up Watkins Superyachts.  He is an old fashioned sailor the type who believe in learning from the mistakes of others and from time to time he issues memorandum that the Captains of the yachts he manages can learn from.

The latest is the MAIB investigation report that has been published following the structural failure and foundering of the general cargo ship Swanland in the Irish Sea on 27 November 2011 with the loss of six crew.

Swanland was a typical small, hard-working general cargo ship working in the scrag end of the bulk cargo market where financial margins are tight. The events leading up to her loss arguably accumulated over the 34 years of her service life, as well as her original design and construction.

Her revenues were low and had been further diminished by the recent downturn in the shipping industry. Indeed, Swanland had been making a financial loss for some time and her owner had only continued to operate her in the hope that the market would eventually improve.

Nevertheless, Swanland was subjected to the standard regulatory framework laid down by the IMO and, at the time of the accident, she was certified as complying with all applicable statutory requirements.

The vessel had recently been inspected by her flag state, her classification society and her managers, and had undergone numerous PSC inspections; no significant concerns had been raised about her condition or operation.

Despite this, she was structurally unsound and the survey process has let this crew down badly.  It is unlikely that there are too many owners of large yachts chasing non-IACS classification societies for an easy survey regime, and the construction of large yachts would not normally result in such rapid loss of structure and subsequent rapid loss.

McCourt suggests “The Master and crew cannot be criticised too heavily for their actions on abandonment, but some lessons can be learned by the super yacht crew. Seagoing vessels rarely founder in fine weather and drills will generally lack the harsh reality of abandonment in filthy weather in winter.  Understanding the correct donning and fastening of immersion suits and lifejackets is essential.”