Shifting cargo causes emergency. Lessons learned from the occurence involving the Eemslift Hendrika
On 5 April 2021, the Dutch cargo vessel Eemslift Hendrika ran into difficulties off the coast of Norway during a northwestern storm. The cargo hold contained, among other things, azimuth thrusters. A number of the azimuth thrusters in the cargo hold shifted and punctured an anti-heeling tank and ballastwater tanks. The water then flowed from the tanks into the cargo hold. As a result of the shifting azimuth thrusters and the ballast water leaking into the hold, the vessel developed a starboard list.
All crewmembers were evacuated. The vessel continued on its way on automatic pilot. The next morning it became clear that propulsion had cut out. The wind was blowing the vessel slowly in the direction of the Norwegian coast. During the night the vessel also lost a portion of the deck cargo, and took the jib of the deck crane with it, damaging the hull of the vessel. On April 7 the vessel could safely be towed into Ålesund harbour.
Lashing system not sufficient for weather conditions
The investigation by the Dutch Safety Board has revealed that the azimuth thrusters became detached due to a lashing system that was unable to cope with the conditions during the sea voyage. With the choice for an open sea voyage with the predicted bad weather conditions and against the advice of the owner, he pushed the margins of safe navigation. Because the weather conditions deteriorated, it became impossible to maintain course and speed, and the ship had to ride out the storm. At no time did the operator and owner give a direct order to take a safer, alternative route.
The lashing system could not handle these conditions and failed. In theory, the load capacity of the lashing system was sufficient. The azimuth thrusters had not been lashed into the hold by the crew in accordance with the plan, which resulted in different forces being exerted on the lashings than previously calculated.
The operator did not provide a control mechanism that guaranteed that the azimuth thrusters were lashed in the same way as planned in practice. The shipping company had extensive knowledge and experience in the field of loading and lashing cargo and azimuth thrusters. This knowledge and experience were not (pro)actively shared, so the knowledge was not fully utilized.
The perception among part of the industry that a captain cannot receive instructions has historically grown. Traditionally, a captain was dependent on himself and his crew during sea voyages. In the present time, shore communication with ships has improved and there is regular contact between the office and the ship. This allows an operator or ship owner to give instructions in if a situation requires it. The Dutch Safety Board therefore issues the following recommendation.
To the operator Amasus:
1. As a company and owner of ships use, in exceptional situations where the safety of the crew and the ship is or is likely to be compromised, the possibility of imposing instructions on the master.
Shipping of cargo is a process that consists of a number of fundamental or conditional steps. Each of these steps involves one or more parties who play a certain role in the process. This incident has shown that it is important for all parties involved to draw each other’s attention to unusual characteristics of a cargo, as is already prescribed for heavy lifts, even if it does not fall into the category of a ‘heavy lift’. To promote this, the Dutch Safety Board issues the following recommendations.
To the operator Amasus:
2. Ensure that the stowage and lashing of unusual cargo, i.e. cargo with an eccentric centre of gravity or deviating shape, can be carried out on board in such a way that reality is in accordance with the plan. This incident shows that when drawing up a plan that is feasible in practice, attention should be paid to at least the following topics:
- Making demonstrable use of the existing knowledge and experience of shipping unusal cargo that is present in the company and its employees.
- Using inputdata for the lashing calculations that is accurate and in accordance with reality.
- Requesting all necessary information for the shipping of cargo and sharing this with the crew.
3. If the original lashing plan is deviated from, check whether the changed method of stowing and/or lashing is sufficient to be able to load the cargo safely.