Master responsible for Sealand Express grounding

Jan 10, 2004
Author: P&S

The American master has been found responsible for the grounding in August last year of the Maersk Sealand container ship Sealand Express.

This is the result of the official report of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), which was issued this week.

The report says the accident was avoidable had the master and three deck officers on duty – all highly qualified men – taken proper cognisance of the danger the ship was in during deteriorating weather conditions in Table Bay. As the wind reached a speed of 115 km/h the ship began dragging her anchor and was blown towards Sunset Beach opposite Cape Town harbour, while the deck officers failed to take the necessary action until it was too late.

Interviewed on the SABC radio on Friday (9 January) Captain Bill Dernier of SAMSA described it as an avoidable accident for which the master had to accept ultimate responsibility.

The ship is owned by United States Ship Management and chartered by Maersk Sealand and is employed on the United States – South Africa service. She was on a voyage from Durban to Cape Town and the US with 1,037 containers on board at the time of the accident.

The ship was pulled clear by the anchor-handling tugs Pacific Worker and Pacific Brigand after the dredger Ham 316 helped clear a path for the stricken ship and with the salvage tug John Ross in attendance. This was performed under a Lloyds Open Form ceded to Smit Marine on a 50/50 split between the owners of the two Afrisud/Swire Pacific tugs and Smit Marine and the ship was later taken to Durban behind John Ross for extensive repairs to her hull and propeller.

She re-entered service within the last few weeks and by coincidence was in Cape Town on her first voyage when the report was made public.

SAMSA’s report also says that the National Ports Authority (NPA) traffic control centre had neglected to issue any explicit advice to the Sealand Express when they noticed on radar that the ship was dragging her anchor.

NPA’s port control personnel have previously denied this but lack any proof because their audio recorder was not working at the time. The Sealand Express deck officers deny they received the warning.

Of interest, a report in a South African maritime magazine (Maritime Reporter, Nov-Dec 2003 issue) that arrived this week relates how the Pacific Worker overheard a radio conversation between port control and the Sealand Express, in which port control warned Sealand Express shortly before 06.40 that morning that she was in imminent danger of going aground. This was logged and the anchor-handling tug immediately began engines in preparation of going to Sealand Express’ assistance.

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