The Maritime Disciplinary Court of the Netherlands (Tuchtcollege voor de Scheepvaart) has fined both the captain and first mate of Wagenborg’s Alaskaborg. Both wrongfully assumed they were pumping melt or sea water overboard, but this was in fact at least partially fuel oil.
The Alaskaborg had left Baie Comeau, Canada, on 7 February 2022, bound for Rotterdam. The cargo consisted of crushed carbone anodes divided between the two holds. While loading the Alaskaborg, it was snowing hard. During loading of hold 1, it snowed less hard than during loading of hold 2.
On the evening of 9 February, the bilge alarm went off from the bilge well portside forward in hold 2. The ship was sailing south of Newfoundland at the time. The captain and first mate consulted with each other and concluded that the alarm was caused by melting snow in the hold or water ingress.
With the ship rolling and pitching, they felt it was too dangerous for crew to go on deck and into the hold for inspection. They agreed to leave the bilge ejector at the bilge well in question running and keep that up until the next morning or until the weather improved.
The next morning, the bilge ejector was stopped. The first mate went into hold 2 with deck crew and discovered that there was a hole in fuel tank 7SB from which VLSFO (Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil) was leaking. That oil mixed with the cargo and also spilled into the bilge well portside forward. This had caused the alarm earlier.
The hole in the fuel tank had been caused because the lashing rings (d-rings) of a tween-deck hatch had broken loose and, as a result, the hatch had fallen into the hold against the wall of fuel tank 7SB. Some of the leaked oil had been continuously pumped overboard over a period of more than twelve hours by the bilge ejector.
According to the Inspector, the person concerned did not consider any other possible cause of the alarm on only one bilge well, other than that it might have been caused by melting snow or water ingress. In addition, the person concerned left the bilge ejector on until the next morning or until the weather improved, not knowing what was being pumped overboard. Part of 55 m3 of VLSFO was pumped into the Atlantic by the engine room crew, under the leadership of the captain and first mate.
In short, the Inspector stated that due to erroneous assumptions, the person concerned left the bilge ejector on the bilge well portside forward of hold 2 on for over twelve hours, without being sure what was going overboard with it. As a result, a quantity of oil was released into the Atlantic.
Court blames captain and first mate for pumping overboard
The Maritime Disciplinary Court has found that a tweendeck hatch breaking and falling resulting in a leak of a fuel tank was an unlikely occurrence. As such, the Court feels the captain and first mate were right to suspect slush or water ingress. Because, when loading in hold 2, it had snowed harder than when loading in the other holds and the fuel tank was heated. In addition, water ingress had occurred earlier. Under these circumstances, the persons concerned, with their knowledge at the time of discovering the accident, should not have considered another cause.
However, the captain and first mate should have considered a different problem after the alarm kept going off, particularly because only one bilge well alarm kept going off, the ejector’s capacity of 70 m3/h and the fact that the ship was heeling by 30 to forty degrees and in that case there is a real possibility of damage in the holds.
With severe weather conditions initially not allowing them to check why the alarm went off, captain and first mate should have decided to pump into the ballast tank rather than overboard, even though there was no official procedure for doing so.
Although the Inspector had asked for the sailing licence of both the captain and first mate to be suspended for eight weeks (of which four weeks were conditional), the court has decided to impose a fine instead. Particularly because the Court wanted to give both a similar sentence and because suspending the licence would not affect the first mate as he no longer sails under the Dutch flag.
Both the captain and the first mate are therefore fined EUR 2000, of which EUR 1000 is conditional.
In continuation but also independently of the decision in this case, the Maritime Disciplinary Court sees cause to draw attention to the following points:
- Onboard manuals should include how to deal with the bilge alarm from a hold.
- When it is not clear what is leaking, that liquid should not be pumped overboard, but should be pumped into the ballast tank on board the ship for safety reasons (if possible).
The Alaskaborg (IMO nummer 9466374) is a Dutch general cargo ship, sailing for Wagenborg Shipping. The ship was built in 2012 and measures 133.36 x 21.50 metres and has a cargo carrying capacity of 11,885 gross tonnes. At the time of the accident, there were fourteen crew on board.
Picture by Estormiz/Wikimedia.