Asia Maritime Breakfast Briefing: Casualty Response Today and Tomorrow

At the Asia Maritime Breakfast Briefing TMC Maritime managing director, Simon Burthem describes the details of the Sewol tragedy

There was a touch of shock and awe at the last Asia Maritime Breakfast Briefing of 2017 (Casualty Response Today and Tomorrow: Foreign Correspondents Club, 1 December). Awe at the resources brought to bear in the case of the raising of the South Korean ferry, Sewol, and shock at how badly the public relations surrounding the casualty were handled.

It fell to the managing director of TMC Marine, Simon Burthem, to relate the details of the tragedy. The Sewol sank in Korean waters in April 2014 with the loss of over 300 people, many of them children.

The scale of the operation to salvage the Sewol was literally unprecedented as Mr Burthem explained:

“This was the world’s first single piece lift of an intact wreck removal -7,900T (in water) from a depth of 48m. Some 6,000 dives were made with over 12,000 hours logged.

“In the final stages alone there were more than 21 vessels on-site with 500 people and a total lifting capacity of 17,000T. For the load in there were eight lines of trailers with 600 axles and 2,400 wheels giving a maximum theoretical capacity of 21,000T.”

Mr Burthem, who was directly involved in the operation described it as a game changer that shifted the bounds of what is technically feasible as regards to working on such a scale at depth in the face of strong currents and bad weather.

“Furthermore, the whole challenge of lifting a wreck of this size 6,835 GT; length 145.61m) and age and attitude in a single piece meant it was a raising the Titanic scenario of a ship emerging from the deep intact. It is often a demand of local authorities/stakeholders but rarely achievable in my experience (and almost never economic),” he added.

What prompted such an audacious salvage operation was however far less impressive than the salvage. Mr Burthem explains:

“There is another context to the game changing context of the Sewol and that is in the repercussions arising from the incident – which were the drivers for the wreck removal operation proceeding in the first place. I’m talking about allowing public pressure to dictate the terms of response.”

“It cannot be doubted that this incident captured the hearts and minds of the Korean populace. In many ways the political fallout was unprecedented extending as it did all the way to the President. As for the crew, they were subject to very severe penalties with the Captain among them sentenced to 36 years imprisonment. I know crisis response is a hot topic in shipping circles but this perhaps lends a whole new context to the subject.

The point to take away is that where there is a high degree of stakeholder interest – particularly when it is coupled with public pressure (need not be loss of life, can be environmental as in the case of RENA), the conventional rule book can be thrown away. Ship owners and operators need to be prepared to respond and in my view the best practice approach is to mitigate both the risk in the first instance but then, once a casualty has occurred, those factors that can lead to escalation,” Mr Burthem concluded.

On hand to offer advice on mitigating risks through a comprehensive loss prevention progamme and audit was managing director of MatthewsDaniel, Simon Ward. As a result of a Loss Prevention review undertaken by MatthewsDaniel for a major shipping line, insurance was renewed at the same rate, despite some losses within the policy period. With the caveat that loss prevention is not a “magic wand” Mr Ward convinced that sensible and targeted loss prevention has the potential to improve safety records, help standardize best practice and relies savings to the bottom line.

Boaz Chan, associate director at Incisive Law LLC in alliance with Ince & Co, used part of his presentation to highlight the importance of a post casualty response that has in mind the presence of social media and the avoidance of panic measures immediately after the incident. A DO NOT list included:

Remove/tamper with evidence

Ask for crew statements/reports before layers attend onboard (may be disclosable and are often wrong)

Conduct an immediate internal audit

Allow opponent lawyers/surveyors or cargo interests on board

Discipline/sack the master or crew

Discuss the evidence with unauthorized parties

With the rise of social media the last veto has become particularly dangerous if not adhered to. Images conveyed by social media from the sinking of the Sewol and the Burgos oil tanker fire off Mexico in 2015 were instrumental in escalating the consequences of both incidents.

For an object lesson in how to prepare for a casualty there was no better person than Capt Mayank Mishra, head of Quality and Safety at Fleet Management. With a fleet of more than 450 vessels, Fleet Management has constructed an incident command structure led by an incident commander ready to trigger a response to casualties at a moment’s notice.

Members of the incident command are responsible for coordinating information to and from the vessel to all stakeholders including flag state/owners and charterers/class/local agent/independent crisis management team/hull & machinery insurers/P & I Club/ and salvors when necessary.

In the absence of a casualty members of the command structure are drilled twice a month including a nighttime response on a quarterly basis.

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