Lucky to have grounded

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

18 March 2016


Apart perhaps from the Costa Concordia, it would be difficult to imagine a worse case of poor practices and disregard for safety than that revealed by the MAIB report into the grounding of the PCTC Hoegh Osaka off Southampton in January last year. Even before the ship began loading the seeds of the calamity that was to befall it were being sown when its port rotation was changed but the planned stowage was left unaltered. Another factor in the incident was an historical record of inadequate ballast recording and control to the point where the quantity of ballast and its location on board was not known. What followed after that was due to inadequacies in procedures and wrong information provided by everyone from the cargo shipper to the officers and crew onboard. As a consequence the ship departed from the port in a condition not permitted under SOLAS. This was in part due to the issues surrounding ballast distribution and also to wrong information supplied by shippers with regard to cargo weight. Loading of extra vehicles permitted by the shipowner’s port captain but not advised to the chief officer was another major contributing factor. During the investigations when the actual weight of vehicles on board were compared to shippers’ advised figures, discrepancies of several hundred tonnes were found. The declared weight of vehicles in the five highest decks was 363 tonnes less than the actual while the declared weight in the two lower decks was 94 tonnes higher. When calculating the ship’s GM only the declared figures were taken into account and that did not include the weight of the extra cargo that was not shown on the original stowage plan. Draught readings taken after loading was completed were recorded but when entered into the loading computer were transposed so that the aft figure was entered as the forward figure and vice versa. The supposed ballast distribution was calculated using this combination of erroneous figures and adjusted accordingly but was obviously wrong. When leaving the port the ship was able to complete a turn to starboard but when attempting to round the Bramble Bank where the ship eventually grounded, a sudden list of 40° resulted in the rudder and propeller leaving the water making the ship without power or steering. The drift onto the bank was probably the most fortuitous event of the voyage. As a consequence of the investigation several safety recommendations have been made to the owners and also to the wider vehicle carrier sector since anecdotal evidence would suggest that similar practices are endemic. While this incident involved a car carrier, the question of declared weights of cargoes is also a hot topic in the container sector. There are many parallels that can be drawn with the inadequacies of stowage plans and calculations made using erroneous data and the lessons are equally valid for those container shippers that are arguing against having to provide precise information. The 86 page report, safety flyer and a video featuring a message from the MAIB Chief Inspector can be found on the MAIB website.