The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has made a series of safety recommendations following the capsizing and sinking of the Cemfjord off Scotland.

21 April

In the report, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) makes clear that the capsizing of the Cemfjord could have been avoided if there had been sufficient passage planning and if the master had sought shelter.

The Cyprus registered cement carrier capsized in “extremely violent sea conditions” in the Pentland Firth, Scotland on 2 January 2015. The NorthLink ferry, Hrossey, which was sailing to Aberdeen from the Northern Isles, raised the alarm after the carrier’s upturned hull was spotted.

Despite an extensive search by the emergency services, the bodies of the eight crew members were never found.

The MAIB says the “rapid nature of the capsize” meant the crew members were unable to issue a distress message or escape.

“Passage planning requires that all hazards are taken into account and avoided; the extraordinarily violent and fatal sea conditions encountered in the Pentland Firth were predictable and could have been avoided,” states the report, which was released on 21 April.

It continues: “As well as insufficient passage planning, the master’s decision to press ahead with the voyage, rather than seek shelter, was almost certainly influenced by an underestimation of the severity of the conditions, his personal determination to succeed and an unwillingness to turn the vessel across the heavy sea.”

The MAIB also highlights that the Cemfjord was at sea “with significant safety shortcomings” and there was no evidence “that any consideration was given to delaying departure until these problems were fixed; instead, Flag State exemptions from safety regulations were approved to allow the ship to proceed to sea.”

It also states that the Cemfjord’s stability condition did not meet the required criteria, “making the vessel more vulnerable to capsize.” An accurate stability assessment is vital for every passage, stresses the MAIB.

A series of safety recommendations has now been made to the vessel’s managers, Flag State to improve “safety culture onboard its vessels”. The company has already introduced computer-based training and programmes for use on board to address the issues of passage planning and stability.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency also intends to improve the safety management of cement carriers and also review the safety arrangements in the Pentland Firth.

5 January 2015

The search for eight missing crew has been suspended after efforts by four lifeboats and two helicopters found nothing.

Shetland Coastguard received reports from a ferry of an upturned cargo vessel east of Pentland Firth at 2.30pm on Saturday and shortly dispatched rescue crews to the scene.

Despite extensive searches throughout Saturday and Sunday no survivors have been found in the area.

A coastguard spokesperson said: “The search for eight crew missing from the cement carrier, Cemfjord, which capsized and sank in the Pentland Firth has been suspended this evening [Sunday], with no sign found of the missing crew.

“The families of the crew have been notified. The coastguard will continue to broadcast messages to all shipping requesting that they are informed about any information or sightings that could be related to the vessel.”

Rescue teams covered an area of 200 square miles during a painstaking search to locate the missing crew before being stood down by the coastguard.

RNLI divisional operations manager Andrew Ashton, said: “The RNLI crews from Thurso, Wick, Longhope and Stromness have worked tirelessly to search a massive area.

This has been a challenging operation for all our RNLI volunteers and the other rescue organisations involved and our thoughts are very much with the missing men and their families at this time.”

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