Monday 5 December 2016

Baltic Ace

The North Sea is not the Med. Even at the height of Summer, bathers emerge from a swim blue and teeth-chattering. Nevertheless one may be often warmer in the sea at 10oC than exposed to a whipping wind and horizontal snow above the surface. At 10oC nevertheless you are only going to survive for 60 or 90 minutes before the remarkably high specific heat of water sucks the warmth from your very core and kills you.

I written before about a disaster in a RoRo - Roll-on, Roll-off - car ferry; the Herald of Free Enterprise that sank dramatically in 1987 while leaving Zeebrugge. The design flaw in RoRo ships is the free-surface of the car decks. Water weighs in at a tonne per cu.m., and even a small depth of water inside will weigh heavy if the surface area is large. A car ferry might be 150m long and 25m in the beam: so a cm of water on the deck - not enough to reach your shoe-uppers - could weigh 40 tonnes.  Which is not so much if the deadweight tonnage [DWT=carrying capacity] is 7,000 tonnes. But, with no transverse or longitudinal bulkhead to compartmentalise the slopping water, this bulk will travel without impediment to the lowest side of the deck and increase any list to port or starboard. This may well allow the ingress of yet more water. It took less than 2 minutes to sink the Herald and 193 people lost their lives and everyone on board lost something material or psychological. If you're on the bridge in charge of one of these things, you want to be extra vigilant because a collision which holes the side is going to be bigger, wetter, problem than for normal ships.

Zeebrugge is a busy port and the tracks towards it criss-cross with tracks into other ports notably Ostend / Oostende and Anvers /Antwerpen / Antwerp. on 5th December 2012, the MV Baltic Ace, a vehicle shuttle, was taking a load of Mitsubishi cars from the port to Kotka in Finland. At 1615hrs hey dropped the pilot and headed North for the Skagerrak. As they picked up speed they noted a number of other vessels in the seaway, it was dark but ships have lights and the night was clear. Coming South heading for Antwerp was a container ship Corvus J and the two officers of the watch made radio contact with each other.
There are strict rules of priority at sea that predate new-fangled things like wireless and radar. The latest version is International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 aka COLREGs. Sailing vessels of whatever size have priority over motor vessels . . . because sailing-ships are  more difficult to manoeuvre.If two powered vessels are crossing each other's track then the vessel which has the other on it's starboard side must give way. That's entirely arbitrary, but if everyone agrees to that convention then both ships know what their responsibilities are. The corollary is that the stand-on vessel must keep its initial direction and speed - again so that there's no doubt about who is doing what. It's so simple that a child of six could understand it and indeed my nautical father dinned it into us at that age as "If to starboard red appear, 'tis your duty to keep clear" Red is the light on the left side of the ship as in the other bit of relevant doggerel "No more red port left in the bottle".

Foolishly-in-hindsight, he two Officers of the Watch came to an accommodation by VHF radio - a relaxation of the strict COLREG rules that would allow them both to get to their destinations at full power and on schedule. It didn't help that, although both OoWs were Polish, they communicated in nautical English. Their maverick approach to convention resulted in a disaster with the Corvus J whanging into the starboard side of the Baltic Ace, holing her, flooding the lower car deck with water and causing her to sink within 15 minutes of the collision. 11 out the Baltic Ace's crew of 24 seamen died in the aftermath and the Corvus J stove it her bow [see damage R] as it did it acted the tin-opener. It's all in the report by the Bahamas Maritime Authority.  As the Corvus J blundered about in the dark she ran down one of the lifeboats but was able to pluck to safety the only passenger on board.  The last survivor, the 4th engineer, was pulled from the sea after 2hrs immersion. Even with a survival suit that is at the outer limit of what is physiologically possible at 8-10oC.

The salvage was paid for by the insurers, authorised by the Dutch Rijkwaterstaat and carried out by Boskalis. They couldn't leave the hulk on the sea floor in such a busy shipping and fishing area of the North Sea. Not least, there were half a million litres of fuel oil on board. You really should check out the salvage video. Neat, efficient and a lot cleaner than, say, the British government which dumped thousands of tons of munitions into the North Sea after WWI, when people didn't know any better, and WWII when they did. Or as in Bari 1943 where The Man pretended to know nothing about the cargo on a sinking ship.

1 comment:

  1. HOW! How are there no Comments? I remember the HOFE sinking at the time. Grim stuff. Also, are you alluding to Mustard Gas in the 1943 link?