Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Clifton trawler: Captain was snoozing

Eihatsu Maru (Picture: Sapa)

Cape Town - Poor seamanship and a snoozing captain contributed to a Japanese fishing vessel running aground on Cape Town's Clifton Beach in May this year.

According to Transport Minister Ben Martins, the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has investigated how the 439 ton tuna vessel Eihatsu Maru came to lose its way in fog.

It got stuck in the sand off Clifton's First Beach in the early hours of 12 May.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question, Martins said Samsa found the vessel "was not appropriately manned for the voyage, as there was only one watchkeeper who was not qualified as required by the Japanese flag state".

Further, the lookouts were "not allowed" to disturb the captain.

"The vessel's bridge was not appropriately manned as required by good seamanship as there were only lookouts on the bridge-wing, who were not allowed inside the bridge where the captain was asleep."

Martins said the captain had not stuck to international regulations, which require all available means - including the use of radar and depth sounders - be employed to keep a proper lookout when a vessel was in fog, or visibility is poor.

"In addition, the vessel's autopilot repeater was reading about 12° low in comparison to the gyro compass. No regular compass and gyro error readings had been logged in the deck log book.

"If the error was known, the master could have applied the correct course setting in order to steer to the anchorage," he said.

Should have anchored

According to a maritime expert, who declined to be named for professional reasons, the gyro compass sends information via a repeater to other navigational instruments.

"The fact that there was a 12° difference suggests the instruments were not checked at the start of the watch. This should be done in terms of both maritime regulations and in the interests of good seamanship," the expert told Sapa.

In his reply, Martins also suggested Cape Town port authority staff were not sufficiently vigilant when the Eihatsu Maru entered the harbour's shipping lanes, within range of their radar.

"The vessel crossed the Cape Town VTS [Vessel Traffic Services] in total contravention of Rule 10 of the Collision Regulation, without any comment from the VTS operator," he said.

It is understood the VTS operators are located in the harbour's Port Control building. Their radar scopes, which cover the harbour approaches, are meant to be manned round the clock.

According to the maritime expert, usual procedure would be to contact any vessel entering this zone, and offer help if this is required.

Martins said that shortly after entering Table Bay, the Eihatsu Maru's master had "become disorientated".

This resulted in the vessel "steaming in an anti-clockwise direction", and finally ending up on the beach.

Shortly before it grounded, the Eihatsu Maru's crew had used searchlights to try and see where they were.

"Due to... the use of searchlights by the vessel's crew, the investigating officer believes that the vessel's radar was not in operation at this time," Martins said.

The investigators found the vessel's master should have anchored and waited for the visibility to improve.

"There was no obvious reason why the master did not anchor and await better visibility."


Martins said his department had held a series of meetings with the vessel's owners.

It reached an out-of-court settlement on the cost of towing the Eihatsu Maru off the beach, where it was stranded for six days.

After several attempts to remove the vessel, a salvage tug pulled the Eihatsu Maru out to sea on 18 May.

Martins said Samsa had accepted an out-of-court settlement to avoid the high cost of legal action, among other reasons.

"Samsa accepted the out-of-court settlement because, firstly, the vessel had no insurance and the owner could only afford the settlement offer and still have enough money at his disposal to effect the necessary repairs to make the vessel seaworthy again and remove it from Cape Town harbour," Martins said.

"Secondly, were Samsa to have approached the High Court and applied for a judicial sale of the vessel, the catch and the diesel, the likely proceeds would have been much less than the settlement offer."

In his response, Martins said in the light of the incident, his department was working on changes to maritime legislation.

There was currently no legislation requiring foreign fishing vessels to apply for safety permits before visiting South African harbours.

"Only foreign vessels, such as passenger ships, cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage or more, and mobile offshore drilling units, are regulated under the Merchant Shipping Regulations...

"The department is now working on a piece of legislation... that will regulate vessels with a gross tonnage of 300 tons and above, as well as fishing vessels."

This would ensure that vessels such as the Eihatsu Maru were regulated and closely monitored when moving in South Africa's waters, he said.

The parliamentary question was posed by the Democratic Alliance's Pieter van Dalen.

- News24


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