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Bibby Topaz photo Jim Pottinger



The UK Marine Safety Forum provides a welcome service of publishing the results of investigations into accidents of one sort or another, but of course they are non-attributable thereby avoiding the publication of the names of the owners, or the ship. A recent incident involved an unnamed ship running aground in the entrance to an unnamed port, possibly due to the lack of familiarity with the area on the part of the officer of the watch, and the failure to put in place a proper passage plan. This is useful information but it would have been easier to visualise the problem if at least the name of the port had been included. It sounded like Den Helder which is quite difficult to approach or leave - going North I think, but much easier going South.

On the other hand there is a remote possibility that it might have been Lerwick, and that the ship might have been the Bibby Topas. I mention this because even if it wasn't, a report on the event should be appearing soon in the Marine Safety Forum's email system, and we will immediately be able to link the unnamed ship in the unnamed port with the TV and newspaper pictures of the Bibby vessel leaning over while aground - when it was attempting to go out of the North entrance to Lerwick harbour. Again, not the easiest passage in the world.


This month I have made a major effort to find something just a bit cheerful at a time when there seems to be only bad news for all seafarers, or bad news about seafarers. There is just a scintilla of good news for British seafarers who, if they work out of the country for more than six months of the year may continue to receive the maximum tax relief on their earnings. This is not certain, since in the end it is going to be up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the group who have been investigating the more than 1000 tax concessions that are available have made the recommendation. People who follow this sort of thing may recollect that there has been an ongoing court case between the Inland Revenue and the seafarers unions about the definition of a ship. And this has ended up with the ridiculous situation that some ships aren't ships, a situation caused by the fact that some offshore workers have tried to jump onto this particular band wagon. Well. we'll keep our fingers crossed and hope that it all works out.

And unfortunately that's the end of the good news.


The marine journals of the world are currently carrying a letter from Efthimios Mitropoulos the Secretary-General of the IMO saying that he hopes that the "Year of the Seaferer" did something to highlight the plight of many seafarers. He said "I am well aware that the hardships you face today cannot be solved by a publicity campaign alone and that we still need to do more to inform the general public. But I am hopeful that those who create or perpetuate the poor conditions under which some of you are forced to live and work will find it increasingly difficult to escape the glare of the spotlight that, prompted by the Year of the Seafarer is now being shone upon them."

Well!!  Here is a suggestion for the IMO. Try following your own principles and only allow states who wish to set up a registry to do so if they have the resources to support it. Since the loss of the Demas Victory almost two years ago, out there in the Arabian Gulf I have attempted to find out whether any sort of investigation has been carried out. And bear in mind that the IMO requires an investigation to be carried out into any marine accident if the findings will contribute to the safety of seafarers in the future. I think that if a ship sinks in moderate weather, within a few miles of a port with the loss of 30 lives, an investigation should take place. This ship was registered with the flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines. In my efforts to finds out more I have emailed the owners, called the St Vincent and the Grenadines government, attempted to contact them through the internet (although they do not seem to have a marine department), and written to the registry, which is in Europe, twice. I have not received any response at all. Surely this is a dereliction of duty on the part of the IMO. And lets have a look at some of the other flag states - Mongolia, Tanzinia, Bolivia - to name only a few.

My suggestion to the  IMO is that they take a levy from the registries and use the money to finance investigations into the losses of ships and lives, in the hope that in at least one area the lot of the seafarer will be improved. I could go on, but basically my suggestion is that we should have less talk and more action.


The Secretary-General of the IMO has also told us that 2011 is going to be the year when the marine industry combats the pirate threat. And as some are ready to tell us, this threat exists not only in the Indian Ocean, but also in other areas of the world. Apparently things are pretty bad in the seas around West Africa, and to the North of Indonesia pirates keep hijacking tugs for one reason or another. Seafarers are being killed in some areas and at this moment in Somalia 800 seafarers are being held.

No-one seems to know how to deal with this problem since we live in a civilised world - or one which is more or less civilised. The navies of many nations are still only capable of covering a small area of the Indian Ocean, and even with some success there are plenty of pirates left, and there radius of operations seems to be constantly extending. The Romans dealt with the same problem in the Mediterranean by hitting the Barbary coast and destroying their bases, but I suppose that can't be done now.

But actually there are an increasing number of ways in which ships can be defended from pirates, even excluding the process to be employed by Hereema and Vroon who have decided to use the Dutch military where necessary when their vessels are passing through high risk areas. I particularly liked the wire devices that can be trailed over the side so that when the pirates try to come alongside the propellers of their small craft get tangled up in the wires. But there is more. In addition you can write to you MP - senator - or other representative. For guidance in this area go to www.SaveOurSeafarers.com .


Those of us who continue to follow the investigation into the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, the first anniversary of which is coming up in a few days, will have been interested in the attitude taken by Transocean of the affair, which the other day became one of those running news items across the bottom of the major news programmes around the world. TRANSOCEAN PAYS BONUSES TO ITS DIRECTORS FOR ACHIEVING THEIR SAFEST YEAR EVER! it said. Actually I added the exclamation mark myself.

The bonuses were paid - they said - because the company had achieved their lowest level of recordable incidents in 2010. For some reason, which no-one seems to have understood, the loss of nine of its employees in the Macondo disaster was not a " recordable incident". And only yesterday the BP annual general meeting took place where lots of people were protesting about stuff, loss of jobs and loss of income particularly - but no-one was protesting about the loss of life of the unfortunate drill crew.

Victor Gibson. April 2011.



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