Sunken tug inspected 10 times in past five years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2008, 12:00am

October check in Shenzhen found six faults with vessel

An inspection less than six months ago uncovered a catalogue of safety faults and technical and navigational flaws on the Ukrainian tug which sank after a collision off Tuen Mun on Saturday with 18 sailors aboard.

The inspection in Shenzhen on October 9 was the 10th in five years by port authorities around the world on the Russian-registered Neftegaz-67, information from Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit shows. Three of the inspections resulted in the ship being detained in port, as it was unsafe.

Early today divers, who have been working for 72 hours to retrieve the 18 sailors trapped within the upturned vessel on the seabed, located the first evidence of the fate they had suffered - a body found near the wreck.

Experts said the inspection record indicated safety on the vessel was likely to have been substandard but may not have had a direct bearing on Saturday's accident.

Inspectors at the mainland port found six faults: one related to safety of life at sea, two concerned with safety of navigation, one flaw in the propulsion and auxiliary systems and two oil leaks causing pollution.

The Neftegaz-67 underwent nine port inspections in 2003 - four in Hong Kong, two in San Francisco and two at Alameda in nearby Oakland, and one in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, in Russia's far east. It was detained in port in San Francisco in May of that year and twice five months later in Hong Kong.

Deficiencies identified during its detention in Hong Kong on September 29, 2003, included the failure to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus and complete regular passage plans, officers' lack of familiarity with the company safety system and problems with the operational readiness of life-saving appliances, according to the Marine Department.

Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association, said: 'Ships are targeted because of the age of the ship, the management of the ship or its former inspection record.

'It is not unusual for a ship to have 10 inspections in five years but it is perhaps unusual to have detentions.

'That could perhaps be an indication that that there might be something wrong - that it has been detained three times. It could indicate certain management failings in certain areas. But whether they related to Tuen Mun is arguable and we won't know whether it is until the accident report is completed.'

A shipping consultant, who asked not to be named, said: 'It is not uncommon for a ship to have six problems highlighted in one inspection. But ... the fact that there are six issues indicates that you have borderline management standards.

'Having three detentions in five years shows that the [inspectors] believed that there would be a serious risk to either life or the environment if that vessel went out of the port. It means that the ship owners have deferred a lot of maintenance that should have been done.'

The South China Morning Post attempted to contact the vessel's owners, Chernomorneftegaz, three times yesterday but each time someone answered briefly, then the phone line went dead.

The company's Hong Kong agents, Anfari, declined to comment.

A delegation led by Ukraine's vice-minister of transport and communication, Vasyly Shevchenko, arrived in Hong Kong and was briefed on the progress of salvage efforts.

Three members of the delegation were later seen boarding a boat for the site of the upturned vessel. The 2,723-tonne tugboat collided with the mainland-registered freighter Yaohai in fog near The Brothers islands south of Tuen Mun late on Saturday. The tug sank, and a strong current carried it 400 metres.

Troubled waters

The Neftegaz-67 had a history of safety violations discovered during 10 inspections. An industry source said such inspections were usually triggered by concerns about a ship's seaworthiness

The violations

Oct 9, 2007 Shenzhen

- Safety deficiencies

- Navigational deficiencies

- Propulsion, machinery problems

May 12, 2003 San Francisco, US

- Emergency escape deficiency

- Rescue boat deficiency

- Navigational deficiencies

- Fire door deficiencies

The othe inspections

Oct 11, 2003 Hong Kong

Sep 29, 2003 Hong Kong

Sep 19, 2003 Hong Kong

May 24, 2003 Alameda, US

May 17, 2003 San Francisco, US

May 16, 2003 Alameda, US

Jan 15, 2003 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Russia

Source: Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit