The Negato Reefer with its damaged lifeboat after the accident.

Here is a report of a Port State Inspection which morphed into an MAIB investigation, concerning a fruit carrier, the Negato Reefer This ship was said, in the MAIB report, to have been carrying fruit from the Canary Islands, and other sources indicate that it was a regular visitor to the port, which probably means that it was carrying bananas or tomatoes from the islands. Back in the old days Fyffes and Geest carried bananas into the UK. All their ships were Britsh registered and the Geest ships in particular were much featured in advertising, as their spectacular white shapes brightened the dour former coal port of Barry in South Wales. But like nearly all the cargo ships of the former British merchant navy, they are no more, and fruit is carried into the country on ships like the Negato Reefer.

The reasons for the changes are obvious, and maybe the biggest culprits were the managers of the British shipping companies themselves, who seemed to have forgotten that they were commercial organisations. And their fate was finally nailed by Mrs Thatcher whose enthusiasm for free market economics did not take into account the financlal advantages of flagging out.

So here we are today, as consumers, supporting companies like Kyokuyo the managers of the Nagata Reefer, which was crewed by Filipinos except for the Captain, the Chief Engineer and the Mate who were Korean. Some of the crew had been on the ship for 19 months and most for more than a year.

The ship came to the attention of the MCA due to complaints about the living conditions of the crew and so a Port State Inspection was arranged, and a Port State Control Officer boarded the ship on 9th April 2014 and carried out an “initial” inspection, which found numerous deficiencies, and as a result the master was informed that a “more detailed” inspection would be carried out, and this started with a fire drill.

The number of failings in the fire drill were such that the vessel was detained. One of the factors identified was the fact tha the drill was not conducted in English, supposedly the selected language for the vessel. The report does not say what language the drill was actually conducted in. There were a number of other failings including the failure of the Chief Officer to take the fire team to the correct site.

Thereafter the inspector instructed the crew to carry out an abandon ship drill, and so a boat was launched with the Chief Officer in charge and five crew on board. Initially it was not possible for the boat to be released from the falls, or as they are now called “Davit Wire Suspension Links”. The report goes into great detail about the boat, which was one of about 100 fitted of that make with on load release gear, or as it is now described Lifeboat Release and Retrieval System (LRRS), of which more later.

Initially they were unable to release the boat, but by taking the weight briefly on the falls they were able to get away and carry out about ten minutes motoring round the harbour. They then returned to the ship and with some difficulty connected the davit suspension links, and then fitted the fall prevention devices (FPDs), webbing straps with a shackle at each end which connect the falls to the lifeboat hooks, and if correctly installed will keep those on board safe even if the on load release system accidentally releases the boat. However, the inspector noted that as the boat was recovered several crew members were not convinced that they were safe, and could be seen praying.

 Eventually the boat was lifted into the stowed position and the bosun was instructing the crew to install the gripes, when the Chief Officer arrrived on the scene and told the men in the boat to remove the FDPs. As a pin was being removed from a shackle, the boat fell and was impaled on the rails around the embarkation station, catching the bosun a glancing blow. He was dispatched to hospital, and the boat was removed and dispatched to Rotterdam for repair, being temprarily replaced with an additional liferaft. The bosun was returned to the ship the following day.

If only that had been the end of it, but no. In order to ensure that the crew’s ability to fight fires was improved, several days training were undertaken during the time of the ship’s detention, and on 12th April the inspector returned to re-evaluate their capabilities. He determined that the drill carried out in his presence was “just about satisfactory”. The training company produced a report which said that “the ship’s crew required a lot more training to improve the standard of emergency preparedness on board”. The report said that Kyokuyo provided no further training at that time.

Also on 12th April a further abandon ship drill was carried out this time using the starboard boat. This time the boat was first lowered to the water and then the crew and the inspector boarded, but it was found that the hooks could not be released. After about an hour’s work on the hooks the release mechanism was operated and then reset, and the boat was retrieved and secured.

The Port State Control Officer also required that an audit of the ship’s ISM code be carried out, and this was this was done on behalf of the Panamanian registry by Class NK. And in order to conform with the Class NK corrective action plan (CAP) the managers, Kyokuyo, issued a safety notice to its vessels on 29th May. This notice said:

·       Crew’s routine patrol and inspection were not enough.

·       Habitual practice on board was not correct.

·       Not enough common sense to the safety device, lifesaving appliances and preparation of special work (sic).

The notice concluded:

·       We would hope crews to learn that more of your own ship and safety boarding with highly own interesting to protect yourself and the company (sic).

We are reminded that one of the boats had been sent to Rotterdam for repair and the report compiled on the work carried out. This type of on load release gear is operated by a lever on the starboard side of the coxswain’s station, which is connected by cables to cams on the forward and aft release hooks. In the safe position the lever is held in place by a pin, and also the system is provided with a hydrostatic lock which only allows the boat to be released when it is in the water. However, the lock can be overridden in an emergency. The report on the boat said that the cables were seized and that the forward cable had probably fractured internally, also that the hydrostatic unit was not working. The management of the ship seem to have made much of the fact that the lifeboats had been formally inspected in the autumn of 2013 as part of the annual SOLAS survey, and had been found to have no faults, and although the MAIB made no comment on this at all, one wonders how the boats could have deteriorated to such an extent in six months.

On a subsequent visit to the port the Nagata Reefer was visited again and the reports of the safety meetings reviewed. On a meeting held only 10 days after the accident it was stated that there had been no occurrence of an accident or near miss during the previous month.  Says it all really. People with a professional interest in on-load release gear should read the full report on the MAIB website. Link to it here The Negato Reefer Report

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