Maritime salvage article reawakens memories of the Hoegh Osaka

An article published in the Guardian on 11 January 2023 entitled “What happens when a huge ship sinks? A step-by-step guide to averting disaster”, makes fascinating reading. Among the many interesting links within the article, the Safety and Shipping Review 2022 from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) stands out, giving an annual review of trends and developments in shipping losses, risk challenges and safety.

On 7 December 2022, the Government announced approval of the first three new freeports, at Teesside, ‘Plymouth and South Devon’ and ‘Solent Freeport’ signalling what may well prove to be an expansion of commercial shipping in the Solent. Since the announcement, rumours have been growing that the ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ freeport tax site at Dibden Bay may well be in line for development now that the planning regulations can be relaxed. SPS published details of these tax sites in March 2022

Reading the Guardian article brings back memories of the stranding of the vehicle carrier ‘Hoegh Osaka’ on the Brambles bank in January 2015. We are already used to constantly increasing size of the cruise ships plying the Solent, for which safety – one hopes – is paramount, but what of the increasing tonnage of cargo vessels using our waters?

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch report of the accident, published in March 2016, made interesting reading, and in his statement to the media, Steve Clinch, The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents made the following statements:

“The MAIB’s investigation found that Hoegh Osaka’s stability did not meet the minimum international requirements for ships proceeding to sea. The cargo loading plan had not been adjusted for a change to the ship’s usual journey pattern and the number of vehicles due to be loaded according to the pre stowage plan was significantly different from than that of the final tally. The estimated weight of cargo was also less than the actual weight. Crucially, the assumed distribution of ballast on board, bore no resemblance to reality, which resulted in the ship leaving Southampton with a higher centre of gravity than normal.”

“This accident is a stark reminder of what can happen when shortcuts are taken in the interest of expediency. It is therefore imperative that working practices adopted by the car carrier industry ensure that there is always sufficient time and that accurate data is available on completion of cargo operations to enable the stability of such vessels to be properly calculated before departure.”

With future expansion of commercial shipping in the Solent, Solent Protection Society will be keeping a close eye on the safety implications in a context of rising corporate cost-cutting and deliberate relaxation of planning regulations.

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