Back to Casualty List | Search The Casualty Database
Precis File
source Polish news report
type A
dead 20

On 16 February 1997 Greek owned cargo ship Leros Strength sinks off Norway; no trace of 20 aboard. No survivors left and few clues as to the cause of the tragedy. All of them were Poles.

Twenty Polish crewmen died when the Greek ship Leros Strength sank off the Norwegian coast. Maritime authorities say the ship might have been in poor condition. A Norwegian sea rescue station picked up the last signal from the bulk carrier at 7:50 a.m. The captain requested assistance and gave his position as 20 kilometers west of the port of Stavanger. He said the ship was taking in water from a hole in the bow and he would try to keep it under control. The rescue station asked for more information but received no reply, not even a Mayday signal. The Leros Strength vanished from radar screens at 8 a.m. between 7 and 8 on the Beaufort Scale (0 is calm, 12 is a hurricane) was raging in the area.

The first Norwegian rescue units arrived on the scene 50 minutes later, but helicopters and cutters found only two empty life rafts and life jackets floating in the water. Thermovisual cameras located no one, and the rescue operation ended at noon the following day. Rescue specialists say it is unlikely that anyone survived the frigid northern waters for more than a few hours.

The Leros Strength was on its way to Poland from Murmansk, Russia, with a cargo of apatites (a raw material used to produce artificial fertilizers). The 21-year-old ship, registered in Cyprus, belonged to Greek ship owners Leros Management. In 1996, port controllers in Rotterdam found 11 technical faults on the ship. In May 1996, the American Bureau of Shipping placed the Leros Strength on its black list because it lacked technical testing. In a declaration the day after the disaster, the ship owners said the ship was in sound condition.

"We had no possibility to verify the ship's technical condition, because we were only intermediaries," says Kazimierz Zalewski of the Gdynia Maritime Agency, which helped recruit the Polish crew for the Leros Strength. Zalewski says this was not the Polish crew's first contract with the ship. The captain had also sailed on the Leros Strength before. "If the captain had noticed something suspicious, he definitely would have kept the ship in port," Zalewski says.

Zalewski says water might have leaked into the hold, flooded the cargo, and caused the watertight bulkheads to burst. "The crew and captain probably weren't aware of the danger, so they didn't send out a Mayday signal," he says, adding that during storms some ships lose some cargo, which then drifts about and can smash the hulls of other ships. A fast-sinking ship creates a strong vortex, which makes it hard for crew members to escape. The Gdañsk Province Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into the disaster.

The ship's crew, according to its owner's declaration, was insured with the Liverpool and London P and I insurance company. "We'll concern ourselves with all of the formalities," Zalewski says. "We hope they won't last longer than a month." Victims' families can expect roughly $100,000 each in compensation. [but see itf below] Henryk Wojciechowski, Gdañsk province governor, has offered to help victims' families. A state of mourning has been declared in the Gdañsk-Gdynia-Sopot Tricity, and all sporting and cultural events in Gdynia have been called off. King Harald V of Norway sent a letter of condolence to President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

In 1991, another ship sank in almost the same spot. The Sonata, also with a Polish crew and a cargo of apatites from Murmansk, went down, but rescue workers saved the entire crew. "Ship-owners of convenience only exist because there are charterers who care little about the quality of ships they charter." 1991-Nov. Italian built, 22 years old SONATA, loaded with iron pellets broke and sank within seconds on her way from KIRKNES to WESER Port.

source ITF
type D

ITF points out ship had transferred from ABS to RINA. Claims UK Club had withdrawn cover in 1994 due to structural repairs. Ship switched to Liverpool and London Club.

"The evidence indicates that the initial cause of the tragedy was due to the flooding of the No 1 hold and the subsequent structural failure in way of the collision bulkhead and forecastle compartment including the forepeak tank." But there is no real back-up for this quote.

ITF claims previous crew members said ship was in bad shape structurally, and that the hatch covers were leaking. ITF claims to have photos substantiating the latter,

ITF claims owners refused to cooperated with an underwater survey undertaken by the Norwegian Maritime Association. ITF says ROV pictures show no sign of heavy weather impact on stem. [very weak].

As usual,the P and I Club refused compensation to dependents without quit claims. Some families refused, others signed the quit claims and were awarded USD 40,000.

source WOININ
type C
volume Y
dead 20


Narrative based on large commented extracts of the Norwegian Maritime Directorate (NMD) report.

On 8 February 1997 the CYPRUS bulk carrier "LEROS STRENGTH" sank 23 miles off the coast of Norway while en route from Murmansk to Poland. The vessel was loaded 18,180 tonnes of apatite, which is classified as a harmless, non-dangerous fertilizer. The cargo was loaded in cargo holds nos. 1,3 and 5 with holds 2 and 4 empty. The vessel was built to the extra requirements of American Bureau of Shipping to enable her to carry cargo in alternate holds.

At 7.50 am the Captain of the LEROS STRENGTH contacted the Rescue Co-ordination Center in Sola/Stavanger, Norway, requesting immediate assistance. The Captain reported that the bow was under water up to hold 1. He was unable to steer and the situation was getting progressively worse. After approximately 3 minutes, the radio contact was abruptly cut off. It was later established that the ship had sunk. Nobody knows if the captain had already ordered to abandon the vessel, but it is unlikely as no survivors were found, or at least their bodies if they had already put on their lifejackets. The first observation is that this type of ship can go down so fast that no survival craft, even a free fall boat, can be effectively used to leave the sinking vessel.

The weather was reported as westerly gale / strong gale. This is hardly bad weather, moreover the seas were coming from abreast or even astern of it on starboard side, making the ship rolling probably heavily but pitching was for sure minimal. Furthermore a Lloyd's List article shows picture of the small container vessel BOA RHINO that picked up the empty life rafts of the LEROS STRENGTH, and obviously the sea was not very rough as this small ships was not much affected by it.

The Norwegian subsequently carried out an underwater survey of the wreck, but it was mostly dug in the mud and further destroyed by the impact on the bottom that it did reveal almost nothing. This part of the report will be fully by passed. The only clue is:

The sonar photograph has confirmed that one area of starboard side shell plates is missing i.e. for hold nr.1
This is consistent with the effect of rolling described here above.

But quite instructive in the report is the description of classification and statutory matters:

While sailing under Cyprus flag, the ship's classification society (first ABS then RINA for the last months) has been delegated authority to perform all statutory surveys.
Here it must be noted that in this case the "classification society" does not act any more as "class", mainly for insurance purposes, but as "Recognized Organisation (RO)" for a flag state. It is quite a lucrative business taking into account the proliferation of the Flag of Conveniences, and while acting so the classes also try to claim the same immunity of prosecution as the one of the flag states, meaning they can never been held liable for their mistakes. But this is luckily contested by various courts, including the French one which ruled on the ERIKA sinking.

The vessel was built as a bulk carrier to the rules and under supervision of ABS. The following class notations were assigned by ABS: +A1, E, +AMS, Bulk Carrier "strengthened for the carriage of heavy cargoes, certain holds maybe empty". The new building was delivered on 21 July 1976.
(by the Japanese shipyard NIPPON KOKAN on Shimizu island which reports that it is the first one where framing work for the double bottom was done since 1972 at the fabrication stage instead of at the assembly stage as before, using recently developed automatic fabrication arrangements. This equipment had not been used before in the fabrication of double bottoms for bulk carriers. Although these tanks were likely not related to the casualty, it shows that the shipyard was eager to use new techniques in order to be more competitive. Nothing wrong with that, if at least it does not affect the general quality of the vessel.)
when she was taken over by Lamda Shipping Company Ltd., Lemesos, Cyprus, in September 1993. During this period and until mid 1996, ABS was responsible for classification matters. One year after delivery the vessel had some modifications done to the aft part of the fore peak tank during the guarantee dry-docking. This was done because sister vessels experienced fractures, and the modification was reported a success. ... At special survey no 3 some wastage and thinning of internals were reported, however, nothing that seemed out of proportion for a 15-year-old vessel.
But in 2006 I have been in the ballast tanks of a 23 years old bulker built by Mitsubishi in Japan, and thanks to sound building, proper initial coating, good maintenance and likely better steel, there was almost no corrosion and for sure no wastage.
It is noted that the Class apparently did not specify the extent of this condition. However, this Special Survey was prior to the introduction of the Enhanced Survey Programme, which introduced requirements to positive reporting... After the Special Survey no 3 it is noted that the vessel was subject to an accelerated rate of corrosion.

Annual Survey 1992 was commenced 04/92 in Mobile, USA, and was not completed until 06/92 in Tampico, Mexico. Several conditions of class were initially issued, some of which were of rather serious nature. These related to the main deck plating, the upper fore peak tank and all topside water ballast tanks. The Annual Survey was credited in Tampico, but no mention of any repairs in response to the condition of class concerning accelerated wastage to the transverse bulkhead between top wing tanks nos. 3 & 4... no indications that the specific repairs ("renewed as original") required by the surveyor in Mobile to be done to the high fore peak tank, were completed prior to crediting this Annual Survey. Furthermore, no repairs seem to have been done to the wasted and holed internals in way of most of the top wing tanks. It is also worth noting that the available documentation indicates that the required thickness readings were not taken. At the start of this Annual Survey, the conditions of class related to the upper fore peak tank were required rectified prior crediting Annual Survey. However, this recommendation was subsequently overruled by another surveyor who deferred these repairs to the Intermediate survey.
Although the ship was still classed with ABS, the mess regarding the required repairs appears to be starting. The documentation is poor or absent, maybe on purpose if no repairs were possibly carried out. It is for sure not easy for different surveyors to follow the progress of the repairs from one port to another, and these surveyors have also different standards of thoroughness when carrying out their job.

Annual & Intermediate Survey 1993 started in Necochea, Argentina, and wastage was found to new areas such as hatch coamings, hatch covers and ventilators. The annual survey was completed together with the Intermediate Survey in Callao, Peru, 09/93. The deficiencies identified at the beginning of the annual survey were apparently put right (no positive narrative). Finally, almost 1.5 years after the condition of class regarding the bulkhead between nos. 3 and 4 top wing tanks and the doublers in the fore peak tank were put in order - no mention of the other repairs in the fore peak tank.

Annual Survey 1994 window was from 28 February 1994 to 31 August 1994. The ship was presented for survey in August 1994 barely within the window, and the attending Rotterdam surveyor withdrew the Full Term Load Line and Safety Construction certificates until the vessel undertook satisfactory repairs.
Without these Statutory certificates the ship normally cannot sail, at least in the countries were they are checked, and in case of casualty the insurance can refuse to pay, but in order to keep the ship sailing, the RO (Class) issues often "Short Term" certificates for a few months which at least compels the management have the ship surveyed more often.
The seriousness of the situation is documented in the ABS report in which expression like "through out topside tanks evidence of excessive thinning" of various important steel members, and for cargo holds nos. 1, 4 & 5 there were "hold frames found partially detached from shell plate due to excessive corrosion". As for required class action this was narrated as "inspection of all cargo holds, thickness gauging and major repairs are required to the satisfaction of attending surveyor before crediting Annual Survey hull". The report from Rotterdam is not specific regarding which parts of the structure that needed "major repairs", but the accompanying description of deficiencies indicates that such repairs were at least required for many topside ballast tanks, for some of the frames in the upper fore peak tank and for some frames in cargo holds no.1, 4 and 5. Furthermore, the surveyor required close-up inspection of cargo hold no.1 in Gdansk to establish whether the vessel was "able to proceed to repair port (Cadiz, Spain) or should be stopped and commence with immediate repairs." The surveyor in Gdansk issued conditions of class concerning cargo hold no.1 and top wing tanks to be effected prior to completion of Special Survey no.4. Since some of these conditions of class were of serious nature and since the Special Survey was approx.1.5 years away, one may question the soundness of this judgment.
Indeed, when we realize that ship sank likely because of failure of the side shell in hold no.1.

Annual Survey 1995 was carried out in Piraeus, Greece, in March 1995. It is noted that the partial and total wastage of internals and frames in the upper fore peak tank as reported in Rotterdam, were still not documented as put right by the Owner. It is also noted that there is no detailed positive reporting about repairs to cargo holds nos.1, 4 & 5. However, all cargo holds were cleaned, descaled by water-jet blasting and painted. Some of the conditions of class given in Bilbao in September 1994 were further expanded and again deferred to Special Survey no.4...Detached side shell frames with evidence of grooving ... reported in Rotterdam 08/94 for holds 1,4 & 5 ... subsequent class reports are not specific about these important items, and it is not possible to conclude when, where and whether repairs were temporarily done by reinforcements by Owner's riding crew.
The use of riding (supplementary) crew is still nowadays popular with some companies. They put a few more people on board with the necessary equipment and they try to fix the problems during the trip. It can work for small repairs, but this method has many shortcomings: at sea some repairs are difficult when the ship is moving, for sure way up the sides of a cargo holds; the welders are possibly not certified; there is no surveyor attending the repair; there is no separate invoice which can confirm the responsibility of another company... but one advantage of using those riding crew is that some owners: they can pay they work fully or partially with black money offering an opportunity for a white washing operation.
Despite being surveyed as recommended and despite diminution of side shell frames up to 24pc, there are no positive records of repair to the cargo holds.

Transfer of Class & Transfer of Class Agreement (TOCA). On 8 May 1996 the Owners of LEROS STRENGTH requested 3 months extension of the Special Survey no.4 (20 years), due 31 May 1996, for commercial reasons. This was refused by ABS due to the many outstanding condition of class. This resulted in actions by the shipowner to change classification society for the ship.
And this is the great weakness of the Classification Society system: they are in competition with each other. However the IACS societies are at least trying to control this trend as explained here under.
TOCA was first initiated by IACS in 1986... and revision no.5, effective from 1 July 1995, was applicable when the Owners of the LEROS STRENGTH changed its class in June 1996. Toca is ... an important instrument to ensure that class change can result in a ship being able to "escape" from recommendation given by the previous class society...
If this competition between classes has somewhat diminished, there is now an even greater and unfettered competition between flag states because of the FoC system.
The first part of the surveys related to Class Entry to RINA was carried out between 14 and 21 June 1996 in Cartagena, Colombia. After these surveys, the surveyor did not issue an Interim Certificate of Class and no new statutory certificates but solely a "Certificate of Technical Fitness" The vessel then sailed from Cartagena via Barranquilla for unloading and finally to Curaçao for dry-docking and survey. During this voyage the ship sailed without a valid Load Line certificate, Pollution Prevention certificate or Safety Construction certificate.
In many countries the ship would be immediately detained in this case.
The Final Entry (into RINA class) has never been formalized by RINA. This is because the vessel sunk before approval by RINA Classification Committee of the vessel's file. Submission of the file to the Classification Committee was delayed because, at that time, some of the drawings requested by TOCA procedure were not yet available at the RINA Head Office.
And this confusion in the documentation contributed to the death twenty men. It shows that a ship cannot really change Class before all the required work is done, until then it should remain under the control of the loosing Class, if not for the usual Class certificates at least for the Statutory ones. In this case the flag state, Cyprus, should have interfered with such a poor transfer of Class.


Hull special survey no.4 The Enhanced Survey Programme (ESP) was later adopted by IMO by Resolution A.744(18), and was made mandatory for bulk carriers subject to the SOLAS convention from 1 January 1996. It expands and emphasis the survey requirements for all periodical Hull Surveys, i.e. Annual, Intermediate and Special (Renewal) Surveys. This stricter survey regime requires i.a. positive reporting and traceability, and was applicable to LEROS STRENGTH as from the Intermediate Survey when Lamda Sea Shipping Company Ltd., took over as new Owners. As noted earlier, the first part of the surveys related to Class Entry into RINA was carried out between 14 and 21 June 1996 in Cartagena. Following these surveys the attending surveyor issued solely a "Certificate of Technical Fitness", which has no legal status in relation to IMO conventions. As far as we are aware, the surveyor neither advised his Head Office about this actions, nor the Cyprus Flag Administration. It is not clear from the documentation received whether any repair were carried out prior to the issue of the "Certificate of Technical Fitness", but the certificate itself only refers to "general examination of the hull" and other vital items.
What is sometimes said for statutory certificates "They are not worth the paper on which they are printed, is certainly true for this document which is not even such a certificate.

The vessel then sailed from Cartagena via Barranquila for unloading and finally to Curacao for drydocking and survey, where the vessel arrived early July. During this voyage the ship thus sailed without valid statutory certificates they had invalid since 31 May 1996 when the ship was en route from Bhavnagar, India, to Cartagena. The documentation received for the repairs and surveys (by RINA) carried out between 13 June in Cartagena and 22 July 1996 in Curacao is not very detailed in all respects, and some of the information seems contradictory. Furthermore, there is no clear information neither on the total amount of surveys work involved to complete these tasks, not on procedures and methods that were used. However, the survey documentation includes a statement making reference to the recommendations given by ABS in 3 separate survey reports, which says that "these recommendations have been dealt with". Nevertheless, from the available documentation it is difficult to establish with certainty to what extent (all) previous recommendations were properly dealt with, prior to issuing new certificates.
This poor documentation from persons and organisations which have the time and the means to produce extensive texts must be compared with the precise documentation nowadays required from the skeleton crews on most merchant ships.
NMD does not have detailed information on the qualification and services record of the surveyor attending these extensive surveys. It is noted with concern, however, that instead of using RINA's exclusive surveyors in the Central America, a surveyor was sent from Piraeus, Greece, for this survey.
RINA explained that it had not a skilled surveyor in the area.
In relation to the above, we also note with some concern that on those RINA forms where the signatures of two persons are required, for the Special Survey no.4 the same person has signed both places; i.e. both as "The Surveyor" and as "The Head of the Branch Office". The following comment is given by RINA: "The same person signed the report twice because he was both the surveyor and the Head of the Office. i This particular situation does not impair the report verification procedure because RINA scheme provides 100% verification of the survey reports through the fleet services department located in the Head Office." NMD notes this explanation, but there is a significant difference between verification done during a survey compared to verification done solely of the survey documentation, and at another place a considerable time after the actual survey. It should also be noted that according to RINA "The special survey report was received by the Head Office the day of the foundering and immediately processed"; i.e. the verification took place more than 6 months after the survey.
The obvious conclusion is that the ship was fully accepted by the Class after it had sunk!

When the Load Line and Safety Construction certificates were withdrawn in Rotterdam in August 1944 the surveyor reported detached frames with grooving effect in cargo holds nos.1,4 & 5 - a potentially very serious condition. As far as we are aware, there is no class documentation indicating that these defects were ever corrected prior to Special Survey, and any possible repairs by Owner's riding crew were not supervised by the class. Even the Special Survey reports do not positively confirm that all these deficiencies were corrected. In cargo hold no.1 there were only 20 measuring points (Of the thickness measurements) in the 10% - 12.5% diminution range, one 31.3% and one 33.1%. According to the reports we have had access to, only 3 entire frames were renewed, three lower or upper parts were renewed and eight brackets were renewed
The thickness measurements are often very subjective, often biased toward the wishes of the party ordering it (as well described in the Tromedy), therefore they can hardly be trusted to have a good picture of the state of the ship. When the plate is obviously sound they are not even necessary, and when it is not, the measurement are rarely taken were strong corrosion or grooving is present.
Hatch Covers .. thickness readings - as reported - must be considered excellent. This "evidence" contrasts with reports from sailors referred to in the Marine Accident Report by Cyprus, who maintain that the covers were causing continuous problems and constantly under temporary repair. Furthermore during a Port State Control in Rotterdam 13 August 1996, i.e. less than one month after the Special Survey, LEROS STRENGTH was detained for, among other deficiencies, serious problems with hatch no.3. It was later established that some of the hatch covers were impossible to repair.
And other crew testimonies refer that a tarpaulin had to be used on top of the hatch cover no.1.
RINA: it is noted that the Head Office in Genova did not approve the Special Survey until 10 February 1977, i.e. two days after the foundering and more than 6 months after completion of the Special Survey. At the time of the Special Survey there was no active condition of class related to the fore peak despite several previous condition of class and obscurity as to when, how and to what extent repairs were made to the upper fore peak. However, the RINA surveyor has ticked off both the upper and lower fore peak as acceptable both for coating and structural conditions.
Classification matters from Special Survey no.4 until foundering A Port State Control(PSC) less than one month after a vessel has passed a Special Survey should normally not create any problems for the vessel. However, when LEROS STRENGTH was inspected by the PSC in Rotterdam 13 August 1996, serious defects were discovered in various areas, and the ship was detained.
In spite of all its shortcomings, the PSC is not commercially oriented and that is often enough to ensure more realistic inspections than those of the better trained, equipped and funded class surveyors.
Among the deficiencies giving rise to the detention, the problems with hatch no.3 were among the most serious. As agreed with the Flag State, LEROS STRENGTH was allowed to sail one voyage directly to Piraeus for repair, with maximum time limit of 15 days. The existing Load Line and Safety Construction certificates issued at Curacao 22 July 1996 were withdrawn and cancelled by the Republic of Cyprus.
The report further explains that the pontoons of hatch 3 were such in bad state that 4 of them had to be replaced, which was severely contrasting with the thickness measurements adding:
the thickness measurements - which in general are supposed to document the possible need for repair - in this case may have served as an excuse for not requiring repairs.
Itea, Greece, September 1996. The Condition of Class imposed by the RINA surveyor as a result of the PSC intervention, were reported as being rectified. All cargo holds were high pressure water washed but not descaled. Holds nos. 3, 4 & 5 were completely recoated with Epoxy paint and holds nos 1& 2 were touched up.
That is only cosmetic maintenance where descaling with sand or hp water was needed, but it could have revealed serious weaknesses in many structural steel members and plates.
Point Lisas, Trinidad, November 1996. All certificates issued in Curacao in July 1996 were "Interim" with validity only until 30 November 1996. These interim certificates were extended by RINA in Trinidad until 30 April 1997, on the basis of instructions from the RINA Head Office, and a statement from the Master that he did not know of "any damage of any kind onboard the vessel affecting class"
Nowadays on such ships the Masters have so little power and are so economically dependent from their employer that they are ready to sign almost anything in order to keep their job. The more recently implemented ISM code which is supposed to take care of this problem by theoretically reinforcing the power of the Master, practically totally fails to do so, simply because the actual staff members are deprived of all hope of any redundancies in case of unfair dismissal. This is a consequence of the commercial war between the various Flag States which have to align their crewing policies on those of the cheapest Flag of Convenience.
Knowledge and theories on the causes of sinking One can speculate as to how and where water had ingressed into both the forepeak and cargo holds nos. 1 & 2, and possibly also other tanks in the fore ship. One possibility would the leakage through detached areas of shell plating of the forepeak and/or the shell plating of one or both of the two most forward cargo holds.
I favour this theory also, but strangely, in spite of similar failures which provoked the severe pollution incidents with the tankers ERIKA and PRESIGE, and the sinking of many more large bulkcarriers, the forces acting on the side shell remain poorly studied.
Other possibilities would be leakage through cargo hatches, sounding pipes, ventilators, etc. It may be argued that leakage through the cargo hatches does not seem very likely, because the hatch covers must have been visible to the captain at the time of this telephone conversation. Therefore, if he had seen damaged or missing hatch covers, it seems likely that he would have included such information when describing the situation to the RCC.
Here the report considers that at a later stage, a higher wave on the nearly submerged fore ship could have well crashed down the hatch cover and so precipitate the sinking of the vessel. The NMD report publish a few recommendations but fails to address the most important problems which, if they are not dealt with, will provoke many more casualties.
Generally speaking, many of the problems relate to inadequate reporting. Has a given item identified as suspect or defective at a previous survey now been repaired or has it now been completely neglected/overlooked/forgotten? Taking into effect that the Enhanced Survey Programme (ESP) was established approximately 8 years ago and has been frequently improved during this period, it is also rather surprising that the basic principles ensuring adequate reporting from surveys are not already fully implemented.
This is true, but the remarks are somewhat naïve as there are many obscure reasons for not reporting repairs, the main one being that they were simply not carried out. Six years later the ESP should be working very well, but the reporting is still succinct, the description of the state of the ship often is not confirmed by an inspection of the reported items, on some ships the master is at loss when the ESP documentation is requested, in some cases it is not even available. The main improvement regarding reporting came from technology, besides the extensive use of computer, digital cameras offer an excellent cheap tool to record defective items by surveyors and the crew.
All survey reports should comply with the following requirements: include a clear description of which compartments of the ship have been surveyed
It seems quite obvious, but often it is not done simply because some surveyors inspect only one representative compartment and assume the others are in the same state. In the eighties, I have seen several times surveyors from a main IACS class which credited fuel tanks simply on the assumption that they were not leaking otherwise the ship would have problems. Not even an air pressure test was carried out. Nevertheless we had some cracks in these tanks, we managed to control them so that fuel could reach the upper adjacent compartment, until one day the convergence of some factors exceeded available man power to handle them, and one hold filled with container was transformed in a sea of fuel. In some ports, class surveyors appeared to be somewhat motivated to credit so many items as possible while the ship stay in port was quite short. Needless to say that he did not inspect thoroughly all the credited items.
include a clear description of which structural elements that have been surveyed within each compartment, and what type of survey ("overall" or "close up" was done.
Nice, it is sometimes done with the help of a picture of the surveyed frame or plate with its name/location written on it, but this is a huge time consuming process and again very few items shall be able to be credited during the short call where the continuous survey must take place. The preparation of such a survey requires the examination of the ships plans, sometimes also an arduous exercise on old ships.
include a clear description of the condition of each individual structural element surveyed, including - when relevant - a clear identification of which items that require specific types of repair.
Very nice, but who shall pay for the time needed to carry out these surveys and eventually the delay of the ship? During the surveys the time needed to discover a single defective item and to document the findings properly is between 15 and 30 minutes, sometimes more. Class surveys are already quite expensive, what if their price must increase exponentially?
"negative reporting only" should be generally banned from survey reporting
Meaning there is not report traceability of the good items, a sound remark. This is followed by several remarks about the quality of the reporting and the execution of the repairs, to which we can only agree.
renewed consideration should be given to making SOLAS chapter XII applicable also for bulkcarriers with length of less than 150m
Correct although this chapter was not yet applicable to the LEROS STRENGTH.

There can be lot of speculation about why the surveying systems failed and about how they can be improved, but what is certain is the fact that the management of the vessel used all its skill to play with the weaknesses of the systems, mainly by changing the classification society when ABS required strong repairs. After this tragedy however, it could be expected that Leros Shipmanagement had learned something important that it could put to use when the ISM code entered into force for its bulkcarriers on the 1st July 1998. The ISM code requires the management to "establish safeguards against all identified risks", and that management could not ignore the severity and consequences of structural deficiencies. The competence of the management to carry out this duties as per the ISM code is confirmed by a certificate delivered by the Flag State or a recognized organisation: the Document of Compliance (ISM/DOC), a copy of which must be on board each vessel, together with a particular document for that vessel: the Ship Management Certificate (ISM/SMC) . On both documents the name of the management must be mentioned, and also on the Continuous Synopsis Record which relates the official history of the ship since the 1st July 2004.

At this stage with all this certification and the related surveys we can assume that the tragedy of the LEROS STRENGTH could not repeat itself with a ship under the same management, and that no similar risks would be taken with the structure of their vessel, but on 22 November 2006, the Maltese bulker WARRIOR managed by Leros Shipmanagement was detained on the Sacramento river by the USCG of Pittsburg, California, because, among other deficiencies, it was found that the ship had cracks up to 2.5 feet.

The Owner of the vessel, Twilight Marine, was brought to court and pleaded guilty in a San Francisco court to grossly negligent operation of a vessel and has been sentenced to pay a US$50,000 criminal fine and also US$100,000 in restitution environmental restoration projects in the San Francisco Bay area even though there was no pollution. The company was also ordered to comply with an Environmental Compliance Plan.

In pleading guilty, Twighlight Marine admitted that in September 2006 its panamax bulk carrier Warrior crossed the Atlantic Ocean, traveling toward North America. During this crossing, crew members noticed several small cracks and rust holes on the deck on the starboard side deck. The crew immediately welded these cracks and holes. Soon after two large cracks, each approximately three feet in length, on the port side deck of the vessel were spotted. Instead of directing that the cracks be welded, the vessels master ordered these cracks to be covered with tape and painted over to blend in with the painting on the deck. Twighlight Marine admitted that it knew its vessel was in a hazardous condition during the Atlantic crossing in that these two cracks were not properly repaired.

The ISM code requires for the ship management to have a "Designated Person" (DP) who must provide a link between the management and those on board and who bears the responsibility to monitor the safety and pollution prevention aspects of the operation of the ship. Therefore if the Master requires the crew to camouflage a fracture he does it with at least with the implicit agreement of the DP, assuming it would be too expensive to report the deficiency to the local authorities while ordering the necessary repairs. That was anyway the opinion of the US authorities which brought the Owner to court because of its legal link with the management company which itself must exercise the necessary control on the Master first by taking care of selecting him, then by instructing him to follow the safety and environmental policies of the management company.

If it was the Owner which was fined because of the existence of the above links, and probably because its ability to bear the financial responsibilities, for the flag state administration however the only option is to invalidate ISM/DOC of the management company. It is however is a powerful move as all the ships of that company cannot trade any more until the certificate is reinstated, or until the management transfer all the affected ships to another flag whose administration is ready to issue a valid ISM/DOC. The removal of a Class certificate is therefore a minor setback as it affects only a single ship and we have seen with the LEROS STRENGTH and it can occur without much inconvenience for the owner as the ship was provided with the necessary documents before the new Classification Society finalized the transfer of class, when the vessel was already lying on the bottom of the North Sea.

Anyway Leros Management got an ISM/DOC in spite of twenty deaths on the LEROS STRENGTH however the audit for this certificate was likely carried out by another R/O, the Lloyd's Register, appointed by another flag, Malta. It shows again the benefit of having so many flags available, even if neither the LR nor MALTA could claim to ignore the tragedy of the LEROS STRENGTH when it had to assess the capacity of Leros Management to care for the WARRIOR, possibly among other vessels. The WARRIOR came under Leros management long after the sinking of the LEROS STRENGTH, but I have no information about the first Maltese ISM/DOC for that company. Anyway I have still to hear about any other company loosing its ISM/DOC after the sinking of one of its vessel due to obvious poor maintenance or poor repairs, except the Italian Panship after the sinking of the ERIKA, but it was not a decision of the class. The company itself stated that it stopped, at least theoretically, with the management business.

And it shows a lot also about the value the ISM/DOC which is likely the least reliable of all the statutory certificate. This because they are few men of the field involved in the related audit of the management companies. It is well known that in all organisations, including the safety organisations like the Classification Societies and also the government's agencies, the higher somebody is in the hierarchy the stronger the commercial/political pressure he has to bear. While the men on the field, those who regularly board the ship, remain at least in contact with the realities and can observe the consequences of inappropriate certification. Moreover all the ISM affair, if it was based on a sound idea, was finally implemented by clever guys who seldom or never set a foot on a ship but quickly saw the financial opportunities that this new code was going to offer. Most of them, and that include the Classification Societies, quickly prepared a package they presented to the management companies, not really to enhance the safety of their ship by seriously increasing the glasnost regarding the technical problems, but to protect these companies against the legal consequences of not adhering to some theoretical requirements of the code. It resulted in a plethora of procedures to be adhered to by the crew, many of them totally unnecessary, and while their observance and the related clerical burden drastically increased the work load on board, the manning of the vessel remained mostly the same. The result is that many companies got an ISM/DOC without having a summary of the regulations applicable on each of their ship, and nothing any more stopped them to enlist the cheapest STCW officers available as it was enough for them to sign an ISM required familiarization sheet to replace the well qualified and experienced officers who became too expensive. And of course some of the money available from the owners had to be saved from the needs of the ship and its crew to pay the additional certifications and audits generated by the new regulation.

THOSE who cannot complain any more & the plight of their RELATIVES

List of the victims

  1. ARCISZEWSKI Eugenieuz: master, 55 years
  2. BEMOWSKI Kazimierz: motor man, 45 years
  3. CZYSZCZON Rafal
  4. CZECH Janusz: third engineer, 43 years
  5. DYKOWSKI Andrzej: chief officer, 42 years
  6. GRZADZIELA Boleslaw: chief engineer, 43 years
  7. HOLI Wieslaw
  8. JANDECZKO Adam: able body, 50 years
  9. KOBRYN Waldemar: cook, 54 years
  10. MIEGON Wojciech: radio officer, 47 years
  11. PAZDZIORNY Boguslaw:
  12. PIETRZAK Henrik: motor man, 44 years
  13. PROCHERA Stanislaw: second engineer, 55 years
  14. STOCKI Mieczylaw:
  15. SZYMANSKI Tadeuss: motor man, 45 years
  16. SZYMKOWIAK Antoni: third officer, 47 years
  17. TASZAREK Andrzej
  18. TREBACZ Jerzi
  19. UZDROWSKI Henrik
  20. WROBEL Krzysztof

After the accident, the P&I proposed to the relatives of the victims to pay 30000$ as compensation for each dead seafarer on the condition that these should abstain from any further claims. Adding that, if they refused this offer, they could be deprived from any compensation. This tactic is widely used by the P&I, also in the affair of the "Jupiter 6" where the amount offered was much smaller (One Indian widow reported she was offered some 440$ in a similar case). They take advantage that the relatives are most often isolated and cannot coordinate their claims. One relative does not know what happens with other relative, for sure if they are in different countries, or in very large countries such as India and China. Internet is slowly changing this isolation, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Anyway the widows of the LEROS STRENGTH crew members were all coming from Poland and, with the support of ITF, they succeeded to attract the attention of the IMO and ILO organisations which evoked their case in their Joint Working group.

Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on liability and compensationr egarding claims for death, personal injury and abandonment of seafarers


We are Mrs Urszula Miegon and Mrs Regina Szymanska, widows of two crew members who were killed when the LEROS STRENGTH sank off the coast of Norway on 8 February 1997. We are pleased to make a statement to this IMO/ILO expert working group. We make this statement also on behalf of 10 other families whose loved ones died on the Leros Strength. Amongst the 12 widows we represent, we have 18 children. Since we do not speak English, we would ask that Captain Jaskiewicz read our statement in English.

Our husbands were professional seamen and had been employed at sea on a regular basis for 32 and 7 years respectively. Up to the time of their deaths, our husbands were the sole providers for our families. Prior to our husbands deaths, we enjoyed a moderate and comfortable lifestyle in Poland. Since their deaths, everything has changed and we now have to rely on charitable support from our families and friends for basic sustenance.

We first heard about our husbands deaths through Mr Pyzik of the crew manning agency, Morska Agencia, who telephoned our homes and informed our family members that the vessel had sunk. They did not give us any information about the cause of the sinking or whether there were any survivors. After that, we did not hear from the Agency again until 2 days later, when all the widows were invited to a meeting at their offices in Gdynia to discuss compensation. All the news that we received about the sinking was from the radio and the television.

At the meeting with Mr Pyzik, representing the Shipowners, and Mr Lugowski, representing the P & I Club (both from Morska Agencia), we were told that we should accept a figure of US$30,000 under our husbands contracts of employment in compensation for the deaths of our husbands. However the shipowners insisted that we accept these sums in final settlement of all claims which we might have against the various companies. We considered these amounts very low. Also after hearing the news reports, we realised that there were serious questions about the seaworthiness of the LEROS STRENGTH and if we accepted settlement we might never learn why our husbands died. Therefore 12 families did not accept the offer of compensation despite vigorous efforts on the part of the Owners representatives to make us accept this sum and to sign a Deed of Release.

In the days immediately following the meeting at Morska Agencia, we received numerous telephone calls from Mrs Woycik of the P&I correspondent Surnave, urging us to settle our claims at the level of compensation proposed by them. We refused to accept her proposals and subsequently she told us that if we did not accept the compensation that was being offered by a certain date, we would not get any payment at all. We refused the low level of compensation and the Shipowners and the P&I Club had no further contact with us.

Our financial losses and hardship although very difficult to bear cannot compare with the emotional suffering we have endured and continue to endure since our husbands deaths. At the time of the sinking, we were very upset by the conduct of the shipowners, Lamda Sea Shipping Co of Cyprus, and managers, Leros Management S.A. of Greece, and their insurers, the Liverpool & London P&I Club of England.

The ITF are the only people who have come forward and advised us on the cause of the sinking and the various investigations including the dive surveys. From these investigations it is clear that the vessel sank because of the shipowners inexcusable failure to properly repair and maintain their vessel.

We understand from various reports we have read that the repair and maintenance of the LEROS STRENGTH were supposed to be supervised and monitored by the Classification Societies, ABS and RINA and serious defects discovered during various periodical surveys were not dealt with as required and were a cause of the LEROS STRENGTH sinking. We would like to know why the Classification Societies are not accountable to us for the negligence of their surveyors.

Even when we do finally obtain compensation as a result of the efforts of the ITF and their lawyers, it will be a small consolation which will never replace our loved ones. The money will probably come from the insurance company and we do not see those who are really responsible for this tragedy being punished either financially or by criminal proceedings. Surely people who can run businesses with such callous disregard for human life should be accountable for their actions?

Over 3 years and 9 months have now passed since the vessels sinking, and we have still not received any compensation from the shipowners or their insurers. We do not understand why, after such a tragic accident, we have been made to wait so long for a decent offer of compensation. The only time the shipowners approached us was immediately after the sinking to persuade us to accept the very low settlement. They have since that date made no contact at all with us.

To this day, no explanation has been given by the shipowners as to why the ship sank and our husbands lost their lives.

We know from the ITF that the battle for compensation has been brought before different Courts in various countries. The shipowners seem willing to pay large sums of money to their lawyers whilst leaving us, the victims, with nothing.

We know that the tactics of the shipowners and the P&I club which were used against us are tactics widely used by shipowners and their insurers to avoid paying proper compensation to the widows and dependants of deceased seafarers.

There have been several tragic incidents since the sinking of the LEROS STRENGTH. We know the Polish widows of the seamen onboard the ATHENIAN FIDELITY and the SLETREAL to name but a few who remain like us, without compensation. It seems to us that if we could not get help from an organisation such as the ITF that none of us would receive proper compensation or get a proper explanation of why our loved ones died.

Why do the Shipowners, the P&I Clubs and the Classification Societies not accept responsibility for our husbands deaths, explain to us what happened and pay a proper level of compensation? Why do they seek to intimidate widows and families into accepting low levels of compensation and into signing away any other rights they might have in law? We want the Shipowners and their insurers Liverpool & London to explain to us why the Leros Strength sank, and why our husbands were killed. We want to know why we have had to wait 3 years and 9 months and still we have not had a decent offer of compensation.

Thank you.

source CTX
type C
volume Y
dead 20

Polish article was clearly written by a non-mariner, and the details are not to be trusted. However, Captain Woinin is a very experienced mariner and his extract of the NMD report and commentary should be studied very carefully.

The proximate cause was very likely failure of the starboard side shell in way of Hold 1, in not particularly bad weather. The real cause was an ineffective, totally compromised regulatory system. This is a classic, but unusually well-documented, case of how the Classification Society system really works. The owners played ABS in every way they could from 1993 to mid-1996. Woinin's summary shows the ship had all kinds of serious structural problems about which little or nothing was done, just enough to keep the paper-work marginally legal.

When on top of all these problems, the owners had the chutzpah to request an extension for the 4th Special Survey in May, 1996, ABS had finally had all it could stomach, and ABS has a very strong tummy.

No problem. If Class is being uncooperative, simply change class. Enter RINA. RINA's performance would be a sort of sick joke were it not that it helped kill 20 men. The fact that RINA approved the Special Survey two days after the ship sunk is somehow consistent with this whole, tragic mess.

It is also interesting that the ship sailed for a half year without legally being Classed at all. The good news is that the ISM paperwork showed everything was just fine.

The widows' statement speaks for itself. Once again this treatment is standard, altho in most such cases the dependents cave to the pressure to sign the release.

In short, this casualty is a poster child for the fine job that IMO, Class, and the Flag States are doing in ensuring safe bulk transportation.