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SHIP NAME: Erika KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 9
source LMIU;
type C
volume Y
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Broke in two and sinking in bad weather in 47 12 N 04 34 W 12 Dec 1999. All crew rescued. Oil spillage. Tug towing stern section away from coast. Navy tug with bow section. Both sections subsequently sank 13 Dec. Clean up under way.

Master arrested. Oil still coming ashore 10 Oct.


source CUTTER
type D
volume 4.41MMG
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Puts spill at 4.41MMG, says cgo on board was 8 mm bbls.


source CEDRE
type L
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link http://www.le-cedre.fr/en/spill/erika/erika.php

Link changed 2009-08-30.


source ITOPF
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link http://www.itopf.com/casehistories.html#erika


source IMO
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link http://www.imo.org/includes/blastDataOnly.asp/data_id%3D11471/Erika(9March2005).doc

As might be expected, the loss of the Erika generated a blizzard of paperwork. IMO has posted a list or references at this URL. So far CTX has waded thru almost none of this list.


source MURRAY
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In December 1999, the Erika, a twenty-five year old, 590-foot tanker registered in Malta, was traveling from the Netherlands to Livorno, Italy. It was carrying 26,000 tons of diesel oil. On this voyage, the Erika encountered severe weather conditions with winds in excess of sixty miles per hour. The ship was battered by the relentless power of the North Atlantic. According to the ship's captain, Karan Sundar Mathur, the Erika sent out a distress call on December 11, 1999. There is a dispute over this fact, though, as local French authorities denied that a request was made. The captain then allegedly requested permission to enter the French port of Saint Nazaire, citing serious structural problems. Here again, there is another dispute on the facts since, according to the French Navy, the call was allegedly canceled by the ship an hour later. At 6 a.m. on December 12, the Erika, pounded by the relentless power of the Atlantic Ocean, split in half seventy miles south of Brest. On December 13, the Erika sank.

The French Navy and Coastguard lacked the helicopter capacity to rescue Erika's twenty-seven person crew initially. The French government requested assistance from the British Royal Navy, which was equipped with large Sea King helicopters. The combined force was able to dramatically rescue all twenty-seven members of Erikas crew. Ten-thousand tons of the oil carried by the Erika spilled along the French coast. Experts described the Erika incident as the worst oil disaster in European history. The oil slick killed more than 200,000 birds. It blackened beaches. The vacation season was jeopardized for the regions 750,000 tourists. Erikas captain was subsequently arrested for violating Frances domestic environmental laws.


source CONSTANTINOU
type A
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At approximately 1240, local time, 11 December 1999, a substantial starboard list developed on the Maltese registered RINA classed oil tanker Erika.

At 1408 hrs, Erika sent a distress alert to MRCC ETEL. At 1411, MRCC ETEL acknowledged the distress alert, and requested the ship to confirm this or to indicate that she was safe.

At 1606 hrs, the master called the company office in Ravenna via Monaco Radio, and confirmed that the distress alert had been changed to a safety. The master told the managers that despite some noticeable cracks the situation seemed to be under control. Due to ship’s condition, the managers advised the master that he should head for the safest port of refuge. It was agreed that this would be Donges.

At 2227 hrs, the Erika’s master sent a telex to MRCC ETEL, and copied to the ship’s agents at Donges, giving details of the situation, and also making it clear that the ship had developed cracks on the main deck.

At 0510 hrs, 12 December 1999, Master sounded the general alarm, and all crew mustered on the boat deck.

At 0800 hrs, a French naval rescue helicopter arrived on the scene and the least experienced crew members were taken off first.

At around 0808 hrs, when the Erika was in the Bay of Biscay, approximately 45 miles off the French coast, she suffered complete structural failure and broke in two, spilling a substantial part of her cargo.

Expert’s opinion on ERIKA disaster

According to the official report, the concerns surrounding oil pollution, and the consequences that arise from having caused it, may have influenced the master in reaching his decision on what information to pass to the coastal authorities. The master did not advise the coastal authorities, about his initial observations of oil escaping into the sea.

During the course of the casualty, the master had to spend a disproportionate amount of his time sending and receiving telexes and making telephone calls to MRCC ETEL, the managers and the ship’s agents.

The ship managers did support the master’s decision for the ship to proceed to a port of refuge. In fact, not only did they give their advice on this but once the decision for the ship to proceed to Donges was taken they immediately instructed their designated agents in France to appoint an agent at that port and to make the necessary arrangements with the harbour master.

According to the agent, the harbour master of St. Nazaire had refused permission for the vessel to enter the port of Donges. It appears that the master was not aware of this and when the ship started to break in two she was still on course to that port. Therefore, it can be argued, that the refusal to enter Donges did not alter the course of events and was not relevant to the loss of Erika.


source BEA
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link http://www.beamer-france.org/english/inquieries/pdf/Erika_Final_Report.pdf

This is the offical French report, Report of the Enquiry into the Sinking of the Erika off the Coasts of Brittany on 12 December 1888, by the Permanent Commission into accidents at sea (CPEM). It is a must read for anyone truly interested in tanker safey and preventing tanker spills. Unfortunately, the English PDF version is a little garbled.

The gist of the BEA report is simple. The cause of the sinking was very bad corrosion in the 2S segregated ballast tank.

As built in 1975, this pre-Marpol ship had two segregated ballast tanks, the Forepeak tank, and 3C (plus a very small aft peak tank). In 1990, she was switched to a system using 2 Port and Starboard and 4 center as segregated ballast tanks. There is some ambiguity in the BEA report at this point, but either no coating was applied to the new ballast tanks or at most only the very top and very bottom of the new ballast tanks were coated. In 1997 to comply with Marpol 13G(4) the 4 Port and 4 Starboard were converted to segregated ballast and 4C reverted to a cargo tank. There is no mention of any new coating at this point, and it extremely unlikely that any was applied. The almost universal practice of the owners converting pre-marpol ships to segregated ballast was not to coat the new ballast tanks. At most, they installed a few anodes.

Class survey reports unearthed by the French indicate that the two wings were in bad condition at least as far back as April, 1993. In Arpil 1997, a surveyor from Bureau Veritas called the condition of 2 port and 2 starboard unacceptable. His report comments on the absence of coating and anodes.

In February 1998, the owners (actually the third pary managers, Panocean) decided to change class to Registro Italiano Navale (RINA). This is a sure sign that BV had had about all it could stomach and classification societies have strong stomachs. But even RINA upon inspection rejected the ship mainly due to corrosion in 2P (2S was not inspected for reasons BEA did not explain) citing wastage of up 68%, holes between frames 80 and 82, ande very severe corrosion of the plate welds. They also found oil residues in the segregated ballast tanks indicated past leakage from neighboring cargo tanks. The access ladders were so corroded as to make inspection very dangerous. The report cited lack of coating in the 2 wings and the forepeak. Changing class was put off temporarily.

In summer of 1998 the ship underwent her fourth special survey in Bijela. Thickness measurements showed average wastage of around 25% in the web frames at the top of 2P and 2S except in the middle of the tank. About 100 tons of steel was renewed. and the ship switched class from Bureau Veritas to RINA.

Between the fourth special survey and the sinking the ship was inspected seven times by oil company inspectors. In none of these inspections did the vetters go in any tanks.

BEA points out that the port state (the ship had had four) never inspected the structure other than thru the Classification Societies.

The only people that knew about the steel was class and the crews. BEA found evidence that the Captains had complained to the ship manager PanOcean on numerous occaisions, especially about 2P and 2S.

BEA on page 33 of the English translation concludes:

the problems which beset the Erika were apparently caused by her conversion to segregated ballast tanks which began in 1990 (CBT) and was only completed in 1998 (SBT 4 and 2). Neither the infrequent flag state surveys, nor the port state and vetting inspections seem to have picked up this fact. The only people who were aware of this were the crew (but they had little opportunity for expert assessment) and of course the classification societies whose scope for action is undoubtedly limited by the socio-economic context inherent in the operation of this type of vessel. Politely put. The various reports and opions voiced make it abundantly clear that after the August 1998 special survey, the corrosion of the 2 port and starboard ballast tanks had developed apace, so weakening their structure that what followed became inevitable

The BEA reports goes on to a detailed structural analysis backed up by crew reports and the results of underwater surveys of the wreckage. It concludes that the sequence was

  1. A leak of cargo from 3C to 2S from a crack in the bulkhead due to corrosion. The crew deballasted 4S to reduce the list. At this point the crew noted cracking and buckling on deck at the forward end of 2S.
  2. Buckling of the wasted transverse members in 2S. This generated a crack in the no longer supported side shell plating. This flooded 2S increasing the sagging moment. 3S started leaking
  3. The crack progressed vertically up and down. A large portion of the 2S side shell plating detached, flipped up on the deck, and then sank.
  4. The crack now progressed along the bottom plating. The main deck buckled and the vessel bent, as if her deck were hinged.


source CTX
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On the morning of December 11th, the tanker 37,283 dwt Erika, fully loaded with heavy fuel oil proceeding South off the coast of Britanny developed a crack in the side shell structure, cargo was leaking, and requested a port of refuge from the French. At the time, the weather was very bad with gale force winds from the west.

Over the next 24 hours the fracture extended upward to the main deck and then across the main deck. At this point the ship was doomed. At 0610 on the 12th, the Erika set out a distress signal saying she was flooding. The French rescue services mobilized. However, the French helicopters with a 5 man capacity were too small for the job, and British Sea King helicopters were brought in. At this point winds were gusting to 55 knots.

At 0810, the rescue helicopter reported that the ship had broken in two. Probably about 10,000 tons were spilled at this time. The crew was rescued off the stern. The bow floated vertically bow up and had near zero drift. However, the stern was drifting toward the shore at 3 knots. By heroic efforts, the crew of the rescue tug Abeille Flandre was able to get the stern under tow. This was accomplished about 1440, with winds from the west at 45-55 knots, 7/8 m seas. The fact that the Erika was equipped with an emergency towing system made this remarkable feat possible. The volunteers that were helicoptered to the stern remarked that the ship looked well-maintained on their return.

The Abeille Flandre was able to slow the drift toward the coast and the next morning, with the weather getting somewhat better, started towing the stern slowly westward. However, on the morning of the 13th, the tug noticed the stern was taking a small list to port, and the spillage had stopped. Later in the morning the stern became more and more vertical and at 1450 in the afternoon, the stern sank.

The spill generated investigations by RINA, the ship's classification society, the flag state Malta, and by the French investigative agency, Bureau d'Enquetes sur les Accidents en Mer,

The flag state report, Malta Marine Authority, October 2000 is useless. It offers a melange of possibilities.

"The loss was the result of several factors acting concurrently or occurring simultaneously ... The most likely reasons for the loss were corrosion, cracking and local failure, vulnerabilities in the design of the ship, and the prevailing sea conditions. ...

In 1998 the tanker underwent repairs at the Bijela shipyard in Montenegro. ... The quality of the Bijela repairs could have contributed to the initial local failure, leading to the final collapse ... The ship's managers were in attendance when these repairs were carried out, yet they failed to identify and/or address areas of significant local corrosion, nor did they monitor the repairs correctly."

The Italian Classification society, of course, washes its hands and tries to blame the crew. In December 2000, RINA stated that the last special survey in 1998 did not give evidence of accelerated corrosion in the ballast tanks. Hull-thickness measurements were taken. During the 18 months that then passed until the accident RINA did not receive any information about problems and the vessel passed several oil company vetting surveys and two port state controls.

RINA says

"The results of the RINA internal technical investigation indicate that the Erika was presumably lost because an initial crack in the low part of the hull below the water line was misjudged and mishandled allowing it to develop until the hull break-upnt

The ship was not lost because of an overall hull girder collapse but because she suffered a progressive structural failure.

The hypothesis of the initial crack below the water line, ... , explains the sequence of events as reported by the Master and entered in the Chief Officer's logbook, and it is also confirmed by the preliminary findings of ROV investigations.

From calculations, it is evident that the ship was designed to stay afloat with one tank open to the sea and that the longitudinal hull girder strength was sufficient to withstand the loads both on departure from Dunkirk, during the voyage and in the course of the casualty.

The sequence of events would not explain an overall hull girder collapse as cause of the loss having regard to the fact that the casualty did not develop rapidly but took more than 18 hours. Furthermore, the videos show that the deck was not affected by large buckling deformations until the ultimate detachment of the fore part. Only at that final stage did the deck structures collapse, under the torsional and shear forces acting on a section open to the sea on the starboard side.

The break-up of the hull, therefore, was not the cause of the loss but rather the consequence of the initial crack and the lack of response to it."

The French investigation makes it clear that the RINA report is a fraudulent whitewash willfully ignoring all kinds of facts, such as the Master's midnight message, that reads in part

Short while ago there was an internal leak from 3 Center to 3 starboard and so vessel listed heavily. Now have equalized 2 port and 2 starboard tanks so list is corrected. Have also seen cracks develop on the maindeck plating above 2 starboard. However hull plating seems to be intact. Have altered course toward Donges as it is the safest course to avoid shipping seas as it is very bad weather. Also have internal transferred cargo from 1 starboard tank cargo to 1 center tank to lower the level if crack develops further. Meanwhile keeping a watch.
RINA's suggestion that the crew mishandled a minor crack is insufferable nonsense. RINA is a second/third tier classification society, the refuge of lousy owners when they know that they can't get the ship past even the understanding over-sight of ABS, LR, or DNV. Owners don't like to use these second tier Class societies unless they have to because it increases their insurance costs.

Normally, all segregated ballast tanks are coated at build. Uncoated segregated ballast tanks are a prescription for disaster. However, in the late 80's and early 90's, many owners of pre-Marpol (non-segregated) ballast tankships converted their ships to segregated ballast. This was in response to market preference for segregated ballast ships in order to reduce the pollution from the residual oil in the ballast from tanks which are used for both ballast and cargo. Under Marpol Regulation 13(G), the practice of converting cargo tanks to ballast tanks was enshrined in law. This meant using cargo tanks which had not been coated as ballast tanks. It is very expensive (about $40 per square meter of tank surface) to properly clean, blast and coat a tank that has been used for oil. So few owners did. At most they threw a few anodes in the new ballast tanks. Rapid corrosion in the converted ballast tanks was inevitable.

The legal maximum for oily ballast for non-segregated tankers at the time was 15 ppm, which had been determined to be low enough so that there would be no sheen. The Erika would have used about 10,000 tons of non-segregated ballast per trip. As a non-segregated ballast ship, the Erika would have discharged less than 0.2 cubic meters of oil per trip in her ballast or something like 2 cubic meters per year. As it was the Erika spilled about 30,000 cubic meters.

In January, 2008, a court in Paris finally convicted, the owner, Giuseppe Saverese, the manager Antonio Pollara, RINA, and the charterer Total and ordered them to pay 200 million euros in damages. The plantiffs (French government, local governments, etc) had sought damages of one billion euros. Total was also fined 375,000 euros, and RINA 175,000 euros. The plantiffs argued that Total was involved since its vetting service had approved the ship for chartering.

The Court had to use some rather tortured arguments to get around the limits of liability specified by Marpol and the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pullution Damage 1992 (CLC 92), to which France is a signatory. CLC 92 precludes civil pollution claims against the crew, servants or agents of the owner, charterers, salvors, etc. In short, everybody but the owner. The flag state Malta had diplomatic immunity. There was nothing the court could do about that. RINA claimed it was acting for the flag state; therfore, it also had diplomatic immunity. This was rejected on the undeniable grounds that RINA's actions were essentially commercial. RINA then claimed it was acting as a servant or agent for the owner and therefore was protected by CLC 92. How the court got around this is not clear. The court found the Total Group, not the chartering arm of Total, liable on the dubious grounds that the Total Group had not actually chartered the ship, therefore was not protected by the CLC, but had vetted the ship and should have known it was unseaworthy.

Total and RINA have appealed the verdict.