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Precis File
source ATSB
type A
dead 0

This is the preliminary ATSB report, subject to change. No details on the damage, nor any estimate of the spill. But the report outlines a pretty complete picture of what caused the casualty. Must reading.

source CTX
type C
material Mexican crude

The following commentary is based largely on the preliminary ATSB report and like it is subject to change.

The preliminary ATSB report makes it pretty clear that the primary cause of this grounding was fatigue. The Chief Mate, who was the officer of the watch, had had 2.5 hours of broken sleep in the last 37 hours, when he took over the watch at 1600 hours. Depsite 20 years at sea, 11 as mate, and 3 as chief mate, he made a number of elementary mistakes, including failing to plot the ship's position for nearly an hour after taking over the watch and failing to switch charts at the right time. As a result he failed to make the required starboard turn from 020 to 075 on time despite the channel being 12 miles wide.

The reason for the lack of sleep was the crew size. The 70,000 ton ship had a crew of 23, about average by current standards, but far below pre-1980 standards. The ship had four deck officers including the Master, the Chief Mate (C/M), and two other mates. The three mates serve as officers of the Watch on a 4 hours on/8 hours off schedule. But the C/M is also responsible for loading and discharging the cargo. In this case, the loading process including berthing lasted from 0300 on 2010-04-02 until 1115 on 2010-04-03, about 32 hours. (Often it is longer.) During this time, the C/M had at most 2 hours sleep. After departure, he had had another half-hour's sleep, when his alarm rang at 1530 to get ready to start his watch at 1600.

There is simply no way a human can function at anywhere near 100% with 2.5 hours sleep in 37 hours. On some ships, it is the practice for the Master, who is normally much better rested, to take the C/M's first watch after departure. But this is up to the Captain and often the Captain declines, sometimes citing paperwork requirements which have increase enormously in the last two decades, while at the same time, the Radio officer, which usually served as a sort of ship's secretary has disappeared.

In any event, the rule should be clear. No one can serve as OOW unless they have had at least x hours sleep in the y hours before their watch starts. If that means, a 5th deck officer, so be it.

The ship was equipped with GPS but apparently not ECDIS. The 2/M had altered the planned course and waypoints slightly in the preceeding watch. The C/M was informed of this. But the 2/M failed to alter the off-course alarm. Instead when the GPS alarmed on the new course, he accepted the alarm, efffectively disabling the alarm. If the alarm had been re-set, it might have woken the C/M up in time to make the turn. The 2/M was also probably tired. On a 3 mate ship, during load discharge, it is normal practice for the two junior mates to work 6 on /6 off. But the six off is often illusory as the mates have to do voyage planning, order/check stores, etc during the off periods.

The fully loaded ship went aground at about 12 knots. The ship had a draft of 13.3 m fwd and 13.4 aft. Some claim a 2 mile gash in the coral. This ship has a double bottom and the double bottom tanks are arranged in a 3x5 pattern. Some of the double bottom tanks are ballast and some are bunkers. Several double bottom tanks including one bunker tank were holed as well as the engine room, indicating the damage extended close to the full length of the ship. The seven cargo holds were not breached. (At his point CTX has no real details of the damage).

The area where Shen Neng I ran aground had a charted depth of about 10.8 m. Very fortunately, she ran aground at almost exactly low tide (1706), at which point the water depth was 0.8 m above datum. So the water depth at impact was about 11.6 m. (The ship measured 11 m on port side and 12 m on starboard.) The flooding tide improved the hydrostatic balance, and apparently less than 5 tons of bunkers was spilled. The following high water (2.8 m above datum) was at 0002 the next day, enough time to transfer fuel from the holed tank.

Ship switched from ABS to China Classification Society in 2007. But she had a pretty good port state record: four deficiencies since 1998, and no detentions. Had traded to US and Europe in 2005.