Sunken Cemfjord might be left as seafarers’ grave

By Accidents

Due to the strong currents and bad weather conditions in general, the recovery, of the cement-carrier Cemfjord along with the bodies of the eight crew members believed to be trapped inside the vessel, may turn out to be too risky to be carried out.

The Cyprus-registered ship turned over due to bad weather in the Pentland Flirth, off the northern Scottish coast, over the weekend.

On Monday, the Northern Light Board (NLB) commissioned its multifunction tender, Pharos, to discover the location of the Cemfjord. The vessel was found “in an inverted condition” in 70m of water. Its location is close to that of where it was first reported to have been spotted on Saturday, 10nm east of the Pentland Skerries, by NorthLink ferry, Hrossey.

According to NLB the vessel is due to remain on location in order to assist investigators and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Tony Redding, spokesperson for Cemfjord’s Hamburg-based manager, Brise Bereedung, commented:

“The company firmly believes that it would be a contradiction of our moral principles to ask people to risk their lives to recover bodies. So we may very well decide to leave the wreck as it is, a seafarers’ grave.”

An official decision is yet to be made.

Investigations regarding the accident have been appointed by both Brise, the flag state (Cyprus) and UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB). A spokesperson for the MAIB stated that a remotely operated vehicle may be sent down in order to perform an examination of the hull once the weather conditions improve. According to the forecast, gusts of 60 to 70 kt are expected during the weekend.

Investigators have taken up the task of finding out why the vessel’s emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) did not active. Cases of EPIRBs malfunctioning have been reported before, but Redding believes that in Cemfjord’s particular situation the device may have become trapped. Nothing had indicated that there might be something wrong when the vessel made a routine call to Brise’s office at approximately 13:15 on Friday.

“It seems like she was overwhelmed quite suddenly” Redding added.

In 2006 a new requirement was imposed, according to which cargo ships of 3,000 gt and above have to have a simplified voyage data recorder (S-VDR), but in the case of Cemfjord, which stood at 1,850 gt, that was not necessary as it was under the limit.

Cemfjord was sailing with a temporary replacement rescue boat when the accident occurred. Redding commented that a new boat had been ordered but would be received in late January. New davits had been installed, but the slings were simply too short for the replacement boat. This however affected only the craft’s retrieval, not its launch. There was an additional liferaft being carried as a requirement for being allowed to sail. According to Redding:

“Cemfjord was by all means in sufficient seaworthy condition.”

On Tuesday, during a Scottish Parliament debate, Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney Islands fired out the following question at Richard Lochhead, the cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment :

“Why did it took so long to determine that a vessel with the size of the Cemfjord, which was entering quite the busy stretch of water that is the Pentland Firth, had been faced with serious difficulties ?”, which was a sight and delicate suggestion that the vessel traffic system in the area may require some enhancing.

Another MSP, Mike MacKenzie, voiced his concerns regarding the fact that the tug, Herakles, needed two and a half hours in order to reach Cemfjord. Lochhead agreed to further discuss and work on the issue with the MCA.