SAS safer shipping campaign alert

At approximately 04:30am this morning (3rd Of August), the 9,000 tonne cargo ship the Karin-Schepers, sailing under a Flag of Convenience, ran aground on a beach to the east of Pendeen Lighthouse, off the pristine Cape Cornwall coastline. Cornish maritime agencies initially feared the worst, not least because the ship was carrying a potentially devastating cargo of harmful substances and 300-400 tonnes of diesel fuel. However the captain was able to refloat the ship using the rising tide and ballast tank adjustment.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) confirmed that the ship was able to continue on its route in the busy shipping lane from Cork to Rotterdam undamaged but those responsible for the ship should consider themselves very lucky, as in the words of Steven Huxley MBE, MCA Search and Rescue Communications Officer - “It managed to run aground on the only bit of sandy beach off Cape Cornwall and the master was heavily aided by the rising tide, we could have had a bloody disaster”.

As part of SAS’s Safer Shipping Campaign, we have uncovered some extremely worrying information regarding this incident:

  • The German owned Karin-Schepers is sailing under a Flag of Convenience and is registered in Antigua-Barbuda but operates almost solely in European waters.  The term Flags of Convenience refers to the questionable practice of registering vessels in far-flung countries, such as Antigua-Barbuda, where environmental protection laws are lax and confusing,  protecting many shipping companies from penalties following pollution incidents. It has also allowed systematic abuse of human rights with shipping companies able to push crews to the limits whilst paying a pittance. Crews are often incompetent and inexperienced and therefore able to make mistakes, costly mistakes that hit the marine environment hard
  • Shipping regulations in Antigua-Barbuda do not meet the ILO147 (“International Labour Organization Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention 1976, including the 1996 Protocol”) requirements.  This convention sets safety and competency standards, regulates work hours, manning, conditions of employment as well as shipboard living arrangements. This is especially worrying considering that the MCA have told SAS that they had been attempting to warn the ship of its crash course for some time and that there must have been a series of alarms that went unheeded on board the ship
  • This is the second time in three years Karin-Schepers has run aground in European waters. On March 3rd 2009 the ship ran aground off the coast of Denmark, near Copenhagen. The Danish Maritime Agency report was damning and only serves to highlight how close Cornwall came to an environmental disaster. The report found a dizzying array of systematic failures of protocol, stating that the chief officer was found asleep and drunk (blood alcohol levels tested) on the bridge, that there was no lookout on the bridge and that the navigational watch alarm system was turned off
  • The Karin-Schepers was carrying IMO Class substances (International Maritime Organisation Dangerous Goods Class).  The IMO Class includes Radioactive, Toxic and Flammable Substances such as oils and petrochemicals and had 300-400 tonnes of diesel fuel in its tanks

This is yet another striking example of the threat of environmental disaster that Flags Of Convenience pose to the UK’s precious coastline. As our shipping lanes become busier and busier the need for action after near misses such as these is vital. SAS believe that the precautionary principle must be implemented with regard to safer shipping and that the EU must introduce far more stringent shipping regulations, making it impossible for shipping companies to sacrifice the protection of our irreplacable ocean environments for financial gain.

For more information please contact dom [at] sas [dot] org [dot] uk or call SAS HQ on 01872 553 001.