Swanland sinking: Cost-cutting beforehand, says MAIB

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Media captionThe Swanland's sinking was an avoidable tragedy, according to the investigation report

A cargo ship which sank off north Wales killing six crew had been subject to "money-saving" measures by the owner, an investigation has found.

Two of the Russian crew were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter co-piloted by the Duke of Cambridge as the Swanland sank off the Llyn peninsula.

One union official called the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report "shocking and damning".

Swanland operator Torbulk Ltd said it was studying the detail of the report.

The Grimsby-based company, which managed the ship for the owner, Swanland Shipping Ltd, Cemex, said: "We wish to extend our condolences to the family of those who died.

"It is a huge report and we are studying its detail. Until we have done that we will not be making any further comment."

The chief officer's body was recovered from the sea, and the bodies of five crew members have never been discovered.

The investigation by the MAIB said the Swanland, which sailed under a Cook Islands flag, had not been properly maintained and was severely weakened by corrosion in the two years between its intermediate survey and the accident in the Irish Sea.

It had been carrying nearly 3,000 tonnes of limestone when it experienced a "structural failure when heading directly into rough seas and gale force winds" en route to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The investigation identified that the major factors contributing to the structural failure included the way the cargo was loaded - putting pressure on the midships section - and a lack of repairs in recent years.

Other contributing factors included non-compliance with an international maritime code, a lack of effective safety management and the "financial pressures of operating this type of vessel in the current economic downturn".

'Reduced cost of repairs'

In its report, the MAIB said Swanland Shipping Ltd decided to change the vessel's classification society from Lloyd's Register (LR) to the International Naval Surveys Bureau (INSB) in 2009, reducing the fees paid by about 30%.

Image caption The ship sank shortly after the first mayday call

The report acknowledged the transfer as a "money-saving" initiative, and added: "In effect, significant long-term savings are possible through reduced cost of repairs and the rectification of deficiencies. This was certainly the case for Swanland."

The report also highlighted how Swanland's crew did not regularly conduct "abandon ship" drills.

The report added: "There is no justifiable reason why the safety record of general cargo vessels should be allowed to lag behind other vessel types, such as bulk carriers, without vigorous attempts being made to redress the balance.

"It is hoped that the loss of Swanland and her six crew will be a catalyst for the work already being undertaken by the International Maritime Organisation to tackle the global issue of general cargo ship safety."

The MAIB has issued a number of recommendations including highlighting the need for all vessels carrying solid bulk cargoes to comply with regulations.

An MAIB spokesperson said: "This was a tragic and avoidable accident that cost the lives of six crew.

Image caption The helicopter from RAF Valley on Anglesey found a survivor waving from an inflatable liferaft

"Worldwide, between 2002 and 2011, nearly 250 cargo vessels foundered causing the deaths of more than 800 seafarers - statistics that bring into sharp focus the need for action to be taken to improve the safety of general cargo vessels."

The bodies of ship master Yury Shmelev, 44, chief engineer Geeadiy Meshkov, 52, second engineer Mikhail Starchevoy, 60, Able Seaman Sergey Kharchenko, 51, and ship's cook Able Seaman Oleg Andriets, 49, remain lost at sea.

Second Officer Roman Savin, 27, and Able Seaman Vitaly Karpenko, 48, were airlifted to safety and Chief Officer Leonid Safonov, 50, was pronounced dead after his body was recovered from the sea shortly afterwards.

Following the report, Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: "This shocking and damning report into the avoidable and tragic sinking of the Swanland in the Irish Sea should shame our own government and the international maritime industry into urgent action.

"The seafarers on board never stood a chance. Their lives were lost in the name of profit and greed."

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