Index of Shipping articles
First draft : 7 July 2008
Last revised: 21 September 2008
Ship names= GIANT STEP ex ASAKASAN MARU, type= ore carrier
IMO number =8309282
Deadweight= 197061 metric tons, gross tonnage=98587
Length overall=300,01m, width=50,04m, depth=24,11m
Builder= MITSUI ENGINEERING & SHIPBUILDING Co.Ltd. Chiba works-Ichihara, yard n° 1270
Keel laying=October 1984, delivery=February1985, class= NKK
Engine=B&W, 2SA 7cyl., 15226kW
Owner=FIR SHIPPING, Managment= NEW ASIAN Shpg.Co.Ltd Hong Kong.
Operator=MITSUI O.S.K. Line (MOL)
Bulk carrier broken after grounding
Comments on the reports
The final report of the Japanese authorities regarding the grounding and loss of the cape size bulker GIANT STEP on 6 October 2006 concludes: “ This grounding occurred off Kashima Port, Ibaraki Prefecture, because, while staying at anchor to wait for a berth, under circumstances where a developed low-pressure was approaching, the vessel did not take proper measures for taking shelter so as to ride out the rough weather and, as a result, dragged her anchor— as she was exposed to strong winds and high wind waves — and was driven toward the lee shore” adding previously that contributory factors were a leak in the hydraulic system of the anchor windlass and main engine problems. Ten sailors who were sent forward to repair the leak and later to cut the anchor chain, lost their life.
As the ship already dragged its anchors two times on the 26th September, shortly after the arrival off Kashima, the above remark makes sense, but still I find that some other important contributing factors are missing from the Japanese report. Although not really fluent in Spanish, I had a look at the report from the flag state, Panama, and could understand enough of it to find it less useful. If the Japanese had written their report in their language, few people would be able to read it, and we can wonder how an international register as Panama is not able to draft its reports in the only language understood by the whole shipping community. Anyway I could see that it contains much less details than the Japanese report, its main purpose being to make the IMO believe that the Panamanian register complies with the reporting requirements.
Therefore we can forget the flag state tale and have a look at the known and unknown contributory factors of this tragedy.
One thing the Japanese do not want say it that Kashima is a recent artificial port where extreme caution and skills are needed from the calling ships. A lot more information should be provided to the masters before arrival to prepare them to cope with the most severe weather and other conditions, at anchor and alongside, some examples are given at the bottom of this article. And this is not a weakness of this Japanese harbor only, worldwide the ports are most often reluctant to provide an accurate picture about the peculiar local problems. If vessels seldom calling the port are the most at risk, even regular visitors can be badly surprised by unusual circumstances. While the overworked staffs on board have the obligation to prepare a detailed voyage planning which is supposed to take into account all the know dangers, there is not such an obligation from the local authorities which are nevertheless the best informed about these dangers thanks to the investigations of the previous incidents. There is for sure a commercial reason supporting this dangerous lack of essential information, coupled to a concern that in the worse case the port can be declared “unsafe” for certain ships or under certain circumstances. But as the reporting of hazardous condition is an ISM obligation that makes the ship more seaworthy, the proper warning about local dangers can just prove that a port is safer because the local authorities are doing their job properly. ( See Kashima, a safe port? hereunder.)
The first argument to support the above, is the story of the obo PASITHEA which some 15 years earlier adhered to this recommendation to “seek shelter” when bad weather was threatening the ship at the anchorage. But the only real shelter available in the vicinity is Tokyo bay, about half a day sailing away, and it has probably no free room for a vessel with the draft of that large OBO bulker. Therefore the PASITHEA sailed 60 miles out at sea and … was never heard of again. The master of a sister ship wrote an article suggesting that one of the longitudinal bulkheads between the cargo holds and the empty side tanks collapsed, provoking a sudden capsizing.
The leak of hydraulic oil from some piping on deck, was for sure a contributory factor as it delayed the heaving of the anchor by 4 hours, and compelled the master to run the engine for a long time at slow speed. It would be interesting here to know how the hydraulic piping became weak enough to develop a leak. On many old vessels some managements are quite reluctant to carry out proper maintenance and repairs because these ships are near the end of their life, while they just require more maintenance and repairs due to their age. The eventual mortgage on these vessels is paid of, at least for their first owners, and each trip should bring huge benefits thanks to the high freight rates of the bulkers since about 2002. However these first owners most often cashed their benefit by re-selling their vessel to a more adventurous company which hopes to make quick earnings by running the vessel as cheaply as possible.
The same lack of maintenance can be a cause of the engine problems, although the fact that the engine had to be run slowly for several hours during the repairs of the hydraulic system was probably another important contributing factor to its failure when the engine was badly needed with full power. This should be assessed by engineers, and recommendations should be issued if this is the case, like a redesign of the engine to allow such a slow speed for a longer time, or a requirement to use a lighter fuel or diesel oil for such a maneuver.
Now we reach the most obvious cause of the grounding: the dragging of the anchor.
Although it was obvious that the holding ground was poor, some can speculate if the weight of the anchor and its chain was adequate for a ship of this size. However I would leave the matter to the Classification Societies which have rules about these weights, as SOLAS does not deal with this matter. Anyway I doubt that in these circumstances an extra weight could have made much difference, I explain why further.
Two main factors are evoked in the report to explain the dragging of the anchor: the poor holding ground off Kashima due to the bottom made of fine sand and shells, and the bad weather which caused high winds and waves that makes the vessel to pitch. Together with the soft bottom this pitching can drastically reduce the holding power of the anchor, even with the 9 shackles (some 250 meters) paid out as it was the case when the anchor started to drag, or even 13 shackles during the last hours. Each time the fore-ship is raised by the swell, a section of the anchor chain leaves the bottom and drastically reduces the holding power of the anchor. But the wind itself has a limited effect on a loaded bulker. In the 80s I was on a loaded Panamax anchored in Tokyo bay when we got a force 12 wind for a few hours, the ship stayed perfectly on its position. Of course the bottom of thick mud offered an excellent holding ground, and in these sheltered water our ship was not pitching at all.
And here we come to an extremely important factor which is never mentioned in the reports: the current caused by the stormy wind. The power of a mass of water flowing alongside an anchored vessel is often underestimated, but anybody who had been lightering a bulker while at anchor on a tidal river like the Scheldt, know that there is one stage where the current is so strong that even with the best holding ground there is no way to prevent the anchor from dragging.
There are few documented measures of the speed of the current caused by a storm in open sea, only one thing is sure this current is even much stronger near a coast when the water is prevented from flowing freely in the same direction as the wind, as it is the case with a NE storm off Kashima. Then a kind of tidal surge occurs, with the excess of water seeking to escape where it can. The closer from the shore, the stronger the current, I observed it once off Pascagoula (Mississippi, US) where our drifting ship was about to drag its anchors through a pipe line in spite of full power from one of the two engines, the other being out of order. It was only when we came a few cable further from the shore line that we could regain enough forward speed to stop drifting in the wrong direction.
I wonder if there is any port which provides reliable current information during such storm surges, probably because the hydrographic services which are appointed to gather the data, are not supposed and not equipped to do it in the middle of a storm. Special buoys can be used to record these currents, but to provide reliable data they should be working for several months, therefore it is not possible to install then in an anchorage are that is already in use as they would be wiped out by the chains of the anchored vessels. The only option if the anchorage area is large enough, would be to prohibit one zone where the measurements will be made, then change to a new one thereafter. It is anyway a time consuming process, and I doubt it has been done for many anchorages.
That leaves the vessels speed-on-the-water measuring device to do the job, it they are working properly. These speed logs are required on most vessels, but they are difficult to check in many ports due to the absence of current and are often out of use, sometimes with a formal exception certificate from a complacent flag state, as often the repairs require the ship to be dry docked. However they measure the water flow only at the maximum draft of the vessel, some 17 meters from the surface, while the wind related currents are the strongest near the surface where they push also a wider section of the ship.
It remains that the local authorities should try to obtain this current information during a storm at any cost, and include it in their public data about their anchorage. They should also be compelled to issue a formal warning to any anchored ship if they assess that the forecasted weather can make them drag their anchor, preferably with a confirmation that the warning has been received, or at least by sending a formal navigational warning through the available channels: satellite EGC and NAVTEX. When in 2004 a Belgian dredger ran aground during on the shore of Sakhalin island and became a total loss, I heard that the NAVTEX station of Kholmsk only broadcasted in Russian while it was supposed to use English also. It started doing so only after the dredge ran aground.
Also the IMO should require the ship designers to provide the master with the maximum holding power of their anchoring gear in relation to the current speed, in calm water with a good holding ground for the ship loaded to its maximum draft.
I could not find any picture of the vessel before the accident and it is not sure it was fitted with a raised forecastle, but from the narrative it can be concluded that there was one as the crew working on the anchor at some stage were asked to seek refuge inside this forecastle. Generally a raised forecastle is safer because it affords more buoyancy fore, and also allows the crew to work safely in such stormy conditions. However it could here have been a handicap due to the extra windage it offers to the storm. Therefore ships built with a raised forecastle should have an heavier anchoring gear.
CTX data base the Naval Architect Jack Devanney writes that a double engine/screw could have prevented the disaster, for sure because both engines would not have failed at the same time and with two screw the ship would have had a better steering capability. However this is a drastic change in the design concept and many other things would have been different. But a much smaller improvement in the equipment could have made a big difference.
The report also does not mention if the anchor chain had a quick release system. The fact that it took 45 minutes to disconnect the chain suggest that there was none. On most European and Korean built vessels the last shackle is fastened in a special raised position in the chain locker, so that it could be loosened in a few seconds, often thanks to a heavy hammer which must be permanently stowed there. But this is a Class requirement and not an IMO/SOLAS regulation. Apparently the Japanese Classification Society has not such a requirement and, if in some cases the last shackle is nevertheless accessible, sometimes manholes must be unbolted to reach it. Those extra 45 minutes could have make the difference between life and death for 10 seafarers, the master could also have consider the option of releasing the chain much sooner, therefore it is deplorable that such an important factor has not been evoked in the report. For sure when the IMO requires that the casualty reports should be used to develop new rules to avoid the recurrence of the same type of casualty. The Panama report does not mention this release problem either.
Chain locker cofferdam for last shackle
The above picture taken on a Japanese built bulk carrier shows a cofferdam where the last shackle is stowed, probably without any easy release system. Not only the manholes rusted nuts must be removed, but to access this compartment another manhole had to be opened!
Finally these stories demonstrates once more that all ships should be built strongly enough to sustain safely the fiercest storm known to hit its trading route, because in certain cases there are no port of refuge or safe anchorage available.
QUOTE From Japanese report:
Anchorage off Kashima Port
The anchorage off Kashima Port, located to the east of the said port and facing the Pacific Ocean, is exposed to easterly wind waves and, thus, directly affected by winds, wind waves and swells from that direction. It ranges in depth from 20 meters to 30 meters, with the bottom quality of fine sand and sea shells, which fact requires special precautions against anchor dragging in the event of rough weather or strong winds. The Sailing Direction for the South and East Coast of Honshu, issued by the Japan Coast Guard, advises vessels on the need to take precautions because they often drag anchors, in rough weather, within a circle of 3 miles from Kashima Port South Breakwater Lighthouse (hereinafter called the "South Breakwater Lighthouse").
“ After that, the berthing schedule of the Giant Step was postponed a few times, e.g., to October 6 as of noon of September 27; and to October 10 as of October 3. On October 5, winds of force 5 to 6 were observed at noon by the effects of the afore-mentioned low-pressure which had developed over the front, so, he had the windlasses subjected to an operation test and the hatch covers tested for opening/closing, from 1400 to 1500 hours, and confirmed that the hydraulic pumps and motors were properly functioning and that the hydraulic tank contained hydraulic fluid above the low oil level mark.
With the developed that low-pressure approaching, the wind was gaining further strength, bringing about a situation similar to the one wherein he had experienced anchor dragging twice in the previous month. Coming out of northeast, the winds reached force 6 at 1600 hours, and 6 to 7 at 1800 hours, as were observed on board the vessel. In addition, on the basis of such information as the weather facsimile he obtained, the master could have predicted that the winds would gain extreme strength and considered it would be difficult to ride out the rough weather at anchor, but he did not immediately take proper measures to cope with the situation by, e.g., shifting further away from the coast and heave to.
While the vessel was still at anchor under circumstances where northeast winds of force 7 were blowing, the master went up to the bridge at 0400 hours on the following day, the 6th, and studied weather information, including the weather facsimile for 0300 hours.
After reaching a conclusion that the weather would deteriorate further, he decided to pick up the anchor and, at 0500 hours, ordered the chief engineer to stand by the engine. At 0516 hours, the engine became ready for use.
At about 0730 hours, he made up his mind to take shelter further away from the coast and instructed the chief mate to prepare the upper deck against rough weather, and to station for picking up the anchor. At 0748 hours, the Giant Step commenced to drag her anchor toward southwestward because of strong winds and high wind waves and at about 0810 hours the master reported his intention to 'shift further away from the coast' to
Ibaraki Port Radio (hereinafter called the “Port Radio”) in charge of communications for port operations. By this time, he was aware that the northeast winds had gained force 8 to 9, with wind waves increasing their height more and more to such an extent that the upper deck had been splashed with waves.
At 0830 hours, the master stationed the chief mate and other crew members at the bow, but, when he ordered the chief mate, at 0840 hours, to heave up the anchor, he received a report from the chief mate that the hydraulic pump could not be started, making it impossible to operate the windlass and, what was more, no oil remained in the hydraulic oil tank. Following the receipt of the report, the master instructed that the deck hydraulic pipes be inspected and hydraulic oil supplied.
In attempts to prevent the anchor-dragging, the master put the engine “slow ahead” at 0848 hours, and, thereafter, used it in various manners, but, by 0908 hours, the vessel had dragged her anchor about 0.7 miles and reached a point 082º, 5.2 miles from the South Breakwater Lighthouse.
At 0930 hours, crew members managed to find the leak point of hydraulic oil in the deck hydraulic piping system and started repairing it. Despite the use of the engine in various ways, the vessel had dragged about 2 miles more southwestward by the time of the completion of the repair work.
At 1310 hours, after completion of the repair work, he ordered the start to heave up the anchor, at a position 110º, 5.0 miles from the South Breakwater Lighthouse. When about a half shackle of chain had been hove in, the master received a report from the engine room to the effect that the main engine exhaust gas temperature had risen, setting off a high temperature alarm, as a result of the use of the main engine under excessive load for a long time. Following the receipt of the report, he reduced the engine speed.
However, at 1335 hours, he received another report from the engine room to the effect that a scavenge fire had broken out. As he stopped the use of the main engine at 1339 hours, the lifting capacity of the windlass was exceeded, resulting in the release of all of the 13 shackles of the port chain (which was still held by the end link secured to the vessel) into the sea.
The master gave instructions for the prompt restoration of the main engine and, at 1358 hours, requested the dispatch of two tugboats through the Port Radio for assistance in the prevention of further anchor dragging, to which request he received a reply to the effect that the dispatch of such tugboats was impossible because of the rough weather.
After he sent an emergency message, at 1413 hours, saying, “We cannot obtain the output of the engine and are now dragging the anchor. We are in danger of grounding,” he received a report from the Port Radio at 1420 hours to the effect that two tugboats were underway toward his vessel.
The main engine became available again after measures taken to put out the engine scavenge fire and to cut off the supply of fuel to a cylinder unit. As the vessel had dragged the anchor even further, he ordered, at 1436 hours, “slow ahead engine” at a position 130º, 5.3 miles from the South Breakwater Lighthouse, and increased the engine speed gradually. When he ordered the chief mate to heave up the anchor, it was revealed that the windlass was not operative, making it almost impossible to heave in the 13 shackles of port chain. In a desperate effort to prevent the vessel dragging the anchor further, the master increased the main engine speed to “full ahead”, but he was, then, forced to reduce it or completely stop the engine—because of the rise of its exhaust gas temperature—and during which period the vessel continued dragging the anchor.
The tugboat Kongo Maru, on her way to the Giant Step, had reached a point in close vicinity of the said vessel by 1600 hours. However, exposed to the violent storm and high wind waves herself, she was not able to provide assistance for the Giant Step and, at 1603 hours, she made a request, through the Port Radio, to the effect that she wanted to return to the port as she found herself, too, in distress. After receiving approval from the master of the Giant Step, the tugboat headed back to the port.
At 1605 hours, the master ordered the chief mate to sever the port anchor chain and the crew members started the operation under circumstances where the vessel was shipping seas on the upper deck because of the violent storm and high wind waves.
Following receipt of a report from the chief mate to the effect that the severing operation of the anchor chain was completed, at 1650 hours, when the vessel had reached a position 140º, 5.8 miles from the South Breakwater Lighthouse, the master instructed the 14 crew members who had been engaged in the operation at the bow, to take shelter in the boatswain's store under the forecastle deck and, at the same time, made an attempt to go ahead, by putting the helm hard to starboard, toward the weather side, and the main engine “full ahead”. However, the vessel was not able to obtain the rudder effect and was driven southwest toward the lee shore because of the north-north-east violent storm and high wind waves. As a result, she went aground, heading on 336º, on a shoal of 16 meters in depth, at a position 154º, 5.5 miles from the South Breakwater Lighthouse, at 1720 hours.
KASHIMA, A SAFE PORT?
In the early 80s, one of our Panamax bulker happened to lie alongside the grain berth for the end of the year feast days, when all the work stops in Japan. Then came a storm which sent some swell in this poorly protected harbor, the ship started to bump against the dolphins and it had to go back to the anchorage to avoid damaging further the berth and its shell plates. When proceeding out to sea, the crew hastily tried to make fast the anchors before coming out of the breakwater, but the waves were already so large that the people fore were lucky not to be injured. I heard it had been very difficult to obtain a pilot and tugboat assistance due to the holidays, and that subsequently the port tried to have all the vessels out during this period. Of course this has nothing to do with the GIANT STEP incident, it is just showing how bad it can be to remain inside the harbour.
Nevertheless 18 days alter the tragedy with of the GIANT Step, two other bulkers ran aground, the ELLIDA ACE Ace of 171000dwt, built in 1996, and the OCEAN VICTORY of 175000dwt, built in 2005. Both masters were later prosecuted by a Japanese court, this while both ships which were discharging in Kashima and were sent outside the harbor by the local authorities due to an approaching storm. When going out the OCEAN VICTORY hit the breakwater, some compartments were flooded. During the subsequent lightering operations the OCEAN VICTORY broke and was declared a Constructive Total Loss. Apparently these bulkers were still partly loaded and the stresses for sea conditions had to be calculated before proceeding to the roads. That can imply the completion of some unloading sequences and the eventual ballasting of some tanks.
All this should be taken into account when calling in that port when high winds are expected, because it is unsafe to remain berthed, it is also unsafe to remain in anchorage and it can be unsafe to heave to in the storm. It means that a serious assessment of the ship safety must be carried out before calling Kashima, a carefull unloading plan must be prepared and the master must have the option to declare the port unsafe for his particular ship in certain circumstances.
Sadly, because of the general poor implementation of the ISM code which has no provision for redundancies in case of unfair dismissal, the masters who dare to declare a designated port unsafe have many chances to be rebuffed by their mangement, get a ticket home and have their sea career terminated. This while the owners who are loosing a ship call the H&M insurance to replace it, and the P&I club to offer limited compensation to the relatives of the lost seafarers, in many cases on condition that they accept the amount offered without searching to claim more through a lawyer.
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