Poorly secured cargo, hard weather and lack of knowledge among officers sank the Swedish RORO ship Finnbirch, on which two seamen died, according to the report of the Swedish Accident Investigation Board. The survival suits used were also criticised.
A series of faults and shortcomings caused the tragic capsizing of the Finnbirch, owned by Lindholm Shipping, on 1 November 2006. In hard winds, with gusts up to 29 m/s, high, long waves were whipped up. The officer did not know how to sail in a following sea and pressed the ship hard at 18 knots in the high seas. He should have done exactly the opposite and slowed down instead.
– Knowledge about how to sail a ship in a following sea is generally poor. Certainly, IMO has issued guidelines for procedures but they are not particularly user-friendly and nothing which can be easily studied yourself onboard, says Ylva Bexell, who led the investigation for the Swedish Accident Investigation Board.
Poorly secured cargo
When the ship was in the waters between Öland and Gotland, she was suddenly subjected to a number of very deep rolls. The cargo, including rolls of paper, timber and steel products, broke loose. Finnbirch was left lying on the sea heeled over badly with her cargo almost totally shifted.
– To have such a large displacement of cargo, it must have been poorly lashed in general, both in the load carriers and on the ship. Poorly secured cargo is a problem which we believe exists on other ships. For this reason we are recommending that the Inspection Board make a qualified examination of cargo securing manuals, to be followed up by inspections of cargo securing on deck, says Ylva Bexell.
All 14 crewmembers managed to put on their survival suits and get onto the deck. The air temperature was 1ºC, and the water temperature 10ºC. The suits were a universal model for adults between 50 and 150 kg and 150 to 190 cm.
Unable to breathe in survival suit
Among those in the crew who were around 160 to 170 cm tall, the suits did not fit well. The Filipino seaman who later died as a result of hypothermia had complained several times that he could not breathe easily because the suit was too high up and covered his mouth. The man pulled the zip down a little to be able to breathe more easily. When the ship sank and the crew were floating in the sea, the suit was filled with water and the man froze to death. Several of the other suits had also leaked through the hood over the face.
In the inquiry, the Swedish Maritime Administration is urgently requested to take up the problem of poorly fitting survival suits in international sea safety work.
– The suits on the Finnbirch were approved in compliance with SOLAS, and we have no other requirements than those. But there is nothing to prevent individual shipping companies from purchasing suits with more individually adapted sizes, says Ylva Bexell.
The chief mate onboard the Finnbirch also died when he was pulled down with the ship.