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Accidents and incidents on Göta Älv

The Transport Agency wants to emphasise the importance of shipping companies implementing a coherent safety organisation and a corresponding maintenance system. There is daily traffic of dry cargo ships, bulk ships and tankers on the river Göta Älv from Gothenburg to various ports, primarily on the shores of lake Vänern but also along the river itself. The waters in which these ships operate is also the source of drinking water for a large part of the region (about 700,000 inhabitants) and is thus very sensitive to any pollution. We have looked at accidents on the river and lake Vänern in our database, particularly those involving ships over 500 gross tonnes, over the past 10 years. The results were 37 events: 8 incidents, 20 minor accidents and 9 serious accidents. Two of these events have been investigated by the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority (SHK).

Unfortunately, these figures indicate a high level of non-reporting; the number of minor accidents and above all the number of incidents is normally far more than serious accidents. The vast majority of incidents, 85%, take place on dry cargo ships. Tankers make up around 10%, while other ships are involved in only 5% of incidents.

The average age of dry cargo ships at the time of each incident was 26 years and the corresponding average age of tankers was 11 years. In around 70% of incidents, the outcome is either grounding or some form of collision with a quayside, lock or other solid object. In such cases of groundings and collisions, as many as 70% are due to malfunctioning engines or control machinery and thus a loss or reduction in the steering capability of the ship. Problems with engines have only been due to faulty handling in a couple of cases. In the large majority of cases, engine failures are a result of technical failures, which in turn are caused by poor maintenance systems, procedures on board and manning issues. Ships operating on the river usually have a crew of five to seven, which in combination with the relatively high average age of dry cargo ships leads to a high workload.

Two examples of typical incidents in the river are described below, both investigated by SHK.

RS 2015:07

A dry cargo ship was sailing north on Göta Älv and was just south of Stallbackabron with the chief mate and pilot on the bridge when the ship’s main engine suddenly dropped from full speed to idle. The ship was then unable to steer because the speed of the propeller water on the rudder was virtually zero, resulting in the ship grounding less than 30 seconds after the engine speed had dropped. This caused a large hole in the hold. The reason for the engine speed falling so fast was that a crewmember had accidentally knocked a bleed valve in the steering system, which then affected the main machine speed. The valve was not marked and had probably not been used since the ship was built, which meant that it was practically impossible for the crew to identify the fault in the stressful situation when the ship grounded and let in water. It is difficult to prevent this type of fault, but if a maintenance system had been well implemented the valve would have been tested periodically and the effect of knocking it would have been known. It would probably have been better protected against accidental impact and the accident could have been avoided.

RS 2018:02

A dry cargo ship was travelling south on the river and approaching the lock at Lilla Edet. The ship was built in 1970 and had a reversible engine and a rotating nozzle around the propeller instead of a traditional rudder. As the ship was approaching Lilla Edet and was going to reduce speed, reverse was initiated but the reversal of the engine for backing did not happen. This led to the ship continuing with undiminished speed at the same time as it started a port turn. The ship went into the opening between the guides and grounded with the bow. The engine was still in reverse and the ship started to back out of the channel again rather quickly. The starboard side hit a mooring-post, which tore open a hole below the water line. Water started flooding into the hold and the ship listed. Some of the crew was still on board, but as luck would have it the ship leaned against the guides and hung in the mooring ropes, so there were no injuries among the crew. A certain amount of diesel oil spilled into the river and the ship was finally classified as a write-off. According to SHK, the direct cause of the accident was that the ship’s steering system was not fail-safe.

Mooring accident

In an earlier issue of SAN News we wrote about a tragic accident involving an able seaman who was crushed on a capstan and seriously wounded during his ship’s departure. He died later in hospital. SHK has now published its report on the accident and it really should be read by all maritime personnel to reduce the risk of anything similar happening again.

According to SHK, the factor causing the accident was the safety organisation not being fully implemented. Among other things there was a lack of complete risk analyses, meaning that unsafe working procedures could occur.

In the report it is stated that the SMS which was on board was poorly implemented.

SHK’s recommendation to the Transport Agency is to:

“Examine and, if necessary, improve the methods used in supervision as far as possible to ensure that the safety organisation on those ships for which the authority is responsible is implemented and maintained in practice as well as in theory.”

The report can be read on the SHK website, its title being RS 2019:05.

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