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Rena charterer urged to take responsibility for ship standards

Wednesday 12th October 2011 1 Comment

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Mediterranean Shipping Co. should take responsibility for standards on vessels it charters and not distance itself from the grounding of the MV Rena off the Tauranga coast, an industry observer said.

The container vessel was on an MSC route when it grounded on the Astrolabe Reef on Oct. 5 but the vessel is owned by Costamere Inc. of Greece.

MSC has said it has received a number of enquiries from the media in the mistaken belief that it was responsible for the vessel and media reports describing it as the owner were inaccurate.

"MSC is neither the owner of the vessel nor responsible for its navigation," the company said.

Marico Marine partner John Riding sees similarities with the oil tanker industry where oil companies had to take responsibility for the way their vessels were operated after a number of calamities, even if they were chartered.

"Should MSC abdicate responsibility for standards? No," he said.

Maritime Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood is arguing that flag of convenience ships are not up to scratch but Transport Minister Steven Joyce has dismissed this as a political statement.

Riding said Rena was a well-built vessel. It was not a "ship of shame".

Australia increased inspections of vessels in its ports after a Ships of Shame report to Parliament by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure in 1992. The investigation was sparked by the loss of six bulk carriers on the Australian coast between January 1990 and August 1991.

The report noted commercial pressures in the "murky world" of shipping, which was characterised by too many vessels and falling freight rates, forcing ship owners to cut costs. It said ship owners have prime responsibility but changes to ship ownership and management have meant that some owners didn’t have the same rapport with crews as existed with traditional ownership structures.

There are different kinds of charters. In a bare boat charter, the charterer is responsible for operating the ship, crew and insurance. In a time charter the operation of the ship can be the responsibility of either party.

MSC is a privately owned container shipping line founded in 1970. Industry observers say the company's growth has been phenomenal, while its Italian owners have a low profile.

"What they do is charter cheap and run the owners hard," Riding said. "They are the charterer. They do influence standards.”

Riding said he doesn’t believe that issues identified by inspections of the vessel in Australia were major.

The grounding has confounded seamen because the reef is clearly marked on charts.

Riding said the vessel made a shallow, slow course change that suggested an intervention in the passage plan. "If they had looked at the chart they would not have done something so stupid," he said.

Costamere Inc. is cooperating with local authorities and is trying to minimise the environmental consequences of the incident. Svitzer Salvage BV is contracted for the salvage.

The Rena was built in 1990 and was carrying 1,351 containers at the time of the incident. It is capable of carrying 3,032 containers. The ship is Liberian flagged. Its crew of 25 Filipinos have been evacuated.

Maritime New Zealand has said that one of its safety inspectors visited the ship at Bluff on Sept. 28 to clear deficiencies issued to the ship by a Port State Control inspection in China on July 5. There were 18 deficiencies issued against the ship in that inspection, of which 12 were rectified before departure.

A Port State Control inspection in Fremantle on July 21 raised additional issues and the vessel was detained. The Maritime NZ inspector did not conduct an inspection of the vessel. Only one deficiency remained against the vessel after the Maritime NZ visit. It related to how the vessel implemented the International Safety Management System.

BusinessDesk.co.nz



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Comments from our readers

On 13 October 2011 at 9:25 am Ron Palmer said:
Regardless of blame for the grounding what really needs investigating is why Maritime NZ was so slow to arrange pumping the oil off the ship within hours of it running. At first light on the morning of the grounding it was apparent that the ship would not be able to be removed from the reef for some days if ever. It doesen't require a rocket scientist to know that a ship running aground at 15 knots will be easily removed. For four days after the grounding the weather was ideal to have the fuel oil removed. MNZ has an accountant as it's CEO who is hell bent on employing other females and staff who have no nautical knowledge whatso ever. The tripe of waiting for a naval architect to arrive from Holland is utter rubbish. What help can a naval architect give in a salvage situation?
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