OVV Incident report on the Eemslift Hendrika released
In early April of 2021, the Norwegian Maritime Authority reported that shifting cargo in the heavy lift vessel, Eemslift Hendrika’s hold, caused extensive internal damage. Consequently, an investigation was launched into the incident, which began with the ship encountering force 9 winds on the Beaufort scale, off the coast of Norway.
Was human error to blame, or was this incident truly a case of unfortunate circumstance? This question was at the core of the report conducted by the Dutch Safety Board (Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid, OVV). The investigation report of the OVV, whose title translates to ‘Emergency situation after shifting cargo’ reads like an exciting book, with thankfully, a happy ending. The investigators take you along on the ship’s journey from the sunny Mediterranean, to the turbulent North Sea. There, the ship’s trouble begins. Photographs taken from the air by the Norwegian coast guard provide lively illustration.
Although some reports released close to the day of the incident, 5 April, initially indicated that a shipwreck had occurred, the investigation reveals that the situation was luckily, not as bad as previously thought. The ship was in distress due to a heavy and unforeseen storm, its crew was safely rescued by the Norwegian coastguard, the ship became briefly adrift, but was saved from crashing into the coast, a line was established which brought the ship into harbour, relatively unscathed. Even the green ship that was lashed to the deck, which did go overboard, was salvaged without much damage. Less than a year and a half after the incident, the ship has been repaired and is back in service.
Upon reading the investigation report, one cannot help but conclude that there was unforeseeable ill-luck. It seems that Delfzijl-based owner and operator, Amasus Shipping, had things well in hand, and acted in a professional manner that respected protocol. The ship was only six years old, the crew was qualified, there was even an extra hand on deck at the time, and instruction from the land office was good.
During the crossing from Bremerhaven to Norway, the shipping company’s cargo superintendent, a former captain on the Amasus fleet, was on board. He was there to relieve the first mate upon arrival in Norway, and assist in unloading the green ship in harbour. Even the route was familiar, as the shipping company sailed this route every few weeks as a scheduled service, mainly for yacht transport.
So where did things go wrong? There were two main issues. The first problem was the cargo in the hold. The Eemslift Hendrika’s hold was loaded with six azimuth thrusters in Palermo, which weighed 52 tonnes each. On the instructions of the helmsman, the boatswain, a qualified welder, welded extra D-rings in the hold. In total, 14 rings were available for each rudder propeller. The heavy cargo was then lashed down using chains and straps. However, during the storm, three of the six rudder propellers appeared to have slid.
The other problem that emerges from the report is that the weather and sea conditions in the North Sea turned out to be much worse than predicted. The OVV reported that, ‘prior to the voyage from Bremerhaven to Kolvereid, force 8 to 9 winds on the Beaufort scale, would be blowing on the route. This was apparent from the weather forecasts that the relay captain had available in the weather routing programme SPOS and the NAVTEX messages in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea area. Based on these forecasts the Relief Captain decided to take the route over open sea.’
The OVV further reported that: ‘The actual weather conditions on 5 April 2021, at the time of the incident were in line with the forecasts. The wind speeds on the day of the incident were between 34 and 40 knots and the wind came from the northwest. The measured wave heights however, were slightly higher than forecast, around 7.5 metres at the beginning of the day and increasing to 10.8 metres by the end of the afternoon. A swell was blowing from the west-northwest direction with a height of up to 4.5 metres. As both the swell and the wind came from the same direction, they reinforced each other’. The conclusion: the captain made a justifiable decision, but was surprised by unexpectedly bad conditions.
Thanks to the professionalism of the parties involved, a more serious accident was thankfully avoided. Despite the ship rocking to angles close to 45 degrees, it did not capsize, remaining afloat. Prior to leaving the ship, the captain was able to turn on the ship’s autopilot, setting it on a course that took the ship away from the vulnerable Norwegian coast. All survived the incident, though two crew members suffered minor injuries while hoisting a submersible pump from a helicopter into the hold. Furthermore, the Norwegian Coastguard coolly evacuated the crew members. Finally, the salvage companies that eventually managed to establish a towing connection with the Eemslift Hendrika tugged it to safety. As such this exciting story had a happy ending.
Translated from Schuttevaer by Emma Dailey