Dutch court finds captain at fault for Eemslift Hendrika incident

Dutch court finds captain at fault for Eemslift Hendrika incident

Eemslift Hendrika towed to the port of Ålesund Stig Jacobsen/Kystverket

The story of the Eemslift Hendrika incident from April 2021 has got its final chapter it seems, as the Maritime Disciplinary Court of the Netherlands concluded that the captain of the vessel at the time failed in his responsibilities putting his crew and the vessel in danger. The court suspended his license for eight weeks in total, with two of the eight being under probation. 

To remind, in April last year, the Dutch multipurpose vessel Eemslift Hendrika, ran into trouble off the coast of Norway, while sailing from Bremerhaven to Kolvereid, Norway. The vessel had two catamarans onboard, a yacht, a sailing yacht and a large fishing boat. In the lower hold, the cargo consisted of a catamaran and six azipod thrusters, each weighing 52 tonnes.

Due to severe weather conditions, the cargo in the lower hold shifted causing damage to the vessel and ballast tanks that started leaking. The Norwegian Coast Guard was contacted and evacuated eight of the twelve crew members, with the captain staying onboard in an attempt to stabilise the vessel. Later, the remaining crew were also evacuated, with the vessel remaining adrift and one of the vessels on deck breaking loose and damaging the crane before gong overboard into the sea.

Following rescue actions, the vessel was then towed to harbour in Ålesund by two tugboats.

Captain at fault for Eemslift Hendrika incident

The court ruled on December 23, that the captain of the vessel took unnecessary risks, heading out of Bremerhaven in bad weather, and not seeking shelter in Norwegian fjords as weather deteriorated. However, in his hearing, the captain noted that the weather forecast showed the first few days of the trip would be fair to good in terms of weather conditions, saying there was no reason not to head out of Bremerhaven. Upon revising the information at hand, the court found his decision to be reasonable.

However, in response to the point made by the inspector that the captain did not choose to sail inland and seek shelter as the weather deteriorated, the captain stated that “the weather forecast indicated that the weather along the Norwegian coast would be slightly better and that there was no reason to avoid the coast, even with project cargo.”

The captain did acknowledge that his actions exposed the crew and the vessel to high risk resulting in the crew abandoning the vessel and the vessel sustaining significant damage.

Dutch court finds captain at fault for Eemslift Hendrika incident
Salvage operations

The blame game

During the court hearing, the captain also stressed that he was under pressure by the shipping company to deliver the cargo on time to Norway. As the captain, who boarded the vessel in Rotterdam, already faced delays in Bremerhaven he stressed in the hearing that he was under pressure to stay on previously agreed ETA.

The captain also denied any responsibility for not taking shelter as the weather deteriorated which led to three of the six thrusters to break from their lashings and shift in the cargo hold. He noted that his only fault was not checking the lashings in the lower hold when boarding the vessel and making the transfer. He confirmed checking the cargo on deck.

“I did check the status of the cargo on deck, but not in the hold. That was a matter of trust. The previous captain said everything was fine. I should have checked. I blame myself,” the captain said during the court hearing.

He also added that since the incident he has spent almost a full year without work which was a big financial blow to him. In addition to saying the company put pressure on him to deliver the cargo on time, he said that he never heard from Amasus again, apart from two text messages and a call.

In their response to the court, Amasus Shipping, said that it has advised the captain to seek shelter as the weather forecasts have already been bad, without replying to the comments by the captain that there was not much communication with him since the incident.

The ruling

The court concluded that the captain was not unreasonable in his decision to leave Bremerhaven when he did, with the forecast at hand. However, it is of the opinion that the captain failed in his responsibilities, taking unnecessarily large risks.

The disciplinary court also notes that he acted on his own compass, despite Amasus Shipping advising him to take safe action.

Based on all the hearings, the court decided to suspend the captain’s license for a total of eight weeks. However, having in mind that the captain sustained injuries in the incident and has not been able to sail for a substantial period, the suspension of the navigation license will be imposed conditionally for a period of two weeks.

The vessel, on the other hand, Eemslift Hendrika, has been repaired and is already in service.

Author: Adnan Bajic

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