It appears the Wakashio was a particularly faulty ship. A detailed assessment thorough a recently established EU shipping database has revealed almost 100 critical safety violations with the Japanese Bulk Carrier.
Having so many critical safety issues flagged is not normal for a large ocean-bound vessel.
The Wakashio’s safety records show that it was by far the riskiest vessel, double that of the next riskiest ship in Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet. This is abnormally high compared with other ocean-bound ships and large Capesize Bulk Carriers.
The data can be accessed via a free and publicly accessible database on ship safety, called EQUASIS (the Electronic Quality Shipping Information System).
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Shipowner, Nagashiki Shipping has been approached for a response about which systems were functional and usable by the crew on board the Wakashio, and whether any issues had been raised by the crew about equipment on board.
In September, the lawyers to the captain of the Wakashio were controversially displaced and were replaced with lawyers appointed by the Japanese owner and insurer, prompting the senior lawyer who was displaced (a former Deputy Speaker in Mauritius’ parliament) to describe these events as ‘dark forces’ at work.
EQUASIS: a vital tool for Ship Safety Investigations
Its intention was to improve ship safety by increasing transparency in global shipping.
It is supported through a non-profit foundation hosted at the European Maritime Safety Agency in Lisbon, Portugal. Its aim is to ensure there is a non-commercial platform that can be accessed by people from all over the world.
It covers the entire global fleet of large ocean-bound vessels, and brings together disparate databases.
One of its most critical features is the publicly available list of inspection reports conducted on each vessel whenever they visit a port and an inspection is conducted. An inspection in shipping is equivalent to a randomized drug test for athletes – the ship does not know when it is going to happen, but they should happen at regular intervals. As can be seen by looking through the reports, certain ports are more rigorous about inspections than others (mainly Australia, Canada, U.S., U.K. and EU ports).
These inspection reports are linked to various bodies of international shipping law that was already flagged as an issue by the Wakashio during questions about the crew and staffing operations of the vessel, described as a ‘skeleton crew.’
Wakashio had 96 deficiencies
A search through the inspection history of the Wakashio reveal 96 deficiencies. A deficiency is the equivalent of an issue being flagged for an Annual Motor Vehicle Test. Usually if they are flagged, this means there is a violation of something serious linked to an international law or regulation on international ship safety. In particularly serious incidents, vessels can be detained.
In many cases, vessels play a game of ‘cat and mouse’ to see which issues they may be caught out on. This is one of the main reasons why Flags of Conveniences are so risky, and need to be reformed at the global level. Their dependence on outsourced Inspection Services (called Classification Societies) have introduced perverse incentives and significant risk into global shipping.
Port inspectors can only assess vessels against the certifications issued by these Classification Societies. So if a ‘Flag of Convenience’ (e.g., Panama) has lower standards, and opts for a Classification Society to issue safety certificates (e.g., Japan-based ClassNK as was the case with the Wakashio), this is what the ship will be assessed on in a Port where it is selected for a randomized inspection.
This means the findings in randomized Port inspections only scrape the surface of what could be much more serious situations affecting vessels that are going undetected because of the widespread use of the six main ‘Flags of Convenience’ countries.
Wakashio had serious Navigation Equipment flaws
From previous inspections, it is clear that the Wakashio had several serious flaws identified with ‘Safety of Navigation’ risks. These are violations of a body of international maritime law set by the International Maritime Organization, known as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and is foundational to the safety of crews on vessels, as well as to avoid major pollution incidents as was seen in Mauritius.
Going deeper into the sort of violations the Wakashio had reveal a concerning pattern. The violations flagged included:
1. Deficiencies with Nautical Publications
Nautical Publications were flagged on several occasions, with several additional inspections specifically identifying flaws with the ‘Charts’ on the Wakashio. This is relevant because all ocean-bound vessels were mandated to use Electronic Charts since 2012 through a system known as ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information System). On September 7, The Panamanian Authorities had already flagged issues with the charts on the Wakashio.
With previous issues flagged about Nautical Publications and Charts, this raises even more questions about the ECDIS system on board the Wakashio. Critical questions for the investigators will include who the hardware manufacturer was, what version of the software it was running, when was the last time the ECDIS system was maintained and who certified this, whether any previous issues with the ECDIS system had been flagged by the crew, who provided the Electronic Maps for the ECDIS system, what was the training of the crew like for the ECDIS system (there are over 40 ECDIS systems, and crew provider Anglo Eastern was responsible for providing and regularly verifying adequately trained crew for the relevant ECDIS system on board), and also what were the cyber security protocols, training and software around ECDIS on the Wakashio.
ECDIS systems have been identified as one of the biggest vulnerabilities on ships to Cyber-Security and Digital Piracy, with a 400% increase in Cyber-Security and Hacking incidents on global shipping this year alone, including against the IMO and some of the world’s biggest shipping lines (Maersk in 2017 at the cost of $300m, and this year against MSC, CMA-CGM and COSCO).
2. Deficiencies with the Voyage Data Recorder
With the Mauritian Police reporting that they could not hear any audio on the VDR (Voyage Data Recorder), EQUASIS reveals that issues with the Wakashio’s VDR was identified in previous inspection reports.
The Voyage Data Recorder (the ‘black box’ on a vessel) is one of the most critical tools for ship safety. Any flaws with the VDR would be viewed as incredibly serious to avoid incidences like the Wakashio grounding. Just like in aircraft accidents, great lengths are taken to obtain the ‘black box’ flight recorder as this often paints the most detailed explanation of what could have occurred in the final moments.
If the Mauritian Police are unwilling to partner with an organization that can extract the audio from the VDR using specialist techniques (as the U.S. National Transport Safety Board was able to do with the El Faro sinking in 2015), then a closer examination may be needed of previous inspection reports of the Wakashio to see where VDR issues were flagged.
3. Deficiencies with the GNSS Receiver
A violation of the GNSS Receiver was picked up in a previous inspection report. This is very serious. GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System. The GNSS Receiver is an electronic device that receives and processes signals from navigation satellite constellations to provide position, velocity and time.
This would have been a critical tool for the Captain and crew to be able to safely navigate the vessel. If this equipment was not functioning correctly, then there would be serious implications for the inquiry, as was found with the El Faro investigation after the Voyage Data Recorder was recovered and the provider of inaccurate Satellite Weather Information was charged in court with providing misleading information that led to navigation errors on the bridge.
The Wakashio’s navigation also appears to be complicated with issues flagged with the A.I.S. (Automatic Identification System) and the Compass Correction Log on several occasions. These are some of the alternative navigation aids used by the crew on vessels, and it is concerning these are also being flagged as having had issues.
To have a combination of all these critical Navigation Equipment flagged by inspectors in various ports around the world is very serious indeed, and could imply the Captain and Crew of the Wakashio had been sent on board a faulty vessel without the right tools for safe navigation.
One way to validate the accuracy is to have access to the Captain’s Noon Reports. By comparing the Captain’s Noon Reports with the Digital Navigation Records from the Wakashio, a fuller understanding of the nature of any software-related navigation errors can be identified.
4. Concerns about Crew Working Conditions
In the last inspection in Australia earlier in 2020, inspectors identified ‘Records of Rest’ and ‘Watchkeeping Records’ as having a deficiency. These are mandatory requirements under international IMO law (a body of maritime law known as the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers or STCW). These deficiencies should have been reported to the shipowners, and action should have been taken to ensure accurate monitoring of the protocols after this inspection.
The reason this is important is because Records of Rest is critical to ensure the crew is not being overworked and fatigued when placed on Watch Duty. Having had Watchkeeping Records flagged in previous inspections raises the question of whether there was lax supervision by Nagashiki Shipping of its vessels.
Knowing now that there are questions about who was on the Bridge and how Watch was being kept in the last four days as the Wakashio headed in a straight line for Mauritius, means that the Watchkeeping Records should become an important part of the inquiry. If it is found that such issues were flagged to the shipowners and little action taken, then like any organization where management does not take its responsibility seriously, there is likely to be serious consequences.
The Wakashio was already 17% understaffed relative to industry norms for a 13-year old Capesize Bulk Carrier. Two of the crew had been on board for over a year (which is a violation of international labor law and Panama’s own safe crew limits of 11 months which would have governed the Wakashio). Three of the crew had had their contracts repeatedly extended, which would have placed undue pressure on the crew without necessarily having an end date in sight for when they could disembark.
There were other issues flagged with record keeping and crew certificates on multiple occasions (including once where all the crew’s certificates had mysteriously gone missing in 2010, which is essentially the same as driving a car without a driving license when stopped by the police, unless the certificates would flagged something even more serious).
5. Issues with the ship’s internet
With the speculation about whether the Wakashio was searching for internet or phone signal, there has been a lot of questions about vessel charterer and operator, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL)’s position when chartering the vessel for the long journey to and from Brazil. With pressure mounting on ship crews around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, almost all major ship operators emphasized the access to onboard internet for crews, as various trade unions demanded and even the United Nations highlighted was an important human right on board a vessel.
In a statement to Forbes on October 6, the Executive Director of the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), Roger Harris, explained the pressures seafarers are facing during COVID-19 by not being in contact with loved ones. “Seafarers are becoming psychologically and physically fatigued as many of them have now been onboard vessels for longer than a year, with little or no shore leave. Separated from their friends and families many are becoming depressed and increasingly frustrated that they cannot return home.”
Roger Harris also laid out the minimum expectations of ship operators to provide internet connectivity for the crew.
“This is the standard that we expect ship operators to meet:
- Free access for a minimum of 2 hours per day
- Free data up to 2.0GB per month and minimal charges for additional data
- Access in a private space, preferably in the seafarers’ cabin
- Access to Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber
- Access to video calls
- Access to free VOIP calls
- Training in use of social media
- Training in cyber security
- Ability to use own devices onboard”
Global maritime satellite provider, London-based INMARSAT, had come together with the shipping industry to identify internet connectivity solutions for crews stuck on vessels around the world since April.
However, a look through the inspection records of the Wakashio reveals a previous issue with Inmarsat communication equipment on board. Was this issue raised and looked into by the vessel owner prior to departure and was MOL aware of this issue? The captain and crew should have filed a report if something as critical as the Inmarsat communications network was not functioning. Sending crew on a three month voyage when two had already been on board for over a year (in violation of international maritime laws) would be seen as particularly irresponsible and a contributing factor if the Wakashio was indeed found to have a faulty internet connection for the crew that was not addressed in the final refueling stop in Singapore on July 12-14.
6. Ship Safety and Mechanical issues
Various inspections also identify an array of ship safety, electric and mechanical issues with the Wakashio. A damming report by one inspector identified ‘electrical equipment in general’ to be at fault. Important safety gear, such as the Water Level Indicator and critical lifesaving equipment (such as lifeboats and life buoys) were also deficient in another inspection.
Inspectors also identified issues with emergency preparedness, violations with the ship’s Safety Management System (SMS) that governs the way that the shipowners, operators and crew conduct themselves onboard, as well as multiple issues flagged with maintenance of Fire Safety systems. These are all defined under an international law called the ISM Code that govern ship safety.
These are all relevant for the inquiry, as one line for the investigation to follow is whether there was a mechanical failure or engine malfunction on board the vessel.
With an understaffed crew, faulty engine equipment, and potentially deficient fire safety measures, it could well have been the case that the crew had been distracted with a major mechanical issue, and were distracted from keep vigilant watch on the direction they were heading in.
Above: video released of the last voyage of the Wakashio departing Singapore on July 14 (first 5 minutes) and grounding on Mauritius coral reefs on July 25. The final 4 minutes show the amount of rust on the hull of the Wakashio, raising questions about vessel maintenance.
7. Pollution Risks
Another set of inspections identified several Maritime Pollution risks with the Wakashio (known as Marpol). Part of the issue with ship inspectors is that if the laws are faulty, the inspectors cannot flag these as deficiencies. This is the risk of registering ships with ‘Flags of Convenience’ nations like Panama, and Panama then outsourcing certifications to ‘Ship Classification’ societies like ClassNK.
One of the reasons many vessel owners opt for registrations with ‘Flags of Conveniences,’ such as Panama as one of the ‘Big Six,’ is due to lower standards and inspection regimes. This was one of the factors with the Wakashio and why the vessel was not carrying sufficient oil protection equipment to cover its perimeter and prevented the leak being as extensive as it ended up being.
Wakashio was the highest risk vessel in Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet
Comparing the Wakashio with the entire fleet of Nagashiki Shipping, it is clear that the Wakashio was by far the highest risk vessel in Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet.
Normalizing the absolute deficiencies and comparing this with deficiencies per inspection, a similar pattern emerges. The Wakashio had five and a half times more deficiencies per inspection than the lowest risk vessel, Jupiter Express. The Wakashio had double the number of deficiencies than the average of Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet.
So could the faults with the Wakashio have been the main cause for how the vessel ended up on Mauritius’ coral reefs?
Taking a more detailed look through Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet, a pattern of systemic risk emerges across all vessels.
Systemic Navigation Risks in Nagashiki Shipping’s Fleet
Almost every vessel in Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet had major Safety of Navigation Risks flagged in inspection reports.
This was by far the most common category of risk. Of the 368 deficiencies found with the Nagashiki Fleet, one in seven (51) of these deficiencies were related to issues with Safety of Navigation. This is an important chapter in SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and raises the question whether there were systemic risks across Nagashiki’s ships.
The range of navigation issues identified with the fleet include:
- ECDIS charts (Mimitsu, Nord Sakura, Takeshio, Ultra Prosperity, Ocean Clarion, NSC Kingston, MOL Seabreeze, Wakashio)
- Nautical Publications (Mimitsu, Nord Sakura, Takeshio, Ultra Prosperity, Ocean Clarion, MOL Seabreeze, Ore Amazonas, Wakashio)
- Monitoring the Voyage Plan (Nord Sakura, Takeshio, Ocean Clarion, MOL Seabreeze)
- Voyage Data Recorder (Nord Sakura, MOL Seabreeze, Wakashio)
- Bridge Alarms (Takeshio, Ocean Clarion, NSC Kingston, Ore Amazonas)
- Bridge Operations (MOL Seabreeze)
- Radio Communication Issues (Jupiter Express, Ocean Clarion, Nord Sakura, MIMITSU, Wakashio)
- Satellite and Compass Navigation Aids (Wakashio)
Although all the vessels were built in different shipyards, much of the equipment on board would have needed to be updated in 2012 when paper charts were banned and electronic charts were made mandatory.
The inquiry will now need to explore whether any shortcuts were taken with how Nagashiki Shipping was outfitting the bridge and navigation equipment of all its vessels.
State of the Wakashio when grounded on Mauritius’ reefs
Video footage taken by drone pilot, Reuben Pillay in Mauritius, on the morning after the grounding (July 26) reveal the state of the Wakashio, including its communications towers. The external state of the communication towers (including Inmarsat terminals) could prove important for the inquiry.
Here are some of the other deficiencies revealed for each vessel in Nagashiki’s fleet, with systemic risks flagged for Navigation Safety across almost all vessels in Nagashiki Shipping’s fleet.
Data transparency critical for safety in the shipping industry
The hearings into the Wakashio are ongoing in Mauritius. The sort of data from previous inspections is publicly available on EQUASIS, and will likely form an important part of the inquiry’s findings.
It also shows the importance of transparency of data in global shipping. The Wakashio is proving an illuminating case example for how data transparency can reduce environmental disasters by improving ship safety.
Databases like the EU’s EQUASIS are a vital tool to improve ship safety and get to the root causes of what has caused a vessel to run aground and spill oil.
It is only when the global shipping industry chooses to safely operate with this level of transparency, that risks to the lives of seafarers and ship-borne pollution be reduced. In the world of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, these are the sorts of systems and infrastructure that are important to be investing in now.
The Wakashio should be the wake up call for the global shipping industry and world leaders to say ‘never again’ to large shipping and oil pollution incidents.
Source: Forbes – Business