SWANLAND (c) R van der Mast Marine Traffic.com

Last week, a small ship sank in a gale off the Welsh coast.  Of the SWANLAND’S crew of eight, only two were saved, despite a distinguished rescue effort in terrible conditions by eleven Coast Guard teams, the RNLI and Royal Air Force.

SWANLAND was a small, roughly 2000 gt dry bulker, bound from Colwyn Bay to Cowes in the Isle of Wight;  with her cargo of limestone, she must have gone down quickly, after, according to the survivors, having been struck by a massive wave. It was reported that, in a mayday received at 0200 hours, her hull cracked.

Built in 1977, she was registered in the Cook Islands.

SWANLAND had a poor port state control record, according to Lloyd’s List, including a finding in the past year that her hatchcovers were not sufficiently watertight; fire and safety equipment not properly maintained; and life rafts not properly fitted. It is reported that the ship previously went aground off Yarmouth, while loaded with 2,700 tons of wheat. On that occasion, her crew of eight seem to have been unharmed.

It is also reported that in August 2010, SWANLAND’s engines failed; it was, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence casualty
reports, towed into Falmouth after nearly grounding off the Lizard peninsula.

Last week, SWANLAND was at sea in a heavy gale.

So six seafarers have been lost. We think, and say, that such things matter a great deal; that substandardships, flag states and operators do exist; and with the most hostile economic conditions in a generation assailing the industry, badly maintained ships are reappearing — and will grow in number. The prevailing culture of government costcutting, in the beleaguered United States and Europe, is also a grim omen for the future of maritime safety.

When we fail to take effective measures against substandard shipping, we disgrace ourselves. No doubt the SWANLAND fell through more than a few cracks; those cracks may be the familiar ones, perhaps including the ship’s classification society, flag state, and local port state control. There may be others. Would a full, public — and consequential — inquiry be asking too much?

An ancient hymn invokes God’s protection for “those in peril on the sea”.

Which doesn’t exonerate us.

Source: Clay Maitland