Flooding and abandonment of general cargo ship Sea Breeze

The MAIB has recently published their report on the flooding and abandonment of Barbados-registered general cargo ship SEA BREEZE 12 miles south of The Lizard, 9th March 2014.


We recently forwarded a number of reports concerning commercial vessels to our managed yachts with accompanying fleet circulars, as synergies between them and the large yacht sector were tenuous at best, albeit still useful reminders of general seamanship matters. At first glance, the SEA BREEZE report seemed to follow the same pattern until we saw the actions of the owner and management company. This resonates with comments expressed at a number of industry forums recently as well as some yacht media discussions on the topic of managers protecting their relationships with owners at any cost, even at the expense of the crew.

Considering the technical aspect of the report, important points are raised here. The Chief Engineer attempted opening up a ballast pump while the single valve between the pump and the sea chest remained open. The Master - unaware of the work being done – saw rising water and ordered abandonment without considering his damage stability criteria. Risk assessment and planning may have saved the day, but that is only scratching the surface.

The vessel had no identifiable maintenance records and the Chief Engineer had only recently joined and his handover failed to mention two leaking ballast pumps. The MAIB has described an absence of any safety culture, which also extends to the management company. SEA BREEZE was, without doubt, a total dog. Despite some spectacularly ineffective surveying by the Barbados registry, Lloyd's Register had raised condition concerns at the MLC audit and the Master had formally written to the managers advising them of some significant defects, to which the managers did not respond. The Master did not help his own case by flogging emergency exercise records but with a disinterested and remote manager, he had no apparent management support in safety matters.

How this company was able to hold a Document of Compliance under the ISM Code is a mystery perhaps only known to the managers and the Russian Register. Six months prior to the incident, a Barbados survey had reported that SEA BREEZE was in ‘good condition for its age and well maintained', then just six months later, following the incident and revelation of its condition following an MAIB commissioned survey which found the vessel unseaworthy on numerous counts, decisively struck her from the Barbados Register. Utter farce.

The management company and owner did not attend the ship after the incident, but conducted their own investigation, which found the crew on board entirely to blame, dismissing the Master and Chief Engineer, then letting the dogs loose on the crewing agent. The MAIB author must have written this with gritted teeth.

In closing, the owner and manager walked away, without paying the salvor. It is a relief that no lives were lost as a consequence of this and serves as a reminder to all to maintain an effective safety culture on board, as well as challenging the manager to maintain their own. This may also beg the simple question - do you believe your manager puts your safety before his relationship with the Owner?

For those on board Watkins' managed boats, please ensure that all crewmembers are given an opportunity to read this and confirm so in your next HESS meeting minutes. I can be contacted at any time if anyone has any questions. We would welcome any feedback of course, and would be pleased to circulate any comments.