Ferry captain’s actions contrary to insurance requirements: expert

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 09:45

Why a captain would leave the ship before ensuring the safety of the passengers is not only unfathomable, but goes against the terms of insurance requirements, says one veteran marine claims surveyor.

“I can’t understand why anyone would leave the ship,” says Captain Stuart J. McLea, a SAMS – Accredited Marine Surveyor of Surveys-Claims-Appraisals-Loss Prevention-Salvage with MRM Solutions. “It is obvious that protocols were not followed in the case of the South Korean ferry disaster – and according to international protocols, there is a requirement to mitigate any sort of damage to the vessel; and it is a requirement in the terms of their marine insurance policy, in fact.”

McLea’s expertise lies in accident investigations, in his current role as an accident investigator with MRM and from his 20 years with the RCMP on the west and east coasts of Canada. He pointed out that the captain should be on the bridge and the engine room staff should be in the engine room to make every effort possible to mitigate damage.

Picture of Captain Stuart J. McLea

“The whole idea is to be onboard to make decisions so that you can try to save the ship whenever possible,” McLea told Insurance Business. “They are required under the IMS – the International Safety Management code – to develop procedures and practices for the safe operation of a vessel. The crew would receive training on these procedures and these practices, and that would be everything from tying up a boat to a catastrophic failure of the boat. And it is obvious procedures were not followed or there was a misunderstanding.”

The sinking of the South Korean ferry Sewol last week is expected to produce a death count that will surpass 300 – but what has garnered world outrage is the actions of the ferry captain and some crew members who fled the ship on the first lifeboat.

Fending off criticism of her own government in the handling of the tragedy, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said that the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed “unforgivable, murderous behaviour.”

South Korea has been a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) since 1962.

The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry Sewol sank last week. By then the ship had tilted so much it is believed that many of those still missing could not escape.

“What the captain and part of the crew did is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, unforgivable, murderous behaviour,” President Park said at a cabinet briefing, with those comments posted on the website of the presidential Blue House.

Park said instead of following a marine traffic controller’s instructions to “make the passengers escape,” the captain “told the passengers to stay put while they themselves became the first to escape.”

“Legally and ethically,” she said, “this is an unimaginable act.”

For McLea, marine accidents can be commonplace – but adds maritime crews in Canada are well-trained and have years of experience.

“I’ve seen a number of cases where procedures aren’t being followed,” says McLea. “And because of the you have a close-quarters situation or a near miss, and because of that you have an accident situation. In the world of marine insurance, where ships are moving around, it is an every-day occurrence.”

Just this week, a tanker ship carrying chemical products ran aground in the St. Lawrence River outside of Grondines, Que. In this case, the 160-metre Halit Bey was freed by tug boats at high tide, as three investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were sent to the scene of the accident.

As for the South Korean ferry captain, Lee Joon-seok, he and two crew members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, and prosecutors said that four other crew members have been detained. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said prosecutors would decide within 48 hours whether to seek arrest warrants for the four: two first mates, a second mate and a chief engineer.

Lee, 68, has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck — where they would have had a greater chance of survival — without telling them to abandon ship.

Video showed that Lee was among the first people rescued. Some of his crew said he had been hurt, but a doctor who treated him said he had only light injuries.

Originally published April 25, 2014 by Donald Horne: http://www.insurancebusiness.ca/news/ferry-captains-actions-contrary-to-insurance-requirements-expert-177471.aspx?p=1