23 Oct About loss prevention
A SERIES OF UPSETTING EVENTS
The example of the recent major bunker fuel spill demonstrates that all market participants must be prepared to learn even the simplest lessons in order to continually improve, prevent and manage risks even more effectively.
Loss prevention is at the heart of most P&I Clubs and is vital to helping club members ensure safe operations and best practices. Each club has its own set of measures to prevent losses. In turn, our company, as a correspondent for P&I clubs, plays an important role in the investigation and settlement of various insurance claims.
Today we will detail a case where a series of interconnected incidents led to a major bunker spill and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. This unprecedented and unfortunate chain of events provided an opportunity to share some key learning points to reduce the likelihood of such an event happening again.
CHAIN OF EVENTS
The bulk carrier was anchored within the port awaiting the delivery of bunker fuel. The chief engineer usually takes responsibility, but in this case the chief engineer decided to go ashore and delegated the task to a fourth engineer. The fourth engineer was significantly less experienced than the chief, but instead of re-checking the bunkering procedures and completing the appropriate checklists, he decided to start the bunkering operation from memory. When the bunker operator approached the shore and the hoses were connected, the duty officer asked the fourth mechanic if plugs were needed. He answered in the negative, since none of the tanks were filled to the top.
The supplied fuel was intended for the bunker tank No. 1. The attendant was told to open the correct valve on the manifold, but unfortunately the markings on the valves were worn and faded, so he just tried to guess which valve was the correct one. And he was wrong. By mistake he sent fuel to bunker tank # 2 and the bunker barge was asked to start pumping. In addition to this sad story, the fourth mechanic allowed himself to be distracted and called home on his cell phone. In order to achieve better communication quality, he stepped away from the ship and left his hand-held VHF.
When Bunker Tank # 2 began to fill with fuel and was almost full, it began to overflow through the vent. Fuel flooded the upper deck and spilled over the side into the sea. In the end, the spill was discovered by the bunkering team, who were unable to contact a fourth radio communications engineer and therefore decided to terminate the pumping. Unfortunately, all this happened after 26,000 liters of fuel had already been poured overboard.
Unsurprisingly, the subsequent cleaning operation was costly. The entire operation took about two weeks, but luckily the spilled oil was collected. Cleanup costs reached $ 6.5 million and the local port authority imposed a $ 750,000 fine. In addition, the ship’s crew made another rash decision and tried to falsify documents related to bunkering.
This particular case stands out because it demonstrates how a chain of errors, both large and small, can lead to serious and costly incidents.
The lessons learned include a number of important points that can help prevent the recurrence of such spills and reduce the risk of negative consequences, namely:
- Ensure that the personnel in charge of bunkering operations have sufficient experience and knowledge;
- Follow the prescribed bunkering procedures;
- Conduct a meeting with all staff to discuss the plan and the operation itself;
- Agree in advance with the alarm and procedure with the bunkering barge;
- Clearly mark all valves with the places they serve;
- Do not allow distractions during work, for example, talking on the phone;
- Do not falsify documents after the incident.
Many of these points seem pretty straightforward, but are often overlooked. Fortunately, in this particular case, the crew was not prosecuted for forging documents. The ship owners are also fortunate that the cleanup operation was so successful. But this incident damaged both their pockets and their reputation.
Be vigilant and observe safety measures!