Not Logged In, Login,

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


The open session on the Erika and its aftermath at INTERTANKO’s Monte Carlo Tanker Event was the first tanker industry gathering since the accident. The session had the aim of analysing the many important issues stirred up by the incident as well as their consequences for the industry as a whole.

The array of speakers and panelists represented the full spectrum of government and industry group sectors, with many of the participants from the companies and organisations associated with the tanker. The level of interest in the subject was evidenced by the packed meeting room, with over 250 attentive delegates present. Proceedings were in the capable hands of the moderator, Michael Grey of Lloyd’s List newspaper.

Moderator:  Michael Grey, Lloyd’s List


Bertrand Thouilin, Director of Marine Transportation, Total Fina Elf Group

Guiliano Pattofatto, Deputy Director General, RINA

Lino C Vassallo, Executive Director, Malta Maritime Authority

George Greenwood, Senior Partner, Steamship Mutual Underwriting Assoc

Hans G Payer, Member of Executive Board, Germanischer Lloyd and IACS, Chairman

Ketil Djonne, Prisma Consulting Group and INTERTANKO adviser on EU matters

Peter Swift, Director, Seascope Shipping

Lars Carlsson, President, Concordia Maritime AB

F Michael Everard, F T Everard & Sons Ltd

Willem de Ruiter, Head of Marine Safety Unit, European Commission

Jean-Louis Guibert, general administrator of maritime affaires and secretary general of the Institut Francais de Navigation, France

Ketil Djonne launched the Erika session presentations by putting the sinking of this tanker into the context of the European regulatory process. Public intolerance in the region has increased faster than industry performance, he said, and there is a perception that the international maritime safety system has broken down. The political fallout from the incident has been such that the European Union is seeking more regulatory action taken at a pace more quickly than it believes IMO, the international forum for maritime safety matters, is able to deliver.

Since the reorganisation of the European Union legislature, under the Treaty of Amsterdam in May 1999, there is a much more even split of power between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The increased power afforded the European Parliament in the new EU machinery implies more politics and more regionalism which translates into less of a technocratic approach than was the case under the old regime when the Commission held relatively more power. The Erika accident has focused interest on shipping safety issues and there is no doubt that EU will be considering other related matters in the medium term, including oil spill liability, the transparency of ship information, improved vessel traffic services in Europe, the creation of a European Maritime Agency and maritime safety as it relates to the accession of new EU member states.

George Greenwood described the efficient response action, in terms of attending the accident, monitoring oil spill cleanup arrangements and establishing a claims handling office, taken by his P&I Club, as the mutual in which Erika was entered, under the present liability and compensation regime. There is a mechanism in the CLC and Fund Conventions for the orderly upward revision of the compensation limits, and it is proposed to increase the current limits by approximately 50 per cent this spring. The P&I Clubs welcome the latest measures taken by IACS to tighten up classification society procedures and the ship inspection regime. George Greenwood said that there is a need to reinforce the standards of class by introducing an element of liability, but to ensure the limitation is kept at a reasonable level. Liability would encourage surveyors to err on the side of safety.

The considerable public pressure felt by the voyage charterer of Erika, Total Fina Elf, was outlined by Bertrand Thouilin. Two main issues highlighted by the Erika case were the importance of public perception and the moral and social responsibilities of oil companies. The current industry system proved to be indefensible under the weight of public anger in France.  In this incident the voyage charterer became the main focus of public attention. The stance of the charterer was seen to be politically incorrect and the technical arguments carried no weight. Bertrand Thouilin said that his company’s vetting procedure had not changed in principle post-Erika but that stricter criteria on chartering older ships had been introduced. “The present compensation regime worked only because Total Fina Elf contributed FFr 1 billion to the cost of cleanup,” said Bertrand Thouilin, “The current limits need to be revised upwards.” One of the key issues to emerge from the Erika case was the public perception of the age of the vessel, “for the public, an old ship is a bad ship and those who charter old ships are just doing so in order to save costs” Bertrand Thouilin told the delegates.

Guiliano Pattofatto of RINA reviewed the technical investigation carried out by his society into the possible causes of the loss of Erika. Their research determined that a crack developed in the bilge area in way of No 2 starboard ballast tank, but that the crack, in itself, would not have been enough to cause the ship to break up. Unfortunately, the ship’s master misjudged the situation and took steps which, instead of stabilising the situation caused by the initial listing of the ship, served to exacerbate it. Guiliano Pattofatto pointed out that important information about tank ullages was not transmitted from the ship to the shore and that this hindered appropriate emergency response action. In the aftermath of the Erika sinking RINA has subjected the fleet classed with the society to close examination and is cooperating with the French authorities on the official investigation into the ship¹s sinking. For the future RINA is continuing with its own investigations on Erika and will propose the tightening of the emergency response procedure requirements under the ISM Code.

Speaking as Chairman of IACS, Hans Payer reiterated the fact that public tolerance had decreased. IACS had made great efforts since 1990 to eradicate the leniency that had infiltrated into the class system over the previous two decades due to competition between societies. Erika has reinvigorated efforts and, with its series of measures introduced in February 2000, IACS has effectively declared war on substandard tonnage. Besides a series of stricter ship inspection requirements, the measures include the monitoring of flag state performance. Stemming from the observation of detentions and accidents, IACS will issue warnings and suggestions, as appropriate. If cooperation was not forthcoming IACS members would refuse authorisation to that flag state’s vessels. Dr Payer concluded by recommending that the most effective way to cut down on the current proliferation of ship inspections was to concentrate more of the responsibility on class. Class is prepared to meet this challenge and also to carry limited and reasonable liability.

Peter Swift announced the winners and losers in the Erika Awards ceremony. There are actually numerous winners, not least conference organisers, the media and environmental groups, but also including shipbuilders, scrapyards and oil company vetting departments. Numbered among the losers are single hull tankers, older quality tonnage and, thankfully, substandard ships. Other likely losers are oil traders and, possibly, oil company owned fleets which, having had their vetting departments beefed up, are no longer deemed viable.

The panelists in the open session also made valuable contributions to the discussion. Lars Carlsson said that the tanker industry must build ships that make suitable allowances for mistakes at sea. Furthermore, if older ships have to be phased out of service, it would be much more appropriate to do it on the basis of their CAP rating - a measure of quality - rather than just simply age.

Willem de Ruiter from the EC’s Marine Safety Unit pointed out that it is the public which educated the experts, and not vice versa, in the aftermath of Erika. The public had “lost its confidence in the experts”. This is because none of the responsible parties or their representatives stood up to say anything when the accident occurred and the media was clamouring for information. In the absence of any apologies or acceptance of any degree of responsibility, the public thought the worst and their outrage escalated. “It is too late to educate the public, the public will educate the industry”, he told the delegates.

Lino Vassallo, representing the flag state of Erika, admitted that his administration had been in possession of some relevant information which, with the benefit of hindsight, should have been released to the public in January 2000, a few weeks after the sinking. Erika had provided a number of salutary lessons for the flag state and Malta is taking steps to tighten its administrative procedures.

Speaking on behalf of shipowners, Michael Everard said that eventually it all comes back to the owner. The burden of proof is on owners to show that they operate ships strictly according to the regulatory regime that is in place. This entails a full commitment and a proactive, professional and well-documented relationship with all participants in the responsibility chain.

Jean-Louis Guibert, speaking on behalf of the French body carrying out the technical investigation into the Erika accident, said that it is too early to provide any firm details - the final report is not due to be published until June or July. However, he could say that the incident highlighted the need for a tightening of ship inspection procedures across the board. In addition, preliminary results indicate that there is evidence of some corrosion damage in way of Erika’s ballast tanks but it is not yet possible to say if this was a contributing factor to the breakup of the ship.

As delegates departed the conference hall after this lively session with much to think about, Michael Grey left them with one final comment to ponder – “Has the reaction to the Erika sinking been the right one?”