Damages are about $1 billion
Last month, the Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) released its official investigation into one of the most financially costly maritime accidents in recent history. In March 2021, a large container ship, the Ever Given, grounded in the Suez Canal and blocked it for a week. The blockade caused disruption to global supply chains and, according to data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence, took almost $10 billion in trade value. News reports put the damage cost at about $1 billion.
The PMA found that communication difficulties between the Indian crew and the Arabic-speaking pilots were a major factor in the accident.
Sydney-based Frazer Hunt (pictured above), a partner at Mills Oakley, is an expert in shipping and maritime law. He specializes in insurance-based transport and property claims and acts for insurers and logistics service providers in Australia, the UK and Europe. He agreed to answer questions about the PMA investigation from the perspective of the insurance industry.
A report on safety issues rather than claims
“Very few will turn to this report for potential acquisitions,” Hunt said. “Importantly, this is a maritime safety investigation and, in theory at least, is intended to be separate from, and independent of, any other form of investigation into the causes of the casualty for the purpose of pursuing and defending potential civil , criminal and administrative proceedings.”
He said that the insurers for the various stakeholders should have done their own investigation. For example, the UK P&I Club, Ever Given’s insurer, completed its own report.
Hunt said the purpose of this flag state report is to establish the causes and make recommendations to improve safety and save lives in code compliance marine casualty investigations.
What caused the accident?
“The PMA identified various factors related to the physical aspect of the canal and poor communication between the pilots and the bridge and made recommendations, including crew training, clear communication during the pilotage, checking the pilot’s actions and attention during the flight,” he said.
The recommendations, said Hunt, include a review of pilot training for maneuvering larger ships and imposing English as the language used.
“Hopefully, the Suez Canal Authority will adopt the report’s recommendations,” he said. “Such recommendations, if implemented, will help reduce the likelihood of similar incidents in the future,” he said.
Pilots are generally immune from prosecution
The PMA’s investigation suggested that the ship’s pilots – who represented the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) and boarded the ship to guide it through the canal – bore significant responsibility for the accident.
“In many jurisdictions, including Egypt, the pilot has immunity from prosecution and is not liable for any damages due to their mistakes,” Hunt said.
He also said that the pilots were not actually driving the ship.
“They are consultants who use their local knowledge and experience of the area, including geography and the effects of weather conditions, to advise the master who gives orders to the helm, the engines and the tugs to navigate. by ship from A to B. .”
He said that the ship’s master has particular knowledge of the ship’s handling characteristics.
Importance of Bridge Resource Management
“So the pilot and master have to work together, so clear communication is important,” Hunt said. “The master, crew and pilots must work as a team and must communicate clearly, including using a common language.”
He said the marine industry term for this collaborative relationship is Bridge Resource Management.
“If nothing else, it was a lucky escape and there is great incentive for all concerned to implement measures to minimize the likelihood of such a casualty happening again,” Hunt said.
He hoped the SCA would adopt the report’s recommendations.
“The casualty brings attention to the potential economic impact, if the ship is not refloated in a short period of time,” Hunt said.
Report detailed dispute between pilots
Insurance Business is interested in the PMA report which included a transcript detailing a series of arguments between two Ever Given pilots. IB asked Hunt if this inclusion surprised him?
“To the extent that communication issues contributed to the ship’s grounding, then the details of the conversations between the pilots are important because they illustrate that the dispute almost certainly delayed the master and crew from making in the appropriate preventive action, especially since the discussions are in a local language (Arabic) that they do not understand, so there is no opportunity to evaluate competing actions,” he said.
Lawyers, Guns and Money
The PMA report also criticized the SCA for its lack of cooperation with the PMA investigation. Hunt said, “in an ideal world” stakeholders would provide full cooperation for an investigation aimed at improving safety and saving human life.
“In fact, however, all concerned will be encouraged to minimize the possibility that they will incriminate themselves and be found liable in the inevitable civil, criminal and administrative proceedings,” he said.
As a result, Hunt said, they all “adopted a strategy” of withholding information even when the courts ordered them to do so.
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