Home' Baird Maritime : August 2011 Contents Master mariners have had a significant impact on world
history throughout the ages.
They were the heroes who braved bad weather in leaky ships and
uncharted waters, and battled unfriendly natives and enemies at sea
and ashore. Even those who achieved prominence in our history
books often met a sticky end, such as James Cook, Francis Drake,
Horatio Nelson and the great unsung Scotsman Thomas Cochrane.
It is worth reading of these heroes and how they handled the
wide varieties of challenges that face any mariner -- crew,
stability, provisions, the voyage, structural integrity, and greatest
of all, the weather and the enormous destructive seas that high
winds can create.
In the 1960s a career as an officer at sea culminating as a master
was the aim of many school leavers, including me. In seven years
at sea my respect for master mariners grew as I witnessed how
these competent, balanced, experienced men handled extremely
tough situations, such as losing power in cyclonic conditions,
without going weak-kneed, panicking or having to ring their
therapist like shoreside CEOs.
Three master mariners of late also have both my sympathy
and my admiration.
The first was Captain Apostolos Mangouras, who was the master
of the Aframax tanker 'Prestige'. Heading north past Spain in 2002,
with bad weather imminent, he notified Spanish port authorities
of a crack in the deck and requested access to the closest port. The
authorities refused and the 'Prestige' headed into the bad weather.
Six days later, the ship cracked up, sank and spilled 64,000 tonnes
of crude oil, which spread over the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.
Loyola de Palacio, the Spanish representative in the European
Commission, recognised an opportunity to extract political capital
from a populist issue, actively and vocally pursuing and
successfully jailing Mangouras. This was my first experience of a
master mariner becoming a scapegoat for an accident in the
absence of other accessible parties.
As chairman of Interferrry shortly afterwards, I was in London
having lunch with then IMO secretary-general Bill O'Neil and the
CEO of the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which was the flag
authority of the 'Prestige'. All three of us agreed that they had
locked the wrong person up, indeed that it should have been de
Palacio. Wikipedia has a "green-sanitised" version of the story, but
for the real details read the Lloyds List account.
In December 2007, a Samsung Heavy Industries barge being
towed by a tug broke its tow line and collided with the correctly
anchored tanker 'Hebei Spirit' near Daesan in South Korea. The
collision punctured three of the five tanks aboard the 'Hebei Spirit'
and resulted in the leakage of around 11,000 tonnes of crude oil,
polluting nearby Mallipo beach. Unbelievably, the 'Hebei Spirit's'
two most senior officers, Master Jasprit Chawla and his chief
officer, were detained, found guilty of criminal negligence and
handed prison sentences.
Almost a year later, Roberto Giorgi, CEO of V.Ships, which
managed the 'Heibei Spirit', visited the officers ahead of their
appeal. He told the press that he was concerned that they may
not get a fair trial, alleging "collusion" between the South
Korean authorities and Samsung Heavy Industries, the country's
largest construction company. Giorgi said that the combined
efforts of Samsung and prosecutors "look to be designed to
ensure that the master and chief officer are found guilty on
appeal". After 540 days in a Korean jail, the two men were
released, but the case again highlighted how completely
innocent master mariners can fall victim to the willingness of
governments to find scapegoats for environmental pollution.
In March 2009, the cargo ship 'Pacific Adventurer' lost 31
containers of ammonium nitrate overboard some seven nautical
miles east of Cape Moreton in Queensland, Australia, while en
route to Brisbane in heavy post-cyclone weather. The falling
containers holed the ship's side and breached fuel tanks, spilling
some 270 tonnes of fuel oil. The oil polluted the eastern and
northern beaches of Moreton Island, off Brisbane.
Press accounts highlighting "270,000 litres of fuel" incited
public rage and political displeasure. "Dumping fuel", screamed
the headline in the local (Rupert Murdoch-owned) Courier Mail
newspaper, a blatantly untrue piece of gutter-style journalism
that stoked the general hysteria. Queensland state premier Anna
Bligh, with an election looming, could not contain her glee and
entered the fray, encouraging the prosecution and jailing of
Captain Bernadino Santos. Someone needed to be crucified and
the soft target, with no marine industry support at all, was
The trial will start in Brisbane Supreme Court in October. If you
are the owner or skipper of a boat of any size, have been at sea in
any role, or are simply a citizen with a modicum of fair play and
common sense, please add your support to the protests at the trial.
It is Bligh and the Courier Mail editor who should be in the
dock, on charges of impersonating leaders. To admit that you
don't know sometimes does not come easily, as confirmed by
Bligh and the Courier Mail editor having not the foggiest idea of
"ships in peril". Bligh has already signalled her disdain for the
fishing and boating industries. How dare two people at the very
bottom of the credibility scale try to impugn a master mariner!
Queensland is establishing a dangerous precedent here, not just
for the shipping industry's visiting vessels but for every boat that
ventures to sea in the state's waters. Imagine going out for a day's
fishing, getting into rough weather, where the spare fuel can falls
overboard or the engine room bilge pump kicks in and send some
oily bilge water overboard, and you end up in jail. "It was only five
litres," you may protest! But it was only five litres of hydraulic oil
in an accidental spill a few years ago and the government of New
South Wales state hounded the Lord Howe Island Shipping
Company. Years in court and costs of AUD$1.5 million (US$1.59
million) were not fair or reasonable for Malcolm Reid and his little
Nor will it be fair and reasonable for Captain Santos, who was
neither drunk nor drugged nor fatigued. He was just doing his job
as master to the best of his abilities in weather worse than forecast.
The fact that all of his crew and the ship itself were saved seem to
have escaped all the commentators in the cheap seats.
Evil abounds when good men stay silent
Captain Santos has a right to better treatment than being
dragged through court by an ignorant politician searching for a
scapegoat. He deserves the support of the Company of Master
Mariners, everyone in the marine industry, and the public. See
THE MASTER MARINER
With STUART BALLANTYNE
THE THOUGHTS OF A
August 2011 BAIRD MARITIME
Links Archive July 2011 September 2011 Navigation Previous Page Next Page