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Friday, April 18, 2008

Alaska Ranger: Facts and Fiction. . . .

If you don't immediately recognize them, let me help. That's Captain Edward John Smith of the Titanic on the left and Owner John Pierpoint Morgan on the right.

4/19 Addendum:

You know, I'm pretty darn confused right now. I just did a quick search of the Web this morning and what I came up with has me wondering. I assumed the Alaska Ranger was a US-flagged inspected vessel. But here it it states it was part of a voluntary inspection program (ASCA) designed for unclassed, uninspected vessels. Moreover, even though the PSIX info states it is a US-flagged vessel, the implication in the blog article I just read is that it was a foreign-flagged vessel.
Following Medlicott the board interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Pannet of Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska. Pannet holds a laundry list of Coast Guard marine safety qualifications.

Pannet has been in Unalaska since July 2007. He deals primarily with port state control exams on foreign vessels arriving in Dutch Harbor.

This would explain why it was an uninspected vessel and why it was not under US jurisdiction. It doesn't explain why it was not class certified or load line certified. Obviously, the Alaska Ranger, and many other vessels of its type, fall into a classification-inspection crack or loophole because of size, tonnage, and/or operations.

So, which is it? Foreign or US-Flagged? And will somebody official please answer the following two questions:

1. Why are there three other vessels listed in the PSIX archives with the same name, dimensions and tonnage, BUT DIFFERENT VINs?

2. And if these three vessels in the archives, and a fourth with the same name and VIN as the Alaska Ranger that was listed as "Out of Service as of 4/1/08," were all at one time or another Load Line Certified, Classed and USCG Inspected, why didn't they stay that way?

From 4/18:

The USCG PSIX Vessel info below tells its own story, but don't be too quick to see in it a smoking gun. By the same token, don't be so sure the hearsay evidence provided thus far by the survivors is sufficient to indict both owners and operators of the vessel. While it appears for the moment greed and mismanagement contributed to the accident, deck crews on a big boat such as this are not always privy to the reality of the situation.

From the previous post (USCG PSIX Vessel Info), you can see various references to "Marine Casualty." This can be anything from a crewman losing a finger or getting knocked out to a mechanical failure of some kind or even a harmless grounding on a gravel bar. One thing I noticed was a fairly good record of inspection for the five years from April 2003 to April 2008. Indeed, there is only one deficiency listed, that of having been down one hand flare.

Remember, this is an inspected fishing vessel because it is over 200 gross tons. It underwent a Port State Control (PSC) Inspection in January of '08 and again in March of '08. Nothing is listed in the PSIX form but it appears something the Coast Guard found in January was scheduled to be checked for compliance again in March. What this "something" is could be as innocuous as the mounting of a placard. I'm guessing, however, it has something to do with sanitation or bilge control because it seems the vessel had some issues with pollution over the years.

Nowhere in the PSIX Report does it mention anything about a deficiency with life saving equipment (other than the one flare) which makes one wonder about the claims of some of the crew that survival suits had tears in them. If there were actually tears in some suits, then either the Coast Guard Inspectors didn't do their job right or the tears were so small as to be inconsequential. A third possibility is that after the safety inspection the good survival suits were transferred to another vessel and replaced by older, torn ones.

The big question that needs to be answered, something I mentioned the day after the sinking in my very first post about this: Why didn't the watertight compartments prevent progressive flooding through the ship? The only answers I can think of are that (1) the watertight doors were left open (an error in vessel management or operations), (2) the vessel's hull was breached in multiple compartments (an error in vessel maintenance), and (3) something happened in the shaft alley.

If I were to single out a root cause for the accident, based on initial testimony and bearing in mind that we're still at an early stage in the investigation, I would have to say it was a combination of things, as it always is. But here's something that we're seeing way too much of lately:

Greed and desperation often place owners and captains at loggerheads. Ultimately, it is the captain's head that rolls if something goes wrong, but if a captain challenges or says no to his boss, he stands to lose his job. Of course, he has legal recourse if he's unjustly fired, but if he pursues it, he's tagged a whistle blower and will probably never get another job in the industry.

Captains are wrong for making their paychecks more important than their jobs.

Owners are wrong for making captains choose between their paychecks and their jobs.


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