Sweden fines ferry officers for negligence that resulted in grounding and an oil spill

Swedish prosecutors last week announced fines for the captain and third officer of the ro/pax ferry Marco Polo (IMO 9019080), which grounded on October 22nd. They said that the two officers acted recklessly when navigating the ferry, and that this contributed to its grounding and an ongoing environmental clean-up.

The Swedish Coast Guard is calling up additional resources to help with the ongoing efforts and local politicians have warned it could take a year to fully recover.

The ferry, operated by TT-Line of Germany, had departed Trelleborg, Sweden on October 21st, heading for Karlshamn, Sweden. The Swedish Coast Guard assisted in the evacuation of 41 passengers and 10 of the 30 crew onboard.

During the subsequent investigation, which was led by the Coast Guard, along with the public prosecutor, it was confirmed that the ship had touched ground, sustaining damage and likely leaking, but that it continued under its own power before grounding a second time.

The hull of the vessel was damaged, causing it to take on water. As of Thursday last week October 26th the Swedish Coast Guard was reporting that 14 m/3 of oil waste had been recovered from the sea, with 9 m/3 being recovered from the shoreline. Up to about three miles of the coastline was said to either have suffered or be threatened by oil pollution.

The prosecutor said that the third mate was in command of the ferry before the first event. Despite reduced visibility, including fog in the area and nighttime darkness, he was proceeding only using the vessel’s electronic chart. The Coast Guard believes that the electronic position system malfunctioned. Prosecutors charged the third mate with negligence for failing to use other navigational aids such as the radar, or to add a lookout.

Based on their interviews with the crew, the Coast Guard investigation found that the crew were lost, even though they were not aware of this. They thought they were to the east of Hanö, a small island off the southeast coast of Sweden, when in fact they were to the west of the island, in the channel between Hanö and the mainland. After the first grounding, the master of the ferry took command, but he too continued to rely on the electronic chart. The ship went hard aground during the second grounding, reporting the incident around 06:25 Sunday local time October 22nd.

The two officers were each fined. The prosecutor pointed out that Swedish law provided mild penalties for negligence, which these crimes were judged to be (and were thus in the low thousands of US dollars), versus harsher penalties for intentional acts. However, the Coast Guard still can impose a water pollution fee, An additional investigation is underway regarding the seaworthiness of the vessel based on the malfunctions.

The Coast Guard highlighted that it was responsible for the management of oil pollution in the water and that it had strung a boom around the ferry. Overflights showed that the slick had dissipated, but the Coast Guard believed that oil continued to leak from the ferry and was under the surface. They positioned clean-up crews near shore who were trying to prevent the oil from washing up on land. Additional protective equipment was also being sent to the local base, as well as tools such as lighting.

The concern was that an estimated up to 300 m/3 of oil remained aboard the grounded ship. The longer the Marco Polo remained aground, the greater the danger of a break-up and a significant pollution event. The Swedish Coast Guard also reported that the clean-up efforts were being hampered by bad weather.

TT-Line is responsible for presenting the salvage plan that will be approved by both the Swedish Transport Agency and the Coast Guard. As of late last week the plan was still being prepared, but the Coast Guard reported that the vessel’s owners were adding salvage resources to the area. They have reportedly positioned two tugs nearby able to respond if required. As of the weekend the Marco Polo remained aground.

1993-built, Cyprus-flagged, 15,955 gt Marco Polo is owned by Baltic Shipping GmbH care of manager TT-Line GmbH of Lübeck, Germany. It is entered with Gard P&I on behalf of Baltic Shipping GmbH. For Hull it is entered with Gard AS (claims leader) on behalf of TT-Line GmbH.