Ship sinks off north coast killing six crew members

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter, with CNA

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 - Page 1

A locally registered gravel ship sank off the coast of northern Taiwan yesterday, leaving six crew members dead, seven injured and two missing, coast guard authorities said.

The Kaohsiung-registered 2,998-tonne vessel had a mechanical failure about two hours after departing Keelung Harbor for Hualien, a Coast Guard Administration (CGA) official said.

Six of the 13 rescued crew members died after being rushed to hospital, the official with the coast guard’s Keelung office said, adding that two of the deceased were Taiwanese nationals and the remaining four were Indonesians.

The missing crewmen were the ship’s captain and an engineer, both of whom were Taiwanese.

The official said eight vessels were still searching for the two missing crew members.

The 30-year-old Hai Hsiang No. 8 left Keelung Harbor at 2:42am, loaded with about 4,000 tonnes of gravel. The crew informed Keelung Harbor authorities at 4:26am that the ship was listing and that they intended to return to the harbor.

The control center immediately alerted the rescue authorities and also asked other ships in the vicinity to help with rescue efforts.

However, the vessel sank quickly, one of the crewmen who was recuperating at a Keelung hospital said.

“I heard an emergency call asking all crew members to put on life vests. At the time, the ship was sinking rapidly and we didn’t have time to drop a life boat. I sank into the water along with the ship, but struggled hard to swim upward and was rescued by coast guard officers later,” the crewman said.

Lin Chang-huei (林昌輝), director of the northern office of the Maritime and Port Bureau, said an investigation showed the vessel’s first assistant engineer, who was in charge of supervising the maintenance and operation of the ship’s engine department, was not on board when the accident occurred.

According to customs’ data, the ship should have had 16 crew members on duty.

“The captain should not leave port without having the first assistant engineer on board,” Lin said, adding that the shipping firm could be fined between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 under the Ships Act (船舶法).

Asked why he did not board the ship, the first assistant engineer said that the ship postponed its departure until yesterday morning and he overslept, Lin said.

However, Lin said the accident was not necessarily caused by the first assistant engineer’s absence.

“The ship sank because it was overly tilted, not because an engine problem arose,” Lin said. “A ship tilts either because water comes in or because the ship is overloaded with cargo.”