Flashback in history: Sinking of SS Marine Electric, 12 February 1983

The SS Marine Electric sank during a storm in the North Atlantic on 12 February 1983.

Of the 34 crew members on board, three survived, but only after enduring 90 minutes in extremely cold water.

The ship had passed all required inspections and surveys, but the subsequent USCG Marine Casualty Report revealed the inspections and surveys to have been perfunctory.

As a result, inspection standards were drastically improved. In addition, carriage of survival suits became mandatory for ships on winter routes and the Coast Guard rescue swimmer program was initiated. The circumstances are detailed in Robert Frump’s book “Until the Sea Shall Free Them”.

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6 thoughts on “Flashback in history: Sinking of SS Marine Electric, 12 February 1983

  1. A brief scan of the casualty report shows that the underlying cause was severe wastage of both the cargo hold plating and main deck plating. Class ABS performed the Load Line survey on behalf of US flag state and, despite the fact that the condition of the steel plating must have been known and on their records, took no account of this fact when revalidating the LL Cert. A deadly example of the serious and on-going conflict of interest between flag state UNCLOS obligations and Class Societies. ABS were wearing two hats as both a Recognised Organisation for the USCG and as a commercially focused ‘make sure the customer is happy’ Class Society whose fee is paid by the owner. The circumstances of the losses of the “ERIKA” and the “PRESTIGE” provided further examples of this Class ‘two hats’ folly, whereby the poacher takes on the simultaneous role of the game keeper. Regrettably, the IMO seems happy to tolerate this extraordinary arrangement.

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  2. I would suggest the book “Until the sea shall free them” – a chilling account of the sinking of the Marine Electric. Glad that regulations have made ships safer. But there’s a lot of work yet to be done.

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  3. Yes, there is a conflict of interest in Flag vs RO “marriage” more over since in recent past > 90 % of (IACS) RO’s were official “re-structured” from “non-profit” to “profit” organizations….
    Compared with “perfunctory” RO’s the flags are perhaps not that “innocent” as well knowing their powerful contractual control function and more over Obligation – to audit regularly authorized RO’s work including reviews of class survey reports.
    An obligation which in practice is unfortunately seldom and if so pro form exercised, one can go further and say grossly neglected due to in first instance possible lack of appropriate number of competent and qualified personnel and slow work of governmental bodies.
    There are numerous samples for the flag states “conflict of interest” related negligence (in recent past 🙂 ) including not performing any more their Annual safety inspections on board ships in order to not commercially “offend” the ship owner. One can ask the “nearest” flag state to this group since when ASI are not performed by their inspectors but inspection forms “filled up” by owners.?

    Further about due care, never heard of responsible ship owner “objecting” that particular survey wasn’t thorough but met quite number of those acting “due diligence” by saying on survey opening meeting ” please tell me what is wrong on board and I will fix it.” :):):)

    My point is that by law the ship owner is ultimately responsible for their assets and in best position to rise the overall safety bar and applicable standards compliance.

    The question who has the right at the end perhaps should be answered in court of law terms : “the one who can proof taking permanent care”. :):)
    So if on first place the owner doesn’t take due (technical maintenance) care of their ships the question is who will take (real) care?!?

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  4. In a tough shipping market, as it is now, owners will cut corners to reduce operating costs in an effort to break even or at least minimise their losses. This is where slipshod flags and their slipshod RO’s come into play by turning a blind eye. The IMO know who the slipshod flags and RO’s are but will not publish this information or respond to any questions on this subject. As such, the IMO are as much to blame as any owner who knowingly sends his vessel to sea in an unseaworthy condition. With reference to the ‘Marine Electric’ tragedy and its underlying cause, it seems that the term slipshod must be applied to the USCG and Class ABS as well as to the owner in terms of their professional behaviour at that time. Were lessons learned? The 2016 sinking of the US flag ‘El Faro’, a container ship that was reputed by her master and crew (all 33 men were lost) to be in a rotten condition, suggests not. Will the final enquiry reveal that this very old ship, well past the usual design fatigue life of 25 years, was effectively another ‘Marine Electric’ disaster waiting to happen? We shall see. But we shall not see the end of the often disgraceful behaviour of those who are charged with protecting the lives of seafarers.

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    • Indeed, in tough ship markets nowadays heard about estimations on “saving” as much as 250K USD p/a per handy size ship on account of not performed maintenance.

      “Marine Electric” as well as “El Faro” where substandard ships any respect starting from maintenance, surveys and operations.
      Apart of slipshod Flag, Class and Owners in this cases reluctantly one must admit also that both ship/on board managements were aware of the vessel condition but…

      …. “Marine Electric” had sailed into the Force 12 with their hatch covers not properly locked down/secured (not seaworthy), as per survived Ch. mate statement sailing with “hatch cover corner cleats and few others secured only” was customary.

      “El Faro” had no Damage stability re-assessment docs after last conversion at 2006, recent class record of “detached frames in forward ballast tanks” , service recommendation to repair propulsion boilers and departed Jacksonvile with minimum GM (more over on two consecutive voyages/loading ports prior sinking the ship experienced excessive list alongside) , their cargo not secured with “storm lashing” and master proceeded toward cat 3 storm eye despite his junior officer warning that ship to be “in storm center after 6 hours”, despite 2/o warning 5 hours before sinking that they may avoid the eye by changing course to old Bahamas channel…. The junior officers were not aware that shore repair gang working at the cargo hold leaving the watertight manhole open being a cause of initial cargo hold flooding and finally there was no assessment of damage stability does crew realized facing sinking half an hour before it happened.

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