Similarities were emerging between this week's loss of the tanker Kristal off Spain
and a number of other recent tanker disasters, leading to warnings of an industry-wide crisis. The products tanker Kristal broke in two in heavy seas northeast of Coruna, Spain, on Tuesday with the loss of four lives and seven crew still missing. The remaining 24 crew were taken safely to shore and the 28,000 ton cargo of molasses is not considered a pollution risk.
Nicola Squassafichi, CEO of RINA, the Italian classification responsible for the Kristal's annual surveys, warned of an emerging pattern of damage to tankers. "Following the recent incidents, where similar aged product tankers in class suffered severe heavy weather structural damage, we are concerned that there may be an industry-wide problem," he said. Not only the Kristal, but also the Erika and the Castor were 1970s-built oil product tankers of around 30,000 dwt.
The Erika broke in two and sank in heavy seas in December 1999, leading to widespread pollution of the Brittany coast. The Castor did not break in two but developed a 20 m crack across its deck on New Year's day, leading to a five week salvage drama.
"There are others," a RINA spokesman said. "Fortunately not all of them resulted in loss of life or pollution, but there's been a lot of weather damage among seventies-built tankers."
One shipping source agreed.
"During the seventies, shipyards brought in optimization (shaving down steel use to the minimum strength requirement). There could be a whole generation of ships that needs reviewing," he said.
The Erika and the Kristal had two other things in common. Both were certified seaworthy by RINA and both sailed under the Maltese flag.
The chemical carrier Ievoli Sun, which sank in the English Channel in October 2000 was also RINA-classed, but shipping sources said this was not related to structural problems, so RINA could not be blamed.
The International Association of Classification Societies, the trade body that governs RINA, said it had not heard of such structural problems with product tankers.
"It's a new suggestion that I've not seen aired before," said Permanent Secretary Robin Bradley. "At least I've only heard it in the last 30 minutes," he added, referring to the RINA statement
. "If there is a pattern, we'll have to look into it. We're keeping an open mind." -(Reuters)