Search This Blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Commencing a voyage in adverse weather is risky business – where ?

There are traffic violations on road – people jump signals, drive fast overspeeding the limits specified, more than 2 travel in two wheelers, autos and other modes sometimes do not have the permits, do not possess Fitness certificate, those who drive do not possess valid DLs – Authorities may not catch them, if caught, they try to drop names, grease the palms, pay little or no fine – and generally get away !!

Lots of fishing boats ply from Chennai Fishing harbour – similar are the stories at Vizag, Kakinada, Machilipatnam, Cuddalore, Rameswaram, Nagapattinam, Colachel and more…. Ports enforce weather warnings and flags are hoisted at ports.. when there is warning, boats are not to venture into sea – such announcements are made on radio also.   It is not specific to any Port – it is International procedure – Ports  are warned and advised to hoist "Signals" whenever adverse weather is expected over the ports for the oceanic areas, in which it is located due to the tropical cyclone. The  warning messages normally contain information on the location, intensity, direction and speed of movement of the tropical cyclone and the expected weather over the port. The India Meteorological Department (through the area cyclone warning centres (ACWCs)/ cyclone warning centres (CWCs) maintains a port warning service by which the port officers are warned by high priority messages about disturbed weather likely to affect their ports. On receipt of the warning messages from the ACWC/CWC, the port officers hoist appropriate visual signals prominently on signal masts so that they are visible from a distance.

With all these in place, fishing boats do venture into sea when these warnings are in place – understand that when the sea is turbulent, the catch is likely to be more – but the fisherman are exposed to a greater danger  !!

The situation and implications are serious elsewhere – here is something on what happened in Canada.  The Canada Shipping Act, 2001, at s. 118 provides: “No person shall take any action that might jeopardize the safety of a vessel or of persons on board.” Such an offence entails a fine, on summary conviction, of up to $1 million or imprisonment for up to 18 months.

A recent decision of a Provincial Court of Nova Scotia makes interesting reading. Atlantic Towing had contracted to tow a dredge from Saint John, New Brunswick, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with three crew members aboard the dredge, when gale-force winds and stormy seas were predicted. The dredge had no valid inspection certificate, but its previous certificates had prohibited its navigation more than 15 nautical miles from shore. The weather deteriorated rapidly after the tug and tow set sail, becoming worse than first expected, the wind reaching Beaufort Scale force 8/9, with seas rated as 7/8, entailing wave heights of between 4 and 7.5 meters. When the tug and tow were approximately 20 nautical miles off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia, the dredge’s “garage door”, protecting the three crew members aboard, caved in under the force of the waves, and the three men, in a life-threatening situation, had to jump into the stormy sea where they were finally rescued by a search and rescue helicopter. The dredge soon afterwards capsized and was lost. Atlantic Towing admitted that it had committed an offence, requiring the court to proceed with sentencing.

The fine principles of Justice followed there to ensure good corporate conduct in the future, fines imposed on corporate offenders should be neither unduly harsh nor so small as to be seen as a mere license fee for illegal activity. The sentence must also be proportional to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender, and similar to those imposed on similar offenders for similar offences in similar circumstances. Going by these, the Court decided that the weather hazard was known before the voyage began, although the wave heights proved higher than predicted. The decision to set sail in the face of a gathering storm was made without regard to the 15-mile offshore navigational limitation of the dredge’s previous certification. The decision to undertake a “manned” voyage that distance from shore and in the teeth of a gale was unexplained and fraught with risk, jeopardizing the dredge’s crew and culminating in the vessel’s loss.

Considering all aspects, the Court imposed a fine of $75,000, considering the need for general deterrence. Commencing a voyage in bad weather is always a risky business, which can have life-threatening consequences, not to mention unpleasant financial sanctions.

With regards
S. Sampathkumar.

No comments:

Post a Comment