File photo of the Vinalines Queen, which went missing with 23 crewmen off the Philippines on December 25. One crewman who was rescued later said that the ship had sunk.
The liquefying of nickel ore cargo that it was carrying, bad weather, and the captain's wrong judgment are believed to have possibly sunk a Vietnamese cargo ship with 22 crewmen on board off the Philippines coast last year.
In a report sent to the Ministry of Transport some nine months after Vinalines Queen sank without a trace, investigators said that the weather was "bad" when the accident happened.
They said that the 54,000 tones of nickel ore that it was carrying could have been liquefied in the shaking that the ship was subjected to by strong waves and winds. When it tilted to one side, the liquefied ore could have also gathered on that side and tipped the balance irrevocably, the investigators said.
A VnExpress report cited the investigators as saying there was also a chance that the crew failed to close the ship's hold properly, allowing water brought by high waves to enter and liquefy the ore.
However, 31-year-old Dau Ngoc Hung, the sole survivor of the deadly accident, told inspectors that he was in charge of checking the hold and closing them. They were "in a normal condition" before the sinking, he said.
Hung said the ore was loaded at the Morowali port in Indonesia by local workers who used cranes to dump it into the hold. But, to ensure that the ore is placed in the hold in a way that it does not move around during the voyage, loaders also need to use a conveyor, the investigators said. .
They said that when the ship was losing its balance, the captain had ordered the crew to pump water to balance it, which was "ineffective" and caused more disadvantages. He also made a wrong judgment when changing the ship's direction, because the change allowed waves to induce further instability, they said.
According to the investigators, the captain also failed to estimate the danger and make "suitable" decisions like sending S.O.S signals and organizing a timely evacuation.
However, speaking at a press conference on Friday, Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Hong Truong said the ministry would estimate the investigation in a more "objective and complete" way. He said official conclusions would be announced once this has been done.
Vinalines Queen, one of the largest vessels owned by the state-owned Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), lost contact on December 25 when it was at 20°N and 123-47.1°E, northeast of the Philippines's Luzon Island. The ship was on its way from Morowali in Indonesia to Ningde in China.
Since then all the national and international efforts to locate the ship failed, although an oil slick was found near the accident site.
On December 30, Hung was rescued on a lifeboat some 350 kilometers from the site, and said that the ship sank after tilting too much to the left.
According to Vinalines, the ship was built in Japan in 2005 and had an advanced self-protection system that can send out emergency signals in dangerous situations. This would allow rescuers to detect its location even when it was under water, experts said.
However, no signal has been detected since the ship went missing.
Regarding the ship's mysterious loss of signal, inspectors also blamed it on the captain, saying that he probably did not send signals as well as activate the radio float which located the ship's position before it sank.
Another possible explanation is that the float was not placed in accordance with regulations or had gotten stuck when it was opened, they said.
This was not the first time nickel ore liquefying has accounted for a ship capsizing.
Early this year the London-based International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners named nickel ore the deadliest dry bulk commodity shipped by sea. Capsize triggered by the process has killed 66 seafarers in the past 15 months, according to Bloomberg.
Forty-four deaths were recorded in the final three months of 2010 and 22 more have died since then, said Intercargo. On average, 26 lives were lost each year on ships hauling all bulk cargoes from 2001 to 2010, it added.
Ore is at risk of liquefying if it contains too much moisture, which can make ships unstable and cause them to sink before crew can be rescued, the association was quoted as saying. However, the cargo is often loaded at non-traditional ports in primitive areas where there is nothing to keep cargos dry, it said.
Intercargo has provided guidelines for safe loading of the ore to 300 vessel owners worldwide, in which it warns of the dangers of false declarations about moisture content, Bloomberg reported. New international safety rules regarding the matter are to be issued in 2015, it added.
According to Intercargo, nickel which protects stainless steel from corrosion, is mined in Indonesia, the Philippines and New Caledonia and mainly shipped to China for use in steel making.
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