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Jakarta Post

Foreign, Indonesian lessons from the Norgas incident

  • Morits Skaugen

    The Jakarta Post

Oslo/Singapore   /   Mon, July 8, 2013   /  10:38 am

The story of Norway'€™s IM Skaugen'€™s tanker, Norgas Cathinka and the ferry, KMP Bahuga Jaya, is that of an international vessel passing through the Sunda Strait colliding with a domestic ferry that made a left turn to '€œavoid'€ the Norgas Cathinka, in contravention of international maritime rules that call for a right turn in such

The administrative and legal processes faced by the company and the crew have recently culminated in the release of Norgas Cathinka and the acquittal and release of the crewmembers.

We are concerned with how events unfolded '€” a collision between a not-at-fault foreign vessel and an arguably un-seaworthy domestic vessel resulted in a process that saw the foreign vessel detained for over six months causing substantial business disruption, massive costs, and a strong perception that without paying the out-of-court '€œsettlement'€ to the ferry'€™s owners for their baseless claims, the situation would remain unresolved.

It is further questionable whether any of the victims or families of victims will receive any compensation from the ferry'€™s owners or any part of the settlement.

The concern is that the legal and administrative processes are not simply slow, but at times do not function at all, which should be of concern to the larger international maritime, insurance and finance industries and consequently to Indonesia, whose waters host substantial volumes of international maritime traffic.

The disregard of the safety risk posed by the prolonged and undue detention of the vessel, which we offered to substitute with an escrow deposit, is also very troubling.

The vessel posed a substantial explosion risk throughout the time it was detained because of how it was treated and also due to maintenance being prevented significantly past its safety limits.

All this was worsened by the detention of the crew, lengthy, difficult and often opaque legal and administrative processes, and government institutions that were not open.

This increases the '€œIndonesian risk,'€ raising the cost of international trade for Indonesia and also causing damage to the reputation of the country.

Further, the issue of un-seaworthy ferries and the unlawful navigational practices of the Sunda Strait have not been covered by the National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) investigation.

These should be a concern to the international community owning ships and cargoes traversing Indonesian waters to and from Singapore and China.

The Maritime Court proceedings are of particular concern. It is quite extraordinary for a Chairman of any court panel to harass a witness on what he ought to have done rather than to objectively hear and consider the evidence.

And for the failure to consider the critical evidence of the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), which includes a full working radar picture of the entire incident, and VHF radio exchanges and data relating to course, position, speed and actions taken by the vessels.

The NTSC report is quite thorough and commendable. Unfortunately, it only looks at the cause of the collision, but does not determine the cause of the ferry'€™s sinking or the cause of the loss of life.

It is also troubling that the presentation of the report and its conclusion focuses on maintaining social cohesion by equally apportioning blame, rather than objectively reporting the truth.

Overall, our experiences raise significant problems because of the above-mentioned issues and the precedent they set for the future. Operating in Indonesian waters poses a risk of being drawn into a long-term, costly and uncertain process, even when an operator is not at fault.

Most of all the process is opaque and driven by ill-defined interests. The government has thus so far been silent on this matter.

Most important to address is the lack of adequate maritime laws, specifically addressing the situation in cases of accidents that enable stakeholders to secure financial security for their claim and for the claim to be settled by way of due process in a proper court of law while the vessels are allowed to continue their operations so as not to unduly disrupt commerce.

In terms of preventive measures, authorities should implement traffic separation rules, ensuring that international maritime traffic transiting through Indonesian waters is allocated a route that is separate from domestic traffic, and put in place Vessel Traffic Management Systems (VTMS) with proper electronic surveillance, ensuring that the Indonesian authorities can continuously monitor and manage the maritime traffic.

The authorities should also socialize international maritime rules and regulations to avoid accidents in waterways saturated with international traffic due to domestic traffic that often follows customary '€œrules'€ that are in direct violation of the applicable international standards.

Looking at the condition of the KMP Bahuga Jaya when it sank, it would also be prudent for the authorities to implement effective monitoring of the safety of domestic ferries and other forms of maritime transports, in terms of construction, operations and personnel.

The writer is CEO, IM Skaugen SE, owner of the Norgas Cathinka tanker.