Detained ship found to have improperly repaired holes in its hull

A 24-year-old cargo ship, Essco Spirit, has been detained in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for over six weeks after Transport Canada found the vessel has numerous structural, safety and administrative problems, as well as violations of the International Labour Code.

Essco Spirit at anchor in Halifax. Canadian authorities detained the ship after its crew reported they were frightened by its condition.
   Image Credit: M.B. Mackay

The vessel’s most alarming problem consisted of four corrosion holes in the hull below the waterline that had been repaired with neoprene and steel patches. One hole, about an inch wide, was patched from the inside using a tapered, wooden plug, according to Paul Doucet, a spokesman for Transport Canada’s Atlantic Region.

“Our view is that wooden plugs have been used as an emergency stopgap measure, but this is unacceptable to operate in this condition,” Doucet said. “We had grave concerns about the safety of the vessel had she continued the voyage.”

Although the owner claimed to have fixed the problems, Transport Canada is not satisfied. “We intend to make sure that all deficiencies are corrected until we consider lifting the detention order,” Doucet said.

Essco Spirit, a Panamanian-flagged vessel of 5,987 grt, was transporting 6,700 tons of wheat from Quebec City to Greece, and stopped in Halifax to refuel. Three of the 17-member crew spoke to crewmembers on the refueling vessel Imperial Dartmouth and asked that Essco Spirit be inspected, because they were afraid to sail on the ship.

Transport Canada inspectors boarded Essco Spirit on Feb. 7, according to Doucet, and ordered the vessel detained.

The vessel was arrested, and its owners, Essco Maritime Ltd. of Piraeus, Greece, have been sued for $2.35 million for breach of contract and damage to cargo on behalf of the cargo’s owners, James Richardson International of Winnipeg, Manitoba, an agricultural conglomerate, and the Greek firms Fretrade Ltd. and Dimitriaki S.A. The owners are also seeking to have the vessel berthed and its cargo unloaded.

On Feb. 21, a judge in Canadian Federal Court ordered that Essco Spirit be berthed to discharge its cargo. As of March 20, the Halifax Port Authority had not allowed the vessel to berth.

While the ship has been detained, most of the crew has not been able to come ashore, according to John Parsons, an inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, who has visited the crew. As of March 20, the Greek captain and the Greek chief officer returned home, he said. Two crewmembers from Malta were sent home because they had been onboard the ship for 15 months, a labor violation, Parsons said. The rest of the crew has remained onboard.

The vessel was cited for 38 Port State Control violations, according to the Transport Canada inspection report, which was filed as part of the suit brought by the cargo owners. The violations included:

• Four recent patches in the hull below the waterline including the wooden plug, a steel plug, and two neoprene and steel patches.
• Missing studs in a manhole cover over the forepeak tank.
• Inoperable dogs on the emergency escape hatch for the engine room.
• Defective or missing gaskets for the engine room doors.
• Watertight doors to accommodations area that did not close properly.
• Dry emergency batteries for the ship’s radio.
• Broken hinge on the rudder of the starboard lifeboat.
• Fire line broken by frost in several places.
• Lack of emergency escape breathing devices.
• Defective fire blanket in the galley.
• Deficiencies in the ship’s safety management system, including the lack of an internal audit.
• Broken smoke detectors.
• Dirty engine room.
• Unsanitary galley.
• Dirty hospital and a failure to keep first-aid records.

The vessel’s last annual survey was conducted by Germanischer Lloyd in November 2002, in Lake Charles, La., according to the report.

The ship has had numerous Port State Control violations in the past three years. In April 2000, Essco Spirit was detained in Antwerp, Belgium, for eight Port State Control deficiencies, including four safety of navigation violations, one accident prevention violation and one fire safety measures violation, according to the Equasis ship information system.

In January of this year, the ship was detained for seven days after a Port State Control inspection in the Port of Sorel, Quebec, found nine deficiencies, including four safety of navigation violations, two general safety violations and one fire safety violation. The ship was detained because of problems with the fire pumps, the gyrocompass and the revolution counter, according to Equasis.

In addition, all four of the ship’s cargo cranes were ordered not to be used until tested by Germanischer Lloyd, according to the Transport Canada report.

In February 2001, a Port State Control inspection in Antwerp found the ship had six deficiencies, including three fire safety violations. In March 2001, the ship was found to have three crew certification deficiencies in Antwerp.

By Professional Mariner Staff