The Norwegian-controlled carrier Gearbulk has suspended all shipments of bauxite cargo from Kuantan in Malaysia on the company’s vessels after Bulk Jupiter’s dramatic shipwreck on January 2 this year, which killed 18 out of 19 Philippine crew members. And bauxite cargoes now face stricter regulation, as Gearbulk requires an analysis taken of the material to ensure that the load is safe to sail and complies with International Maritime Organization (IMO) guidelines on the transport of bauxite.
This is evident from the accident report for the Bulk Jupiter shipwreck. The report was prepared by an expert team from the Bahamas Maritime Authority, where Bulk Jupiter was registered. The vessel was owned by Gearbulk Shipowning Ltd. Bermuda, operated by Gearbulk Pool Ltd. and administered through Gearbulk Norway AS. The ship was chartered by Winning Shipping in Singapore.
It cannot be fully confirmed the Bulk Jupiter sank because the cargo of 46,400 tons bauxite had so excessive moisture levels when it was loaded that it transformed into a liquid mass on the high sea, though this is likely the case, according to the accident report.
Not only was the moisture content of the bauxite cargo at 21.3 percent – double that of the IMO’s guidelines – but the Bulk Jupiter floundered and sank so quickly, in under 20 minutes, that the experts believe it could only have been caused by the displaced cargo which triggered a violent keel in the ship and subsequent shipwreck.
Failed to inspect
According to the accident report, which ShippnigWatch has gained access to, Bulk Jupiter’s captain and officers were all experienced in dry cargo operations. They also had good support from Gearbulk’s management when, during the loading of Bulk Jupiter, the Captain and Gearbulk staff discussed whether the bauxite was safe to transport in light of the torrential weather conditions in Kuantan.
However, Bulk Jupiter’s captain failed to request an independent inspection of the cargo before it was loaded, a factor noted and criticized in the accident report, especially considering the extreme weather conditions and the fact that the bauxite was kept unprotected on the quay for certain periods. The absence of an independent inspection meant that the cargo was taken on board without precise knowledge of the moisture content levels and with a high risk that the bauxite could develop into a liquid mass during the voyage.
The accident report refers to an email correspondence between the ship’s captain and a representative (the ship manager - ed.) from Gearbulk during the 13-day period in which Bulk Jupiter was loaded. The cargo loading process was disrupted several times by heavy rainfall.
Gearbulk had expressed concerns to the captain about the moisture content and recommended at one point that the captain undertake a so-called Can Test, which is a control check of the cargo. The accident report was not able to assess whether such a control check was actually conducted.
The accident report notes that Gearbulk should have followed up on the Captain’s concerns about the cargo’s condition and should also have formally followed up on its own request for a control test. Particularly because the correspondence between the captain and the company shows that both sides were aware that the bauxite had been exposed to rain during the loading.
The carrier has since then paid financial compensation to the aggrieved families and survivors of the Bulk Jupiter crew.