SHIP-SINKING MYSTERY DISCUSSED AT SYMPOSIUM
"No [foreign] cargo ship coming to Israel has transgressed the Arab boycott even today."
Dr. Yoram Sebba, acting CEO of Zim-Israel Navigation Co., Israel's national carrier, made this startling statement at a symposium conducted by the University's Wydra Institute of Shipping and Aviation Research and El Yam Chair in Shipping earlier in the year. The subject he was commenting on was "Global Alliances," one of three topics discussed at the day-long event. The two others subjects concerned "Maritime Manpower" and "The Sinking of the Mineral Dampier."
Sebba's informed statement may have temporarily jolted some in this era of the peace process, when most people think that the Arab boycott is a thing of the past. It was, though, a somber talk by Dr. Dan Livneh, chief marine engineer for the Ministry of Transport's Shipping and Ports Administration, that attracted perhaps the most attention. Livneh was reporting on the reasons for the rapid sinking on July 22, 1995, of the Israeli-owned bulk carrier Mineral Dampier, with the loss of all 27 crew members aboard, 9 of whom were Israelis, including the captain.
At 3:30 in the morning that day, the 10-year-old Dampier, carrying 160,000 tons of iron ore, was hit by a 5-year-old Korean vessel in the South China Sea. The Korean ship did not report the accident for four hours, the reason for the delay still a mystery, according to Livneh. Japanese coast guard officials who arrived a half hour after hearing of the incident found very little: two hatch covers and two bodies.
Why had the vessel sunk so quickly? Israeli officials wanted to know. They were not to learn--indeed, they did not even know where exactly the bulk carrier had been hit--until September 1996. Divers, who saw that the ship had been folded almost in half, assumed that the Dampier had been struck near mid-ship, where the damage was. Livneh showed the audience an underwater film of the broken ship taken by the divers. In actuality, the Korean vessel had apparently hit the stern of the Dampier.
The problem that perplexed investigators, the marine engineer pointed out, was that the ship would not have sunk, or certainly not so quickly, if water had entered only the engine room or the engine room and hold No. 9, in the rear of the bulk carrier.
A crack in a bulkhead held the secret of why the ship split as it did and why it went down so rapidly, Livneh said. Investigators eventually concluded after much study that the collision had caused the bulkhead between holds 8 and 9 to collapse, producing a very large space into which the seawater poured. In addition, the engine room flooded. It was a fatal combination, rapidly pulling the stern of the ship down but also forcing the Dampier to buckle in the middle as it sank. The crew, most of whom had likely been asleep in their quarters in the superstructure toward the rear at the time of the accident, was trapped.
Why did the bulkhead give way? According to Akiva Pagi, a former chief engineer with Zim and now a research associate at the Wydra Institute, fast loading of a ship puts stress on the hull as do the high seas, a weakening combination of events. Bulkheads like those in the Mineral Dampier are built of high-tensile steel, a modern development that is stronger than regular steel and therefore allowed thinner walls, reducing shipbuilding costs and vessel weights.
What was not known at the time, he continued, was that this new steel withstood the corrosive effects of water no better than the old steel. Stresses produce cracks, which make walls give way more readily in a collision. This was the case with the Dampier. Rear bulkheads are now strengthened on a bulk carrier, Pagi said, to prevent their collapsing and consequently opening up a large space for incoming water in the event of a collision.
Livneh, nevertheless, was not so sanguine. He expects that the deadly situation of 13-14 losses a year of bulk carriers--and a third of all cargoes are carried in such ships--around the world will continue. To the shipping audience on hand, he also complained that in the past four months since the report on the sinking had been made available to senior officers, only one ship captain had come to the ministry to see the published report.
Guest speaker at the symposium was Dirk De Proost, a shipping consultant with Mercer Management Consultants of London. Expanding on the present penchant for global alliances among shipping companies, he foresees no improvement in services or any restoration of freight rates. He is not sure that these alliances "are changing the way the business operates." In the end, he said, they offer "no radically different [operating] structure."
Nahum Langental, director-general of the Israeli Transport Ministry, delivered more than just the ministry's greetings. He admitted to the large audience of Israeli shipping personnel that the ministry had not given enough priority to Israeli shipping and that the industry was now at a crossroads. If there were not a restructuring of the industry in terms of taxes and other policy aspects, he warned, then there was a fear for Israeli shipping as a viable sector.