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Shipwrecks 2014

January 4, 2015
Höegh , Osaka, Japanese ship, registered in Singapore, run aground off the English coast on its way to Germany

Höegh , Osaka, Japanese ship, registered in Singapore, run aground off the English coast on its way to Germany

My unofficial count – 107 ships sank last year. This according to Wikipedia’s “List of Shipwrecks in 2014”. In includes “all ships sunk, foundered, grounded, or otherwise lost during 2014.”

Already in 2015 four ships have gone down, among them the Sea Merchant, a cargo ship, sailing under a Tanzanian flag that was carrying  20,000 sacks of cement sank off Lobo, Batangas, Philippines after encountering rough seas and strong winds. Of her crew, 1 was killed and 19 survived. The Bulk Jupiter, a Bahamas registered cargo ship sank off Vũng Tàu, Vietnam with one survivor and the loss of her nineteen other crew members. It was carrying 46,400 tons of “iron ores from Malaysia to China.” The same day, January 2, a 2500 ton Cyprus registered ship, The Cemfjord – with a decidedly Scandinavian name – capsized in the North Sea off the coast of Caithness, United Kingdom. It was carrying cement. As of this writing, its crew of eight has gone missing and is feared dead. The next day, yesterday, January 3, the Japanese sounding  Höegh , Osakaa car transporter, but registered in Singapore, ran aground on the Bramble Bank in “the Solent”, a strait that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England. Its crew of 25 were rescued by helicopter by the British coastguard.

A rather inauspicious maritime start for 2015.

2014: at least 107 ships go down

Getting back to last year, of the 107 ships that can be accounted for that went down – 0f those, 43 were cargo ships, tankers or container ships; 16 ferry boats; 14 ships/boats carrying “illegal” migrants.

Among the worst human losses:

  • on January 11 – A ferry in the White Nile River carrying women and children who were fleeing fighting in South Sudan capsized, resulting in 200-300 deaths
  • January 21 – a ferry foundered off Jakarta with the loss of seven of the 165 people on board
  • March 10 – At least forty-two African migrants drowned off Bir Ali, Yemen during a crossing from Africa. Thirty were rescued by Yemeni Navy
  • April 16 – A ferry sank in the South China Sea whilst on a voyage from Inchon towards Jeju Island, Korea. The sinking cost 304 out of 476 people their lives
  • June 1 – Another ship sank near Bab El Mandeb, off the coast of the Yemen with the loss of sixty Somalian and Ethiopian refugees, and two crew
  • June 30 – A ship carrying over one hundred illegal migrants sank in the Strait of Sicily (probably from Tunisia) with twenty-seven rescued and seventy people missing
  • August 4. – A ferry, carrying approximately two hundred passengers, capsized on the Padma River in Munshiganj District, 30km from Dhaka
  • August 27 – A migrant ship, carrying at least 170 people capsized off the Libyan coast
  • September 10 – In what was possibly the worst maritime incident a ship carrying roughly five hundred migrants from Palestine, Sudan and Egypt was rammed off the coast of Malta by another vessel used by the Egyptian traffickers smuggling them to Italy. Ten survivors were plucked from the waters in the ensuing days. According to independent accounts of two of the survivors, the ramming occurred after a dispute occurred between the migrants and traffickers. The migrants had refused to transfer to a smaller ship in tow at the behest of the traffickers, due to its dangerously small size, and the traffickers reacted to the refusal by deliberately sinking the ship. The boat had departed from Egypt’s port of Damietta on 6 September. Survivors estimated that the drowning victims consisted of at least four hundred men and women, and as many as one hundred children — some who held onto life preservers for days before finally being taken under by a storm
  • September 15 a migrant ship sank off the coast of Tajoura, east of Tripoli, Libya. Thirty-six out of a total of 250 on board have been rescued. A further three boats have sunk off the Libyan coast in the last month
Bab El Mandeb Strait

Bab El Mandeb Strait

Smuggling Refugees – Crews Jumping Ship

As if all these shipwrecks aren’t enough, now there a new maritime pattern emerging: crews jumping ship from of cargo vessels smuggling refugees from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. Smugglers who arrange these refugee-carrying journeys for a handsome profit often abandon the ships before they reach their destination to avoid arrest. The ships are placed on automatic pilot and “aimed” at a particular destination, in the cases discussed below, the shores of southeastern Italy. Unless such ships are intercepted by local coast guards, they are likely to crash at their destination. There have been a slew of these ships and small boats carrying refugees that have already sank. Two crossings have proven to be particularly deadly, the one across the short distance from Cap Bon in Tunisia to the nearby Italian island of Lampadusa across the Strait of Sicily, the other being the crossing from Somalia, Djibouti or Eritrea to Yemen across the Bab El Mandeb Strait.

At the end of last year, a ship was found off wandering aimlessly, crew-less off the coast of southern Italy. It had been in this state for some days. The crew had jumped ship, set the controls on autopilot headed towards the Italian shore, leaving the passengers on the Blue Sky M to their own devices. There it was found less than a week ago (December 30, 2014) by Italian coast guard authorities as the Blue Sky M drifted towards the southern tip of Italy near Santa Maria di Leuca. The Italian authorities, noting the ship seemed adrift, sent two helicopters with six Italian coast guard officials who boarded the ship and took control of it after realizing that the vessel was crew-less.

The Moldavian flagged Blue Sky M had left Korfez, Turkey heading for Croatia. If the crew had disappeared, the ship was otherwise packed with some 970 passengers, most of them Syrians fleeing that country’s civil wars. Each of the passengers had paid “thousands of dollars” each to smugglers to get them to Europe. Leaving the ship’s controls on autopilot headed for the Italian coast, the smuggler crew had quietly abandoned ship. The passengers, virtually migrants all, had no idea what was going on. Had the Italian authorities not been able to get the ship off of autopilot, it is more than likely that it would have crashed into the shore. The ship was docked at Gallipoli, Italy. The passengers were taken to a local gymnasium. Thirty five of them required medical treatment; initial reports indicated that four had died.

Two days earlier, a Greek operated ferry traveling between Greece and Italy, in approximately the same region as the Blue Sky M, caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. Ten died among the 437 passenger and crew on board. Greek and Italian military and coast guard units fought against gale force winds to save the ferry’s passengers. Some remain missing.

A few months earlier, in October, 2014 another ship, the Ezadeen, a Sierra Leone flagged ship, departed from Tartus, Syria headed towards Turkey. But over the next two months, the ship continued to change directions, first veering south towards Cyprus, then turning back towards Turkey, and then zigzagging back and forth between Turkey and Crete before heading north long the Greek coast and heading towards Italy. On board were 360 people, every last one a Syrian refugee. As with the Blue Sky M, the crew of the Ezadeen had jumped ship, but shortly after setting sail from Syria, not at the end of the trip leaving 260 terror-stricken passengers to their fate on the high seas of the Eastern Mediterranean in the late fall and early winter. “We’re without crew, we’re heading towards the Italian coast and we have no one to steer,” one passenger related to the Italian coast guard. The Ezadeen was intercepted by an Icelandic ship, a part of EU Frontex, a border control mission, and towed to Corigliano Calabro, an Italian port. From there, the refugees were taken by bus to other regions of Italy.

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