A search in dark, silty water stirred by choppy sea conditions and strong tides is continuing into the fourth day with few hopes to find survivors. Rescue divers are having difficulty seeing the side of the vessel below the surface and have only reached internal cargo areas.
Passenger areas are being supplied with added breathing air in case there are survivors in air pockets. A crane barge has arrived to stabilize the wreck although it's not clear what the lift strategy will be since there may be survivors trapped inside. At nearly 100 hours since the accident even those not immersed in water will have suffered critical hypothermia.
A cargo shift is the likely cause but information is scarce from any official authority or rescue spokesperson. One report from a crew member says the 69 year old Captain of the vessel rushed to the bridge where the third mate was assigned to pilot the Sewol. The Captain was heard to ask "how much is it leaning", indicating some sort of abnormal list.
The ferry is a RoRo and was carrying about 150 vehicles with a capacity of 180. Intermodal containers, commercial trucks, and cars made up most of the reported load. Lashing roll-on-roll-off loads is not commonplace for most ferry trips but the trip from Incheon to Jeju is about 14 hours. Captain Lee Joon-seok has a good reputation and is described as an expert on the 300 mile (400 km) route from the mainland to the popular resort island. Could the practice of not lashing the load been the cause of the cargo shift? Could a steering failure have started the motion of the cargo or was there another reason for a sharp turn?
The route is of the ferry is well known and free of rock or reefs. What caused the sharp turn and possible shift in cargo is still unknown. Information is very limited and even the families of the missing passengers, who are congregated at a town near the wreck site, have little information. Divers are near passenger compartments so more news may come today.
What seemed to be a tragic accident off the coast of South Korea has worsened as rescuers search the wreck of the Sewol Ferry. Two hundred ninety one are still missing and accounts from other passengers aboard the ship say many people were trapped as vessel capsized and sank on Wednesday.
The ferry is 6,825 tons and has a capacity of 920 passengers. Most reports say 459 people were aboard and that 164 had been rescued while four were found dead immediately after the accident. Many of the reported missing are students on a high school field trip.
Some passengers reported an impact or very loud noise and quick listing of the ship which inverted soon after. The site of the accident is sixty miles offshore (only a few miles, see update below) and well traveled in 104 feet of water. Something very large or powerful caused a dramatic breach of the hull since the ship sank very quickly according to recused passengers.
The shallow waters could hold any number of hazards but few of them would sink a ship the size of the Sewol so quickly. Could it have been a cargo explosion involving one of the 150 vehicles in transport? Sea mines were also heavily used in this area and a sixty year old mine can still be active.
Water temperature is 54f (12 c) at the wreck site which means hypothermia will have claimed many lives of those trapped in lower levels of the ship. We can only hope some areas remain survivable as the rescue efforts continue.
Update: The ferry was a few miles offshore and was mostly submerged only two hours after a possible impact with rocks. The number of missing has not changed significantly.
The National Transportation Safety Board hosted a two day hearing with representatives from major cruise lines. Success is difficult to measure at these hearing but both sides came away with new understanding that the industry is on the right path to minimize risk.
Day two was the most interesting even though several lines of questioning were abandoned due to time limits. One of the final presentations from Carnival Line laid out complementary MOSA and BOQA risk management programs based mostly on training and data.
Since time cut the presentation short, the slides outlining the programs were never shown in detail. A short summary and text directly from the slides is available if you missed the hearing.
The next phase of dismantling the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program began with the announcement that twenty ships would be cut from the total production. Only twenty of the fast, low draft ships have been funded so in the worst case only ten of each design could be built.
In the same statement where the program is cut, Secretary of Defense Hagel reaches out for submissions for modifications of existing ships, modification (again) of the LCS designs to increase survivability, and a new fast frigate replacement.
Parts of the Navy are having serious growing pains which are very visible since the start of the LCS program in 2005. Take a look at the updated program and write your representatives in Congress.
Two sea traffic management systems are being deployed and tested in limited areas. MONALISA is active in the Mediterranean and BOQA is being tested by cruise lines.
Both systems are modeled on technology from aviation management where information is shared freely as part of safety culture. In the more closed operations of ships the openness of information sharing may keep some owners skeptical of the safety value versus strategic advantage. In cargo operations data is tightly held because margins are non-existent and a small strategic advantage is the only thing that keeps the fax machine ringing.
Yes, fax machine, but that's a different story.
The NTSB held its Cruise Ship Safety Forum on the 25th and 26th of March. Instead of sitting through the entire hearing just take a look at the summary of the second day of testimony. The machine captioning of the hearing was performing poorly since accents are beyond its comprehension, the first day summary will be available soon, pending clarification.
Currently some cruise ships are only carrying enough lifeboats for three out of four passengers. The additional capacity is made up by maritime evacuation systems,
MES are large enclosed rafts launched by canister and boarded by using three vertical slides controlled by a system of traffic lights so the next person knows when to enter.
Is a multi-story vertical chute better than a swinging lifeboat deployment? The NTSB board seems to like the idea
New technology is coming to cruise ships. Heads up augmented reality systems and apps to run on your smart device are already in testing by major cruise lines. The benefits of all the data, and media generated by these systems is mostly focused on entertainment.
The power of these systems to act as safety networks is sometimes overlooked. In the future it will be commonplace for crew members to see passenger distribution throughout the ship and be able to isolate and tag individuals who need special attention.
Safety aspects of RFID and augmented reality are the next big safety revolution on cruise ships.
Existing land based technologies are finding their way onto cruise ships and promise to enhance the cruising experience with personalization. Augmented reality and RFID applications are already showing promise in limited testing but a cruise ten years from now could be peacefully quiet or energetically educational depending on your preferences. So, what do cruise lines have in store for passengers in the future?
If you are a worker in a shipyard or want to operate your own fishing or passenger vessel understanding the Jones Act is an important early step in business planning. Understanding the challenges your employer faces can make you a better employee and maybe even an advocate for better merchant marine legislation.
Some see the Jones Act as a relic of the past which limits important global trade of ideas and skilled labor. Others see it as important to national defense and the domestic shipbuilding industry.
Any law that combines legislated monopolies with additional legal measures for workers injured or killed due to negligence is going to be controversial in any industry.
Are we limiting our growth in the global market and placing too much burden on ship owners or are these provisions still necessary to maintain the health of the U.S. Merchant Fleet?