Questions over safety measures of Norman Atlantic

Even as complex rescue efforts are still underway to remove the remaining passengers and crew from the stricken Norman Atlantic, serious questions have been raised about the culpability of the ship’s owners and the company operating the ship, ANEK Lines, in the maritime disaster which has left at least 5 people dead. As of the time of writing 407 of the 487 crew and passengers on the ship have been rescued.

According to reporting by the Ethnos newspaper, Patras coast guard inspectors had found flaws in fire safety and passenger evacuation plans in an inspection that had taken place only days before the tragedy.

According to the inspection report obtained by the newspaper, under the heading ‘Fire Safety’ the report notes deficiencies in the sealing of ‘doors within main’.

Deficiencies are also noted under the heading ‘Other lifesaving appliances’, in the ship’s emergency lighting and in the documentation of its evacuation plans. Defects were also found in the seals of watertight doors.

The report is dated the 19th of December and the coast guard had given the ship owners a deadline of 15 days to correct the problems. However it is unclear whether any action had been taken by the time of the accident.

According to Ethnos, the Patras Coast Guard refused to comment on the document directing all questions to the Ministry of Shipping.

In a written statement ANEK lines, which leases the ship from the company VISEMAR di Navigazione S.R.l, wrote that “according to the [ship-owning] company the [Norman Atlantic] had undergone all of the legally required inspections and had been issued with all of the safety credential according to international safety regulations for it to sail from the port of Piraeus.”

ANEK also took the opportunity to assure investors that, “Given that the ship is not an asset of the company and that ANEK, in the framework of the above leasing had obtained full insurance coverage, it is believed that there will not be a significant impact on its financial results.”

Meanwhile several large ship-worker unions have issued a joint statement blaming corner cutting as a likely factor in the disastrous blaze which began in the ship’s garage and consumed almost the entirety of its interior, pouring out clouds of thick smoke for many hours. The statement raises questions about how the blaze began and why it was not possible for it to be brought under control by the ship’s fire-fighting equipment. It also highlights over-crowding as a potential factor in the disaster.

“Once again, it is proven that shipowners’ hunt for profit overrides the necessary measures for the protection of human life at sea,” the unions write.

According to the Telegraph, in Bari an investigating magistrate has opened an inquiry into the tragedy to determine whether anyone involved should be charged with “culpable shipwreck.”

with info from Ethnos, Telegraph, The Toc

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