Towed to Falmouth and detained

A FULL investigation has been demanded into why a cargo ship ran out of fuel off the Westcountry coast, writes WMN chief reporter Andy Greenwood.

The 2,000-tonne Taigeta and her 11 Russian and Ukrainian crew were stranded south of Plymouth – in the dark and living on cold food – after running adrift on Tuesday night.

The 266ft (82m) cargo vessel, which sails under the flag of the Dominican Republic, had to be towed to Falmouth, where she was immediately detained on safety grounds – under European Port State Control regulations – by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Experts said it was “unprecedented” for a ship to simply run out of diesel during a journey.

It is understood the crew had even drained the tanks on the ship’s lifeboats in a bid to keep the vessel going.

Andrew Linington, spokesman for the seafarers union Nautilus, said it had been watching the plight of the Taigeta “very carefully”.

“It raises two big issues,” said Mr Linington. “One is a long-standing concern we have about the quality and standard of some of the ships that operate in UK waters – almost inevitably, they are flag of convenience vessels.

“The second, huge, worry is that during the economic downturn, ship owners have been cutting back and trying to save costs because their own income has dropped.”

Mr Linington said that it was fortunate that the powerless Taigeta had not posed a danger to other shipping or to the coastline.

“There are clearly very good grounds for a thorough examination of how on earth they got into this situation,” he added.

“We need to have a much tougher inspection regime and there needs to be much more accountability in terms of owners and operators.”

It is not known whether the 30-year-old Taigeta ran out of fuel because of a technical or mechanical error – or because her owners simply could not afford to replenish her tanks.

The MCA detained the ship in Falmouth on Thursday after a surveyor was put on board.

A spokesman said an initial inspection on Thursday morning found sufficient safety grounds for it to be detained.

“A further, more detailed inspection will be carried out in due course,” he said.

It emerged yesterday that the ship had failed safety inspections in several European ports over the last two years, the most recent being in Denmark three weeks ago.

Surveyors in St Petersburg, Russia, found 20 safety shortcomings in February 2008 and the ship, which is run by a Latvian company, was prevented from sailing for 10 days until they were addressed.

Further problems were found during inspections in Grimsby in August 2008 and at Kaliningrad, Russia, in January of this year.

Officials also stopped the Taigeta at Hirtshals, Denmark, on March 12. Deficiencies were recorded with fire safety measures, radar, radios, charts and the standard of accommodation.

After running out of fuel, the vessel was drifting in 45-knot westerly winds and 20ft (6m) seas. The crew dropped anchor twice before it held fast near West Rutts, south-east of Plymouth.

The RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat was called out to assist for four hours.

The owners commissioned a private tug to tow the Taigeta to Falmouth for refuelling, although the MCA’s emergency towing vessel, the Anglian Earl, escorted the rescue to ensure safe passage.

The ship had so little fuel that she was unable to keep her navigation lights on.

She will not be allowed to leave Falmouth until MCA surveyors are satisfied the necessary safety standards with crew, equipment and training have been reached.

Brixham Coastguard watch manager Nick Ferguson said it had been in touch with the ship’s owners, who were “now very aware of our displeasure”.

The Taigeta and her crew were last night spending a second night docked in Falmouth.

A spokesman for Falmouth Coastguard said: “The crew are still on board and will be getting any help from the various charities and suppliers should they run out of food.

“As yet, it is not possible to say how long the vessel will be in Falmouth for.”