SANCHI tragedy. WSJ searching for something “hot and fishy”.

A Polish journalist sent me an article published by Wall Street Journal:
Iranian Tanker, Chinese Ship Stopped Transmitting Location Before Crash
It’s unclear if Automatic Identification System equipment on the two ships was turned on or operating properly
By Costas Paris
With the emergence of AIS, everybody around, especially journalists, turned into shipping and navigating experts, painfully studying AIS tracks, mostly on
The operators of the Sanchi oil tanker, which is still on fire with 31 of its crew missing, and the CF Crystal freighter say they can’t comment on whether the Automatic Identification System, or AIS, equipment on the two ships was turned on or operating properly. – writes WSJ.
In other words, WSJ and no doubt their followers from other media, smelled something fishy in this tragedy, just because there are laps in AIS track. Meanwhile, it’s quite natural, especially considering the fact, that journalists don’t see the difference between shore-based AIS receivers, and satellite ones. Even mixed AIS tracks, based on satellite and shore-based receivers, have laps here and there, it’s just common thing, depending on many factors. Media in general, thankfully, don’t have access to satellite AIS tracks, it’s all fee-based, but they believe’s free access to shore-based receivers AIS tracks is all there is, enough for all purposes.

But WSJ went on and found “a veteran Greek Master”, who told them, that:
Some “captains shut off the [tracking] system if they are doing something fishy, like moving illicit cargo from ship to ship or if there is a breakdown and they don’t want to be charged for delays by the cargo owners,” said Ioannis Sgouras, a veteran Greek tanker master.
One must be an idiot even to assume, that a Capesize crude oil tanker in full load, and Panamax bulk carrier in full load, would be engaged in illegal fuel transfer, while en route to their ports of destination. Yes, illegal fuel trading happens here and there, especially in Asian waters, but not under such circumstances, on high seas during voyages, sailing at full speed.

The CP Crystal is operated by CP International Ship Management & Broker Co., a business connected to a large Sino-Polish shipping group.
When visited on Friday by reporters of The Wall Street Journal, top managers and Communist Party officials at two of its offices in Shanghai said they weren’t in a position to answer questions about the collision but were aware executives were in contact with government officials. The company didn’t respond to written questions about the vessel’s operations.
There’s little doubt, that both vessels, SANCHI and CF CRYSTAL, are guilty in collision. There’s little doubt, that tanker was the one to give way, but failed to do so. There’s little doubt, that CF CRYSTAL violated COLREG by failing to do everything possible to avoid collision, when opposite ship didn’t give way, or did it insufficiently, or too late.
There’s no doubt at all, that China will do everything possible to downplay CF CRYSTAL guilt. Every coastal State, whose ship collided with foreign ship in waters of this State, will do, and is doing, the same. There’s nothing fishy in CP and officials behaviour, however hard Mr. Paris is trying to dramatize it.

We don’t know yet, if the area at the collision site and around, was clear of fishing vessels. Say, if both ships were in the middle of fishing grounds with dozens of fishing vessels and boats around, one or both of them, SANCHI and CF CRYSTAL, just couldn’t exercise sharp turns without hitting fishing vessels. Master and officer on watch of any merchant ship would think twice or thrice before taking such a decision, and more often than not, they’ll risk collision with oncoming fellow merchant, than hitting (and guaranteed, sinking) fishing vessel. Such collisions are a feast for many, from damaged fishermen or their relatives, to coastal States – they’re ripping off fortunes from hapless (and helpless) shipowners, whether the ship was guilty or not. There’s no chance of impartial investigation and trial, everywhere around the globe. You want to know how it happens, you want examples? Here’s one:

Nobody is to blame train for killing passerby or crushing car when they cross the track directly ahead of full-speed train, nobody is demanding train to give way to passerby, because they’re on collision course and passerby doesn’t take necessary maneuver to avoid collision. But there’s no better illustration of high seas and seaways situation!
Merchant ships are most vulnerable and least manoeuvrable floating objects, especially in areas with heavy traffic. Solution is simple – there are traffic zones infested with merchant ships. make them equal to rail tracks – if somebody is fooling around on this track, whether fishermen or Navies or yachts, he’s either to give way or suffer consequences, with merchant ship being, by definition, innocent. COLREG rules in these zones apply to merchant ships only, the rest are to keep clear.
Do any of international legislative bodies, starting from IMO, try to somehow, stop this conveyer of disasters and criminal persecutions? No.

And of course, there are all those modern wizardries involved – GPS, computer, auto pilot and computerized plotters to avoid collisions. The best way, so far, to avoid collision, the best way to make ship safe, is the way of having on bridge and in engine room of the ship professionals, not “check-list” experts. There is a growing number of accidents and disasters, which were caused by too much relying on electronics, and what’s much worse, new conventions and regulations make this malpractice obligatory. It’s too serious subject to brush it lightly, it demands a special article or series of articles.
One more citing from WSJ article:
“The East China Sea is at times chaotic because scores of ships are going in all different directions,” said Allianz’s senior marine consultant, Andrew Kinsey. “When the AIS fails in areas like this, it creates much more potential for an accident.”
Mr. Kinsey said Allianz has monitored multiple regional AIS outages across the world because signals were altered, hacked or simply failed.
To make it short – all this wizardry is yet too chaotic, too vulnerable and already, too complicated, to provide sufficient navigational safety. You want your ship to be safe? Look for professional navigators, those who’re responsible enough not to lose all contacts with reality by looking on screens only. Forbid ECDIS as the primary navigational instrument, make paper charts and traditional means of navigation primary. Kick out of your office and management all those “safety experts”, until they’ll become obligatory by new rules and conventions, and when they do become obligatory in near future, do your best to neutralize them and their “expertise”. Don’t trust your crews and your ships to professional CEOs and outsourcing. It’s very difficult, it’s against the best efforts of IMO, media, hordes of “experts” and general mainstream, but it’s still possible. When everything will become regulated and obligatory, sell your ships for good, and watch the consequences of over-regulated industry from afar.

Voytenko Mikhail
January 14, 2018





My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.