Health and safety

Falmouth foots the bill for Russian bulker salvage

13 August 2019

Falmouth Harbour has been left to foot the bill to refloat an ageing Russian bulker that ran aground in strong winds on Gyllyngvase beach, on 18 December 2018.

The 1980-built Kuzma Minin owned by JSC Murmansk Shipping Company grounded after dragging its anchor in heavy weather. Damage below the waterline included shell plate deformation and breached tanks. There were no injuries and no pollution.

There were 18 crew onboard at the time of the grounding, all Russian nationals including its 63 year- old Master.

The refloating operation was co-ordinated by the Falmouth harbourmaster using local resources. The UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found the operation was timely and effective, but concerns over Kuzma Minin’s lack of insurance cover, and its owner’s lack of co-operation in appointing a salvor, caused unexpected pressures.

MAIB said a 'significant underlying contributor' to Kuzma Minin’s grounding was a lack of investment by its owner. Unpaid debts had led to the withdrawal of the vessel’s P&I insurance by the American Club and bunkers not being taken in its previous port Terneuzen, Netherlands. The vessel faced delay and difficulty in procuring fuel and lube oil in Falmouth. Agency services in Falmouth had also been withdrawn.

'The lack of insurance almost certainly contributed to the owner’s lack of co-operation over the appointment of a salvor, which could have become essential had the initial recovery operation not been successful. It also placed the financial responsibility and liability for the salvage solely on the Falmouth Harbour Authority,' MAIB said in its accident report.

The insurance available to ports and harbours does not cover wreck removal unless the safety of navigation is compromised or the port or harbour has legal liability, neither of which were applicable in this case.

The vessel's owner was established in 1939 and specialised in Arctic transport. In 2014, the company owned 303 vessels, but by the end of 2018 its fleet size had reduced to 22. During 2018, several of its vessels had been detained including Kuzma Minin. Deficiencies identified during the vessel’s detention in Terneuzen related to documentation, welfare and safety.

On 24 December, Kuzma Minin was detained by the MCA in Falmouth for not being sufficiently seaworthy for an extended voyage.

It was subsequently arrested by the Admiralty Marshall on 2 January 2019 and sold to pay debts, which included a salvage award to offset some of the costs incurred by Falmouth Harbour during the vessel’s refloating.

The vessel’s crew were repatriated to Russia.

Falmouth Harbour was still waiting for the salvage award to be paid at time of going to press.