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First officer jailed after collision with tanker in Singapore Straits kills 2 fellow crew members

SINGAPORE — He knew he was towing an improperly lit sand barge in the middle of the night, but did not listen to warnings that he was posing a danger to other ships by remaining in their path.

A file photo showing a stretch of the Singapore Straits. A tugboat with a sand barge collided with a tanker in the busy waters on Feb 6, 2019.

A file photo showing a stretch of the Singapore Straits. A tugboat with a sand barge collided with a tanker in the busy waters on Feb 6, 2019.

SINGAPORE — He knew he was towing an improperly lit sand barge in the middle of the night, but did not listen to warnings that he was posing a danger to other ships by remaining in their path.

In the end, it collided with a chemical tanker, and the tugboat pulling the barge capsized as well. Two of his crew members drowned and the barge’s cargo of 5,000 tonnes of sand had to be discarded.

The 40-year-old Indonesian who goes by one name, Iswahyudi, was the first officer of Sierra Leone-registered tugboat Koi 3. He later admitted that he did not use the radar to check if other vessels were nearby, and had forgotten some of his seaman training by then.

On Friday (May 8), Iswahyudi was jailed seven months, after pleading guilty to a single charge of causing the deaths of Indonesians Dodi Maulana and Budi Setiyoko through a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide. 

He admitted to failing to maintain a proper lookout in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, as well as failing to give way to the Hong Kong-registered tanker Shun Sheng.

When the collision happened on Feb 6 last year, Koi 3 was on its way to the Tuas Aggregate Terminal from Johor, Malaysia. There were six crew members, including himself, on board.

Iswahyudi took over as officer on watch at about 12am. As part of his duty, he had to keep watch on the bridge and ensure the vessel’s safe navigation in compliance with the relevant regulations.

Around 4am, Koi 3 was travelling in the westbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme. Ships travelling in opposite directions here should adhere to their “traffic lanes”.

Shun Sheng entered the same lane about 40 minutes later. Around that time, however, Koi 3 made some course and speed changes, eventually creating a “crossing situation”.

This meant that both vessels would cross paths if they did not change their courses.

Under the regulations, Koi 3 had to keep out of the tanker’s way to avoid a collision.

When an operator from Singapore’s Vessel Traffic Information System contacted Koi 3 and advised the crew to move to the side of the channel and wait there, rather than remain in the middle of the channel and endanger other ships, Iswahyudi took over the steering of the ship.

His crew member then spotted the Shun Sheng tanker and warned him, but Iswahyudi did not leave the channel. He changed the vessel’s course again, encroaching on the tanker’s path.

Shun Sheng then made a course alteration to avoid colliding with Koi 3, but ended up crashing into the cargo barge instead.

The barge was not fitted with navigational lights required under international regulations, which reduced its visibility to other ships in the area. Iswahyudi was aware of this.

Prosecutors told the court that such line-towed barges are “slow and not easy to manoeuvre”. They are also particularly difficult to spot at night or in restricted visibility.

Koi 3 capsized from the collision. Both the tugboat and the barge suffered serious damage, and could not be salvaged.

Iswahyudi, two other crew members and the tugboat’s captain, who was off-duty at the time, were able to swim to the surface. They held onto the vessel’s bow and were rescued by a Police Coast Guard boat shortly afterwards.

The bodies of the other two crew members were recovered only about two days later, as the tugboat had to be towed about 12km away before rescue operations could begin.

Shun Sheng did not suffer much damage and its crew eventually went to Singapore to help in investigations.

The prosecution sought eight months’ jail, pointing out that the consequences of a maritime collision “are far graver than a collision between two vehicles on land”.

The Singapore Straits, which lies between Singapore and Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago, is one of the busiest and most important commercial routes in the world, it said.

“The high shipping traffic in the Straits gives rise to a host of navigational hazards and increases the risk of a collision. 

“It is therefore incumbent on seafarers to be familiar with the relevant navigational rules, and exercise reasonable diligence in the safe navigation of their vessels, so as not to endanger the lives and property of other seafarers who travel the Straits,” the prosecution added.

For causing death by a negligent act, Iswahyudi could have been jailed up to two years, fined, or punished with both.

Related topics

crime court tugboat tanker collision Singapore Straits death

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