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Ship rescue faces criticism

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10:20 CET+01:00
The Merchant Marine Officers' Association (MMOA) has criticised last week's rescue operation surrounding the cargo ship Finnbirch. Two crew members died after the vessel keeled over in stormy conditions in the Baltic Sea off the Swedish coast.

Criticism of the rescue team centres on its decision to wait until the ship had overturned, and stranded crew members found themselves in the water, before hoisting them up into the waiting rescue helicopters. By then the crew had been sitting on the ship's hull for four hours while the helicopters circled overhead.

"If one is going to save lives it is probably best to do so while they are still on board rather than when they are in the water," Christer Themnér, CEO of the Merchant Marine Officers' Association told Sveriges Radio.

Anna-Karin Ekeblad, manager of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, disagrees with MMOA's analysis. She argues that an attempt to winch the 14 crew members to safety while they were still aboard the ship would have endangered the lives of the rescuers.

"I fully understand that questions like this come up after a few days, that people want an explanation," she told news agency TT.

The decision to wait until the crew members hit the water was taken by the commanders of the helicopters on site. Ekeblad stresses the point that several different commanders made the same judgment.

Before the cargo ship overturned waves had reached a height of six to eight metres, visibility was poor, and the vessel was in constant, uncontrolled motion.

Ekeblad adds that there was never any question of lowering an unmanned harness, as that too would have entailed major risks.

A failure to attach the harness properly, for example, could have resulted in a crew member falling back down while on the way up to a helicopter. Alternatively, a harness wire could have become entangled in the capsized vessel, endangering the helicopter.

Rescue boats were also called to the scene but conditions were such that they could not make it out to the cargo ship.

Christer Themnér is not critical of the helicopter rescue staff, but he would like the Accident Investigation Board to look into the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre's involvement in the rescue operation.

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