C7/2006M cargo ship MS FINNBIRCH (SWE), Sinking between Öland and Gotland

SHK (the Swedish Accident Investigation Board) was informed on 2 November 2006 of an accident involving the merchant vessel Finnbirch in international waters between Öland and Gotland at 1539 hours on 1 November 2006.

The accident has been investigated by SHK personnel, Göran Rosvall until 2007-02-28 and subsequently Carin Hellner, Chair of the committee; Ylva Bexell, Investigation Manager; Thomas Milchert, Investigator, Naval engineering and Agne Widholm, Investigator, Rescue Services. SHK has been assisted by Peter Andersson, cargo-securing expert; Ronnie Larsen, Marine rescue expert; Per Stefenson, life saving equipment expert and Ulf Björnstig Medical expert. SHK has also been assisted by Risto Repo of the Finnish Accident Investigation Authority. Margareta Lützhöft and Jan Snöberg have participated by interviewing the crew in connection with the accident.

Sten Anderson of Sjöfartsverket (the Swedish Maritime Administration) has monitored the investigation.


The Swedish Ro-Ro ship Finnbirch left Helsinki on the evening of 31 October 2006 for a scheduled voyage with cargo to Århus, Denmark. The ship had a full load of roll-trailers and semi-trailers and a consignment of block-stowed paper reels. The weather was hard, with northerly winds at 20 m/s and gusts up to 26-29 m/s.

During the passage between Öland and Gotland, with a very heavy following sea, the ship heeled, suddenly and considerable, a couple of times to port. After these lurches, the ship remained stationary listing at 30-35 degrees to port with an almost complete cargo shift. The crew sent an immediate Mayday emergency call, this being the beginning of a long and complicated rescue operation. The crew assembled on the deck and dressed in survival suits. Rescue to ships in the vicinity was not possible and rescue attempts by helicopter were considered too risky in the circumstances and the crew therefore remained on board until the ship finally capsized and sank approximately four hours later.

One crew member was drawn down with the ship and drowned, another succumbed to hypothermia. The other crewmen were rescued from the sea by helicopter.

Causes of the accident were;

Finnbirch having unfavourable course and speed under sea conditions with high and long waves, which caused a reduction in stability with considerable but not exceptional heelings which resulted in the cargo shift. The securing of the cargo on board was inadequate.

Contributory factors were as follows:

• the ship’s cargo-securing manual was neither complete nor was its instructions followed. The charterer used his own system for cargo-securing and did not request access to the ship’s manual. The final cargo-securing level was mainly a result of verbal agreements between the charterer and different ship’s officers on board, and

• the non conformity of the cargo-securing from the requirements in the ship’s cargo-securing manual had not been reported to the shipowners. Neither the shipowners nor the relevant supervising authority had observed that the securing of the ship’s cargo differed considerably from the stipulated requirements.


SHK recommend that the Swedish Maritime Administration

• propose that stability requirement for ships in following sea should be entered into the relevant international rules and regulations (RS 2008:03R1),

• review the present training of ship officers with respect to the handling of ships in heavy seas, to the different phenomena which can occur under such conditions and how these can be avoided or their effects can be minimized (RS 2008:03 R2),

• propose to international collaboration, that instructions for the dimensioning of cargo-securing systems in and on cargo transport units be added to the CSS code or other suitable code (RS 2008:03 R3),

• propose to international collaboration, the development of some form of obligatory code relating to the securing of cargo in and on cargo transport units. (RS 2008:03 R4),

• propose to international collaboration, an amendment to the STCW requirement for training of ship officers in cargo-securing so that it relates to all relevant ships and not only to ro-ro passenger ships. (RS 2008:03 R5),

• review the internal instructions for the approval of cargo-securing manuals to ensure that these manuals are checked with such methods that the results of the checking are credible (RS 2008:03 R6),

• increase the controls that the instructions for cargo-securing contained in cargo-securing manuals are observed in the practical work on board Swedish ships and in other ships entering Swedish ports (RS 2008:03 R7),

• draw attention, in international collaboration, to the problems relating to the size and fit of survival suits which emerged during the investigation and to the importance of the immediate availability of survival suits when required (RS 2008:03 R8),

• in its monitoring of the safety organisations of ship-owning companies, consider in particular the guidance developed by IMO regarding the qualifications a Designated Person (DP) should have (RS 2008:03 R9),

• in its monitoring of the safety organisations of ship-owning companies, consider in particular the guidance developed by IMO regarding their observation of the ISM code with respect to the authorities and resources granted to the Designated Person (DP) (RS 2008:3 R10),

• in its monitoring of the safety organisations of ship-owning companies, check in particular, their internal follow-up and investigation of accidents and other incidents on board with the objective of improving safety on their ships (RS 2008:03 R11),

• clarify, in consultation with the Swedish Civil Aviation Authority, the requirements for weather and other conditions under which off-shore SAR operations should or should not be performed (RS 2008:03 R12), and

• ensure that changes in SAR activities are analysed and as well as risk, and that measurements are taken to reduce any such risks identified (RS 2008:03 R13).

SHK recommend that the Civil Aviation Authority

• develop a national code of rules for requirements relating to and monitoring of SAR activities (RS 2008:03 R14).

C7/2006M Report (pdf, 5.77 Mt)

Published 1.11.2006