NORMAN ATLANTIC: “Incidente Probatorio”- Examination of the Report submitted by the Court Experts/Collegio Peritale

The Court Experts’ Technical Report is being examined, in the context of the incidente probatorio at the Tribunale of Bari.

The Bari Court appointed Experts submitted their Report on 1.2.2017 on the causes and circumstances of the tragic fire incident that took place on 28-29.12.2014 onboard the ro-ro NORMAN ATLANTIC.

Initially, the Experts Messrs. Ammiraglio Salvatore Carannante, Ammiraglio Franscesco Carpintieri, Prof. Ing. Benrardino Chiaia, Prof. Ing. Enzo Dalle Mese, and Ing. Paquale Del Sorbo, presented the contents of their Report.

Questions and objections on the Report (always on technical issues) were then raised by the Prosecutor’s Office of Bari, that had appointed independent experts.

Objections, oppositions and questions were subsequently raised by the parties in the proceedings, namely the lawyers of the persons who are under investigation and potentially to accused, as well as by the lawyers of the victims of maritime tragedy.

Pavlakis – Moschos & Associates Law Offices and our Italian colleagues Marco Bona and Stefano Bertone are attending and taking part in the proceedings, by submitting objections and questions to the court experts on behalf of their principals, i.e. passengers who survived the accident and the families of deceased. The preparation for the proceedings was made in collaboration with our technical advisors, following repeated inspections of the ship and study of all the ship’s documents, drawings and other available evidence.

During the process, numerous critical issues were highlighted, such as:

  • Transportation of reefers and trucks carrying live fish onboard the NORMAN ATLANTIC with their diesel generators in function during the voyage and not connected to the ship’s electrical system, contrary rules and regulations in force. To be kept in mind that the most probable scenario is that the fire started in garage deck 4, from the diesel generator of a truck that was not connected electrically to the ship.
  • Emails between the Master Giacomazzi and the beneficial owner of the ship Carlo Visentini, related to previous Patras – Igoumenitsa – Ancona voyages of NORMAN ATLANTIC, indicated that person responsible for the safety onboard were aware of a defect in the ship’s electrical supply system, i.e. that the vessel was not able to cope with the electrical load required for the connection of all the refrigerator trucks to be carried onboard the ship, and that they consciously decided and allowed the transportation of trucks with their diesel-generators in operation. This practice created a huge fire risk and was in direct violation of the regulations.
  •  The ship’s manually operated fire extinguishing system (drencher) was incorrectly activated by the 1st Engineer in garage No. 3 instead of garage No. 4. However, it emerged that this human error was caused and / or attributable to a great extent to the defectiveness of the ship’s fire control plans in use by the crew, to the absence of adequate and visible marking on the system’s valves, to the inadequate instructions that were given by the bridge of the ship and to poor crew training.
  •  The fire safety system of the ship is being considered as generally problematic, especially at garage No. 4. Even if the drencher fire extinguishing system had operated properly in garage No. 4, it is almost certain that there would not have been any difference in the propagation of the fire, since:

(a) the fire was detected with delay, due to equipment and operational deficiencies,

(b) delayed activation of the proper fire response mechanism onboard,

(c) the fire in garage No. 4 was continuously refueled with oxygen from the large side and aft openings, and thus uncontrollable; within 5-6 minutes, the open deck No. 5 above garage No. 4 was already in flames; as a result, on the one hand the survival craft on the right side of the ship and the Fire Station 2 which were of significant importance, became inoperable and were destroyed by the fire, and on the other, within a few minutes the engine room was filled with smoke,

(d) the emergency generator on deck No. 8 was not automatically activated after the general black-out, i.e. when engines and generators stopped; as a result, none of the firefighting systems operated, as it should have done, complying to the regulations.

  •  Important errors, omissions and violations of laws and regulations were established in connection with loading and stowage of vehicles and especially of trucks in the garages, directly related to the fire and to the failure in controlling it.
  • Errors, omissions and violations of laws and regulations were identified in relation to the abilities, training, drills, division and duties of the crew in emergency situations and ultimately the crews’ effective operation during the phase of passenger rescue and the abandonment of the ship.
  • The Life Saving Boat handling and manoeuvre was done incorrectly. The embarkation platforms were launched prior to the lowering of the boat and this resulted to (a) inability to install the protective rails, that would prevent a number of passenger to fall into the sea while trying to embark the life saving boat and (b) to block the launching of the boat itself and put many passengers into risk. Amendments to the life saving boat and its embarkation platforms function had been effected shortly before the tragedy, but apparently the new instructions had not yet been affixed on the ship and were not sufficiently known by the crew.
  • Significant non-compliance with the Safety Management System, as established by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) have been marked.

Upon conclusion of this preliminary process, the incidente probatorio, the case will return to the Prosecutors of Bari, who may order further investigations, if deemed necessary, or indict / pronounce accusations against specific persons, in which case the criminal process will proceed further.

It should be emphasized that the above are just a few of the critical points that emerged during the process with regards to the omissions, defects, incorrect procedures, violation of regulations, etc. that led and contributed to the tragedy onboard NORMAN ATLANTIC. Unfortunately, every phase of this fatal voyage, and every system of the ship was suffering from serious problems and deficiencies, as will be demonstrated in the criminal and civil proceedings that will follow.

The civil process for the award of compensation to the victims of the maritime tragedy is proceeding in parallel. The first hearing of the lawsuit filed on behalf of our clients at the competent Court of Bari has been scheduled for September 27, 2017.