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Sinking of the MS Sleipner on 26 November, 1999 – KAMEDO-report 77

The Kamedo-reports are published by the Swedish Disaster Medicine Study Organisation (Kamedo), at the National Board of Health and Welfare. Observers study the medical, psychological, organisational and social aspects of disasters. The results, with a focus on experiences gained, are presented in the reports.

This report is entirely in Swedish. Only summary in English.

Summary

At 6.47 p.m. on Friday, 26 November 1999 the fast catamaran MS Sleipner left the harbour at Haugesund to continue north on its daily route between Stavanger and Bergen. There were 85 people on board, 76 passengers and nine crew. It was raining and there was a moderate gale with a rough sea and the temperature was +10°C. In this weather Sleipner ran off track and at 7.08 p.m. she ran aground on the Store Bloksen rock. The rock tore the bottoms of both hulls extensively and water consequently entered both hulls. The vertically divided watertight bulkheads in each hull lacked horizontal sections above the line of damage, and the water intake therefore led to the vessel more or less losing its buoyancy.

The vessel was for slightly less than half an hour subjected to strong sideways forces because of wind and waves and consequent movement on the rock. This led to the bow breaking and 28 minutes after running aground the vessel slipped off the rock and a few minutes later it sank to the seabed. All those aboard ended up in the water, which was +9-10°C. The organization for abandoning the vessel worked badly and the crew lost control of the rescue efforts. The cause of the shipwreck was a combination of navigation error, high speed and severe wind and wave conditions.

Only one of the vessel's four life rafts was released in such a way that it reached the surface, where it however positioned itself upside down. Only four people managed to get on board the raft, and two of these managed to stay there until rescued.

Many of the vessel's passengers had difficulty putting the life jackets on and when they eventually got into the water many of these came loose, some slid towards the throat and threatened to strangle the shipwrecked passengers.

A Sea King rescue helicopter from 330 Squadron at Sola, Stavanger took part in the rescue efforts, as did at a later stage a civilian transport helicopter of the Super Puma type. 13 people were in the course of just over half an hour hoisted on board a helicopter during the first search. A severely cold woman was during a later search hoisted up from one of the ships assisting with the rescue efforts. Ships in the area rescued a total of 57 people, many of them in a poor condition because of the cold.

The rescue organization on land prepared a collection point at a concrete factory in Mølstrevåg where there was access to lighting and heating. The rescue helicopter brought 13 shipwrecked passengers to that collection point. Because of the wind and wave situation, the ships could not enter that harbour and alternative collection points were therefore set up at Bømlo harbour on Langevåg and at Leirvik on Stord. Local rescue organizations had with the aid of the police provided good reception arrangements for the shipwrecked passengers in all three locations.

Most of the shipwrecked passengers were taken to Haugesund County Hospital, Fylkesjukhuset i Haugesund, (FiH) which had already at 8 p.m. declared an emergency, and within an hour the hospital had mobilized a total of 30 monitoring beds, with the possibility of intensive care monitoring. FiH received a total of 34 patients during the evening, and nine of these were dead. Seventeen patients were admitted, five of these suffering from hypothermia.

Rogaland Central Hospital, Sentralsjukehuset i Rogaland (SiR) was notified already at 7.13 p.m. and chose to follow events without declaring an emergency. Rescue control was at 10.15 p.m. summoned to SiR and at 10.27 p.m. a disaster team of two doctors and three nurses was sent to Sola to be flown to Langevåg on Bømlo by civilian transport helicopter. These however never left Sola, because requirements were reassessed. The transport helicopter therefore flew empty to Mølstrevåg where doctors and nurses and rescue men came aboard to be transported to Langevåg on Bømlo. Five injured were taken by to SiR by helicopter.

A total of 69 people were rescued alive through the rescue efforts with ships and helicopters on the night of the accident. Eleven dead were found on the day of the accident, and all were taken to Haugesund County Hospital and identified. Two deceased were found in the wreck two days after the accident. A further three dead were found during subsequent searches, the last one almost a year after the accident. Drowning was established as the cause of death of the victims. A total of 16 people died. Low water temperature, and the consequent rapid cooling, is likely to have been a strong contributory cause.

Experience 1. Evacuation routes adapted to people's behaviour in threatening situations must be considered, as well as possibilities for people quickly to get out into the open in emergency situations.

2. Life rafts must be constructed so that they turn the right way up, as they cannot otherwise be fully utilized by those in distress. Instructions of vital importance must be brief, precise and in English as well as the local language. Life jackets must be easy to put on, have crotch straps and sufficient buoyancy to keep an injured person's head above water and must also turn an unconscious person into the correct position, face upwards. They should preferably also preserve heat, also as regards the head.

3. Information systems for passengers, intended for use in emergency situations, must have alternative routes and it must be possible for the crew to establish whether the information has been received or not.

4. The call-out time for rescue helicopters outside office hours was when the accident occurred one hour. This is too long. People die in emergency situations while awaiting rescue. Fifteen minutes would be a preferred time, that is to say the time it takes from notification of the base until it is possible to start the rescue helicopter. Every minute of delay increases the risk of death in an emergency situation in a cold sea.

5. The rescue organization must have great flexibility in case of a disaster. External circumstances such as weather and waves can force rapid changes of priorities. Alternative solutions must be included when plans are drafted.

6. Prioritisation principles in case of hypothermia must be carefully prepared, as must the continued handling of hypothermic patients. Being able to measure body temperature simply but adequately is of great value. This in order to prioritise and treat patients correctly. This requires access to thermometers.

Cooling down leads to impaired neuro-muscular co-ordination and inability to grip and to swim. Consciousness is in due course affected and unconsciousness ensues. Rescue equipment, including life jackets, survival clothing and ladders to life rafts must be adapted in order to deal with these difficulties.

7. Correct registration of passengers facilitates searches, identification and the provision of information to relatives.

8. People who have taken part in events such as this and similar should be given an opportunity to talk about this together with any colleagues concerned. Personnel who have taken part in similar rescue work should also be given an opportunity to rest and should not immediately return to work.

9. Those who are to provide the media with information should be given an opportunity to prepare themselves for this.

10. It may be necessary to have oxygen and other medical equipment available in civilian vehicles during transport from collections points to hospitals.

11. There should be plans for co-operation across county council boundaries (similar). Realistic exercises, focusing for instance on co-operation with other authorities should be held.

Read the full Summary

Contact

Susannah Sigurdsson
+46 (0)75 247 30 00