Ministry Report Blames Zim for Last Year's Japanese Boating Accident

Zim captain had been asleep when ship collided with Japanese vessel, resulting in the death of seven fishermen.

The Transport Ministry has found the Zim Israel Navigation company and officers on board Zim Asia responsible for an accident in which a ship struck a Japanese fishing boat, killing seven fishermen last September.

The ministry's report on the accident castigates Zim and its management, and finds the ship's captain and first officer indirectly responsible for the accident. So far only the second officer has been indicted in the affair.

The report also finds problems on the Zim Asia's bridge and failures in the company's command chain.

Following the accident Captain Moshe Ben David was suspended. However, Haaretz found that he and First Officer Eyal Sasson are still working on Zim ships and, so far, none of the faults have been corrected.

On September 28, 2005, Zim Asia collided with a Japanese fishing boat off the Japan's Hokkaido shore, causing the death of seven fishermen. One fisherman was saved thanks to an air pocket that formed in the capsized boat.

Seamen's testimony and radar images indicated that the Zim Asia was responsible for the collision. However, the ship's crew said they were not aware of hitting the boat and learned about it only after reaching Pusan port in South Korea. Zim said it would accept the responsibility if Zim Asia was found to be involved. A few days later it transpired that the captain had been asleep during the accident.

Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit appointed an inquiry committee to probe the affair, which completed its report in January, but did not release it.

No indictment

Despite its conclusions, the State Prosecutor and police have decided not to indict anyone from Zim's management, nor the captain and first officer. Only Second Officer Pilastro Zdravko, a foreign citizen from Montenegro, was indicted for causing death by negligence.

When the recommendation to indict Zdravko was published, the police said the probe found the company had acted according to procedures. A copy of the report that reached Haaretz indicates otherwise.

"In general," the report says, "Zim company is a properly run shipping company with a good reputation...However in this case failures in the chain of command were found from the management, through the coast officer and naval inspectors to the ship's officers in implementing international maritime safety regulations." The report says the ship's command misinterpreted and misapplied the safety regulations and "Zim Asia's complacency contributed to the circumstances that led to the accident." There is no clear cut evidence that the accident was "hit and run" or that Zim concealed evidence, the report says, noting the company "fully cooperated with the investigators and presented all the required material."

At the time of the accident Second Officer Zdrabko and seaman on duty Lechev Galin, a Bulgarian citizen, were on the bridge. They testified the captain was not on the bridge. At about 2 A.M. Galin left for a safety patrol.

Safety regulations stipulate that the observer from the bridge must not do anything else and another sailor must conduct the safety patrol. The captain said that in Zim the custom was that the observing sailor makes the hourly safety patrols.

Return to the bridge

The seaman testified to the committee that when he returned to the bridge after the patrol, between 2:20 and 2:30, he saw strong lights of a fishing boat 300 to 500 meters from the ship. The second officer dismissed this and said the distance was greater. The seaman said the officer told him to go to manual steering and tilt the ship by "10 degrees" and then "20 degrees to the right."

The officer said this was meant to make way "for another ship" that was three maritime miles away from the collision course. This was not corroborated.

The committee concluded that the second officer's decision to send the sailor on the patrol despite the "dangerous circumstances...implies a problematic excess of self confidence." It said the officer displayed "grave ignorance in understanding his ship's maneuvering characteristics" and that the evasion maneuver was "patently dangerous and caused Zim Asia's collision with the fishing boat."

The report says Zim relied too heavily on the existence of written instructions instead of supervision and verifying the senior officers' understanding of safety regulations. "The owners and management are responsible for the vessel's safe operation, in all circumstances," it says.

The report finds Zim's explanation for sending the observer on other missions on his shift "unacceptable."

The report castigates the captain, stating that his "silent agreement" to the observer's absence from the bridge is a misinterpretation of the regulations and incompatible with safety regulations.

The State Prosecutor said the findings are insufficient for pressing charges against Zim and the other officers.