Accident details: At a glance

  • Type of accident: Grounding
  • Vessel(s) involved: MS Oliva (bulk carrier)
  • Date: 16 March 2011
  • Place: South Atlantic Ocean
  • Fatalities: No
  • Pollution: 1,500 tons of fuel oil and 60,000 tons of soya beans into the water


Read in this series


The incident

On 16 March 2011, the MS Oliva was en route from Santos, Brazil to China. Just after 0400, the second mate noticed a large defined echo on the radar screen passing clear down on the vessel’s port bow. He assumed that it was either rain clouds or an iceberg.

The second mate handed over the watch at 0420 and left the bridge at about 0425. He did not tell the chief mate of the radar echoes he had noticed earlier, as they had passed clear of the vessel and he did not tell him that the vessel would be passing close to land during his watch.

The chief mate then recollected observing some fuzzy echoes which he thought were scattered rain showers. The starboard bridge door was open and the bridge window wipers were switched on because of rain. There was no indication that either the second mate and later the chief mate switched to the X band radar when they were approaching land or when they were expected to make landfall.

At about 0430, the AB reported sighting a white light forward of the vessel’s port beam, which he assumed was a fishing vessel. The chief mate responded that he could see it but did not get up from the chair to investigate it.



At 0500, the AB entered the chartroom and plotted the vessel’s position. He noted that the position was on the course line and that the heading marker on the radar display was on the red course line indicating that the vessel was on track.

Just after 0500, the chief mate went to the chartroom and noted that the AB had plotted a position on the chart. He returned to sit on the pilot chair and noticed a large echo on the radar screen, very close ahead. He assumed it was a heavy storm cloud and thereafter, he felt the vessel’s impact of running aground.

The chief mate moved to the steering position and noticed that the vessel was turning to port. He switched over to manual steering and attempted to use the wheel.

The ship started to develop a port list and the chief mate and AB could hear the sound of escaping air, presumably coming from the ballast tank vents. The vibration of the vessel running aground and the change in the main engine noise woke up most of the 22 crew, at 0510. The vessel ran aground close into a rocky shore beneath low cliffs.

Initially, 12 crew members were transferred across to the fishing vessel ‘Edinburgh’, that was standing by to render assistance.

On 17 March, the weather deteriorated and the remaining 10 crew abandoned the vessel. On 18 March, the vessel broke up in two sections; the forward section drifted away and the aft section capsized and sank.


Environmental consequences

The diesel and fuel oil that escaped from the vessel’s fuel tanks brought a significant environmental impact around the island of Nightingale, which is an active volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, part of the Tristan da Cunha group of islands and is home to several endangered species.

A total of 1,500 tons of fuel oil and 60,000 tons of soya beans were released into the water. The oil spill coated an estimated 20,000 penguins of the endangered Northern Rockhopper population, half of which is found on the remote South Atlantic island.


Probable cause

The official investigation report found that the vessel ran aground because the planned course it was following on the plotting sheet was found to have taken the vessel directly over Nightingale Island.


ISM breaches

  • The passage plan did not comply with the company’s instructions of clearing distances when a vessel was in open waters.
  • Although the company had provided comprehensive guidance and procedures in its SMS to prevent this accident, these were not followed onboard.

Other safety issues

  • Although the bridge team was aware that the vessel would be passing close to some islands, it was not aware as to when that event would take place.
  • Although the vessel did not have BA chart 1769, other appropriate available charts covering the area had not been used.
  • Both the second mate and chief mate were not aware that the vessel was heading towards Nightingale Island. This was because there was no indication on the plotting chart to alert them of the dangers ahead.
  • Both the second mate and chief mate saw some echoes on the radar screen, but did not investigate them and dismissed them as rain clouds.
  • There was no suitable mark placed across the ship’s track to indicate the need to change to a hydrographic chart.
  • Neither officer had consulted BA chart 4022. Although this chart was of an unsatisfactory scale, it could have prompted them to adopt a precautionary approach when radar echoes were sighted on the radar.
  • The combination of the cold, the medication, lack of sleep, the time of the day and reaction to the vessel’s grounding suggests that the chief mate was probably not fit to stand a navigational watch.
  • The master made no reference to the passing of Islands in his night orders. Reference to the Islands, could have alerted the second mate and chief mate to the significance of radar echoes.
  • The handing over checklist required the chief mate to establish the proximity of any hazards to the vessel. This appears not to have happened and he relied on the brief hand-over he received from the second mate.
  • The chief officer did not check the position which the AB plotted on the chart.


Lessons learned

The incident highlighted issues related to the importance of a safe passage plan and the consequences of not following SMS procedures.

After the incident, the owner reviewed instructions on the use of plotting sheets during ocean navigation and required all officers onboard to complete computer-based training in voyage planning and bridge team management.

Meanwhile, Transport Malta advised the owner to consider holding unscheduled navigational audits at sea, so as to verify compliance of its operational procedures while the vessel is underway and amend emergency checklists in order to include the need to save the VDR data.


Did you know?

  • The Tristan da Cunha island group represents the second largest concentration of sea birds in the world. Half of the world’s endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguin population is found there.
  • The island is also home to the highly-endangered Tristan Bunting. Only 50 pairs remain in the world, all of which are found on Nightingale Island.
  • After the spill, the endangered penguins were transported to Tristan da Cunha for cleaning, as Nightingale Island has no fresh water.
  • You may watch the wreck of MS Oliva herebelow:


Explore more in the official report: