Rockness Disaster



All pilots will remember the horrific capsize of the stone carrier Rocknes

on the 19th January this year, especially those of us who have piloted the vessel and other vessels from the same company. Our impressions are of well run ships with competent crews. At the time of the disaster there was the usual media circus involving a succession of “experts” facing up the cameras and offering on the spot theories for the loss. Naturally much of this theorizing was focused on the role of the pilot who was very fortunate to have been one of the survivors. After so many months, this maritime disaster has now joined the masses of other forgotten maritime casualties and ceased to be newsworthy any more. The physical cause of the disaster was a grounding which ripped open the hull. But how is it that in 2004 a modern, well founded vessel capsizes when two compartments are opened up by grounding damage?

Read the original, illustrated article (page eight)

Further information in the July 2005 issue (page 10)

The Vessel and brief details:

Rocknes, is a self-discharging bulk carrier of 17,357grt. The ship was built in 2000 as a self-discharging bulk carrier and was originally called Kvitnes. From November 2002 to March 2003 it was converted in the Netherlands to a gravel dumper for dumping stone onto pipelines to secure them, among other purposes, and its name was changed to Rocknes. The conversion took place in collaboration with the Dutch company Van Oord ACZ.

On 19 January 2004 at 08.55 hrs Rocknes left Eikefet outside of Bergen, Norway, loaded with 23,243 tonnes of gravel and stone. The ship bunkered near Skålevik and then headed for Emden, Germany. The ship had a crew of twentynine, of whom one was the Norwegian Captain, one was a German trainee master, and the rest of the officers and crew consisted of three Dutch and twenty-four Filipino; in addition, there was a Norwegian pilot on board.

Rocknes capsized in Vatlestraumen within a few minutes of grounding on rocks. Apart from the pilot and eleven Philippine crew members all the other 18 officers and crew were killed in the tragedy. The ship was subsequently towed to Hanøytangen outside Bergen and righted there.

The passage

The pilot & Master:

The Norwegian pilot already had experience of the waters before becoming a licensed pilot in 1998. Both he and the master were familiar with the passage to be undertaken so a detailed passage plan was not prepared nor considered necessary. The account of the passage up to the grounding reveals a typical pilotage act but an early incident provided evidence that all may not be well with the stability of the vessel. At the first turn to port after leaving the berth the ship adopted a slight starboard list. The master was unconcerned since this was apparently fairly normal after loading stone at that particular berth since the loading arm from the jetty couldn’t reach right to the starboard side of the ship resulting in an uneven pile to port. As the vessel listed into a turn the cargo shifted to find a level of equilibrium. The list on this occasion was corrected by use of ballast. The pilot mentioned that the two masters had discussed the stability of the vessel but he had not paid attention to the detail although he noted that the German master appeared concerned and went to check the details on the computer and the Norwegian master mentioned to the pilot that the vessel had little initial stability. Following a bunker stop the vessel proceeded on its voyage. The pilot did not check the new draft because a few additional centimeters would not affect the passage. It was later on when passing between two small islands that both the master and pilot felt a judder and suspected that the vessel had grounded. Very soon after that the vessel started to list to starboard and kept going. The master sent a MayDay and sounded the alarm to abandon ship. At that point a crew member opened the port bridge wing door and feeling the ship continuing to capsize the pilot managed to get out onto the port bridge wing and climb over the side. Fortunately the accommodation was continuous below the wheelhouse to the hull and he was therefore able to walk long the port side of the accommodation onto the hull as the capsize continued. Rescue boats were already on the scene searching for survivors in the water and being relatively safe he was rescued by the air ambulance some twenty minutes later. The questions asked of the pilot by the Maritime investigator underline the importance for pilots always to follow basic procedures and take nothing for granted. These included the following:

· Passage plan

· Turning characteristics

· Stopping distances for the vessel

· Why no check lists or pilot card were completed

· Use of the Electronic chart

· Use of the radars

· Charts and corrections.

· Echo sounder

The pilot explained that his navigation was based on a constant reference to the radars coupled with visual observations of the turns with respect to land and sea marks which on the Rocknes necessitated walking from one side of the wheelhouse to the other in order to site round the centrally stowed cargo handling arm which obstructed the view forward.

The charts and the Hydrographic department

Following the disaster there was much press speculation about whether or not the rocks upon which the vessel grounded were charted. It would appear that a new shoal depth of 9.2m had been found during a recent survey but had not been specifically marked on a new edition of the Norwegian chart covering the area because it was found on a rock shelf that fell within the 10m sounding outside the channel off the Revskolten and was in the red sector of the Hilleren light marking the channel. The Rocknes did not have this latest edition of the chart on board and the ship’s electronic chart was a raster chart which, not forming part of the official navigation chart folios was not required to be kept up to date. The Norwegian pilots also had an electronic chart system for their home computers but the correction contract had expired so these were also not corrected to include the latest data.

Whatever the exact situation over the charting of this passage (which is only 297m wide) following the disaster the red sector of the Hilleren light has been enlarged to cover the shelf and a buoy now marks the extremity of the shelf. The pilot confirms in his statement that had the buoy been in place at the time of the Rocknes’ transit the grounding would not have occurred.

Why did the vessel capsize?

The Norwegian Maritime Directorate has produced a technical report into the capsize which confirms that following its conversion the vessel complied with construction and stability criteria although she did not comply with some recommendations not yet incorporated into the rules. The report concluded that:

a) Rocknes was not loaded in accordance with the ship’s approved stability calculations in respect of the quantity of cargo and ballast, which gave the ship too high a centre of gravity.

b) The cargo was not trimmed as described in Chapter VI, Part B, Regulation 7 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

c) If Rocknes had been loaded in accordance with approved stability calculations and the cargo had been trimmed, it would probably have capsized from the damage the ship

suffered from running aground, but not as quickly.

d) The elapsed time under c) would have given the crew more time to undertake an evacuation, and lives might have been saved.

The basic interpretation is that the Master was to blame for incorrectly loading the ship. Tragically both the Norwegian master and the trainee German Master are unable to defend themselves against the charges of incorrectly loading the vessel but reading the witness statements (99 pages which I will place on my website) reveals that despite being fully within classification society, IMO, SOLAS criteria the vessel had a stability deficiency in the loaded condition.

· At the loading berth the loading arm couldn’t reach to the outside of the hold so the cargo was loaded offset from the centre line requiring further ballast to remove the list

· The loading gauge on the conveyor was prone to intermittent jamming in freezing

weather and so vessels had to load by checking the draft. In this case the agreed Bill of Lading.

· The loading arm could not travel up and down the quay so the vessel had to be moved to position the holds under the loading arm

· In loaded condition the vessel required up to 1461 tonnes of ballast to retain adequate stability

At the time of writing the enquiry is ongoing with the investigators trying to recover data from the loading computer and electronic chart and further details may yet emerge as to the cause. However, in my opinion the most disturbing factor of this casualty is that a minor grounding incident has once again resulted in tragic loss of life on a modern, well equipped and well run merchant ship. Even more disturbing is that had the vessel not been a bulk carrier it is unlikely to have capsized. Since the loss of the Derbyshire over twenty years ago there have been more than 300 bulk carriers lost and over 1000 seafarers killed. The investigations and reports into these losses have achieved absolutely no improvements in design.


This report from the “working group

charged with considering the ship-technical

aspects of the capsizing”can be downloaded





The following press articles appeared in lloyd’s List in June 2009:

9 June 2009 Lloyds List

by Craig Eason

THE Norwegian Hydrographic Service has been found partly responsible for the tragic capsize of the bulk carrier Rocknes in waters close to Bergen in January 2004. This is the first time it has been found at fault by a court in relation to disclosure of navigational information, writes Craig Eason .

Rockne s was navigating, with a local pilot onboard, out to sea from the Bergen Fjord when it struck a rock and capsized. As a result 18 of the 29-strong crew died. The only survivor of the bridge team was the pilot.

An initial investigation into the incident revealed a number of potential flaws that could have contributed.

One of which was a discrepancy with the charts the vessels bridge team were using at the time.

As a result, Norwegian P&I club Gard led a group of other plaintiffs in a suit against the government for up to NKr700m ($111m) claiming the chart data played a part in the disaster, despite a criminal hearing against the NHS by Bergen police being dismissed a year after the accident.

The hearing, which began in early February, concluded that the Norwegian map makers were partly to blame.

According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Trond Eilertsen from Wikberg Rein, the court found the state liable in connection with not disclosing the discovery of the shoal, but limited the liability setting the compensation it must pay the plaintiffs at about NKr22m.

Part of the original accident investigation in 2004 revealed that the vessel’s cargo of rocks could have been loaded badly and the grounding led to the cargo shifting, which in turn led to the capsize. The Oslo court decided that this was probably the case, and had the vessel hit the rocks in a more stable condition it would have remained upright, thus limiting the liability of the hydrographic service.

However, there is less certainty over the navigating practices of the bridge team at the time of the accident.

The vessel is believed to have had both Norwegian and UK admiralty charts on board at the time, as well as an electronic chart display.

While the latter was there as an aid and not used for primary navigation proposes, it is less clear if the bridge team had been using the Norwegian or British charts at the time of the incident. The owners of the vessel had, a year before the accident, shifted from a subscription with the Norwegian hydrographic service, to one with the British admiralty.

As such it began using UKHO issued charts and admiralty notice to mariners, the regular updates all chart makers issue to notify navigators of changes. However, there is uncertainty over whether the navigating officers on the Rocknes were using these at the time, or a newly published Norwegian chart that had been sent to the Rocknes just prior to the change in subscription. Neither were recovered after the incident, but in witness statements the pilot described seeing the Norwegian chart on the chart table.

The Norwegian Hydrographic Service had updated information about the shoal, which the Rocknes struck, but had not

told anyone about it through a notice to mariners.

As a result the UKHO chart was also inadvertently inaccurate and the pilot was also unaware of the increased risks.

Mr Eilertsen said Gard and the other plaintiffs argued that information about changes on new charts, such as hidden rocks, should be promulgated though the notices to mariners, rather than being placed on the new charts, leaving the navigators and pilots to discover these changes for themselves.

“This was our argument. We have up to 100 pilots certified for that area and no one had discovered it (on the new chart),” said Mr Eilertsen.

The state map maker was, however, found liable because the pilots are updated by the Norwegian Notice to Mariners and should have been informed when the shoal was discovered in 1995.

There is a convention that when a new chart is issued, as opposed to a reprint of an existing chart with all corrections marked, the older version can no longer be used.

“We argued that this practice had

never been followed in Norway,” said Mr Eilertsen.

He suggested that sometimes the NHS would fail to let navigators or pilots know that a particular chart had been superseded. “In which case users lived under the opinion that so long as they continue to change the old chart according to the notice to mariners then they will continue to reflect the new chart.”

The Norwegian authorities have now amended their practices, Mr Eilertsen said. It now has explicit print saying that new editions should always be used.

The case, has according to Mr Eilertsen, brought a ‘lower threshold’ in respect to the liability of the state, particularly the coastal administration and the country’s map makers. He refused to be drawn on whether this level of liability could apply to other state-run map makers, saying it would be on a case by case basis.

No one from the Norwegian Hydrographic Service was available for comment, but the state attorney’s office said the government disagrees with the court’s conclusion, adding that in its opinion the NHS had a chart in accordance with necessary requirements and there is no negligence on its part.

17 June 2009 Lloyds List

THE Rocknes grounded and capsized after hitting an unmarked shoal in Vatlestraumen, south of Bergen, on January 19, 2004. The vessel sustained severe damage and capsized within minutes, leading to the death of 18 seafarers and causing a serious oil spill.

Five years after the incident, the shipowner and its underwriters, as claimants, filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian government for compensation in respect of losses incurred.

The shoal on which the Rocknes grounded was discovered by the Norwegian Chart Authority during the course of a hydrographic survey in 1995, but the Norwegian state failed to report the shoal in the Norwegian Notices to Mariners, with the result that navigators and pilots were unaware of its existence.

The shipowner and underwriters argued that it was negligent not to give notice of the shoal when it was found in 1995. They started proceedings against the state for recovery of vessel repair costs and other losses amounting to approximately NKr500m-NKr600m ($77.8m-$93.3m).

Under Norwegian law, the threshold for the state’s liability with regard to certain public sector services has historically been higher than that for other entities. In the Rocknes case the claimants argued, among other things, that the legal doctrine of a higher threshold for the state’s liability was out of date and no longer valid law. The state argued that the principle remained valid.

Due to the factual complexity and the large number of witnesses, the case was heard by the court in Norway over a period of six weeks. The claimants’ principal argument was that it was negligent not to report the shoal on which the Rocknes grounded. The claimants further argued that, had the shoal been reported, the navigator and pilot would have been aware of the danger that it represented and the incident would have been avoided.

The state, on the other hand, argued that all applicable routines and international rules had been followed, and that the reasons the shoal was not reported were that (i) the shoal was close to the shore; (ii) the shoal was located inside the red sector; and (iii) the charts contained no information indicating that the depth at the place of the grounding should be more than 10 m.

Further, the state maintained that the navigation of the Rocknes prior to the grounding was negligent and had contributed to the grounding.

The overriding legal question at issue was the standard of ‘duty of care’ to be applied in a case involving the liability of the state in the public services sector.

The claim for damages was based on Section 2.1 of the Norwegian Tort Act No 25 of June 13, 1969, according to which the state is liable if (i) someone within the public services sector may be blamed for a negligent or wilful act or omission; (ii) the act or omission infringes upon the claimants’ individual rights (as opposed to general public interests); and (iii) the act or omission has caused (or contributed to) the incident.

This includes anonymous failures, that is, it is not necessary that a particular person within the respective authorities can be blamed for one or several specific act(s) or omission(s). It is sufficient to show a breach of the duty to take care, irrespective of the individual who has committed the breach. The state is also liable for cumulative failures, meaning that where individual failures are not sufficient to establish negligence, the sum of several failures may be characterised as negligent.

Pursuant to the preparatory work on the Tort Act, a moderate standard of duty of care applied for the public services sector, including the chart, pilotage, lighthouse and marking authorities, i.e., the Chart Authority and the Coastal Administration. Whereas older jurisprudence and legal theory concurs with this view, recent legal theory takes another approach, namely that a higher standard of ‘duty of care’ must be applied.

The critical question in Rocknes is thus whether the state can be blamed for individual or organisational negligent acts and/or omissions within the Coastal Administration and/or the Chart Authority which have caused or at least contributed to the incident.

Two important precedents deal specifically with the marine public service sectors; the Norwegian Supreme Court decision in Tirranna and the Swedish Supreme Court decision in Tsesis .

Tirranna ran aground in Finnsnesrenna, Norway, on January 31, 1966 and became a total loss. The grounding was caused by the fact that a floating light buoy was not illuminated because the individual in charge had failed to change the gas container in good time. The shipowner claimed damages from the state, but the Supreme Court dismissed the claim. In a non-binding commentary to the court’s decision, the majority stated that the basis for their conclusion was that the lighthouse authorities had acted in the public interest regarding traffic safety, and that “failures that shall trigger legal liability must appear as a significant deviation from the nautical safety level, which the authority aim at”.

The Supreme Court held that the state was not liable even though the light buoy went out due to human failure, because failure as such did not constitute a “substantial and unexpected deviation” from the nautical safety level the authorities aim to provide. The decision was not unanimous (4:1), and the dissenting judge concluded that the state was liable because the floating light buoy went out due to clear negligence by the respective civil servants.

Tsesis also dealt with state liability issues, and the facts are very similar to Rocknes . Tsesis grounded on October 26, 1977 in the Stockholm archipelago, on a shoal that had been discovered in connection with a hydrographic survey in 1969, but which was not marked on the sea chart or with a buoy because the hydrographer had failed to inform the local pilot and the Coastal Administration about it. The Swedish Supreme Court concluded that the state was vicariously liable for the hydrographer’s failure to report the shoal. His misjudgment as to the importance of the shoal, and his failure to sufficiently report it, was a negligent act particularly related to the hydrographic survey’s relevance for safety at sea. It was further held that if the shoal had been sufficiently reported it would have been marked by a buoy or a beacon, and the Tsesis incident would have been avoided.

To date there have not been any subsequent cases before the Norwegian Supreme Court that have required it to distinguish the Tirranna case, but there are precedents in the non-marine public services sectors that clearly show that the courts have differentiated the applicable standard of duty of care and that the

traditional threshold for state liability

has moved closer to the standards in the private sector. Authoritative commentators argue that the threshold for state liability should be the same as for other


The judgment of the first instance court in Rocknes was delivered on May 29, 2009. The state was held liable for negligently omitting to report the shoal on which the Rocknes grounded. Due to the fact that the court held that there was contributory negligence on the claimants’ side, and since the court held that the Rocknes would not have capsized had it been properly loaded and the cargo trimmed, the damages were reduced to a minimum.

The Norwegian government has already filed an appeal against the decision.

6 Responses to “Rockness Disaster”

July 22nd, 2009 at 18:06

I am preparing to provide a independent view of the “Rocknes” disaster for the publication Hydro International once the verdict in the present case comes down.
My first inclination is that the extension to the low water shoaling was only a factor in this case because the pilot and Captain had the ship out of mid channel. Therefore, as the ship was in the red zone and much too far to the starboard side of the channel she ran aground. The fact that she capsized so quickly was as a result of her inherent instability and the fact that forward visibility from the bridge was compromised by the addition of Mechanical apparatus for the downloading of the rock. The pilot had great difficulty seeing forward and was thus too far to starboard of the channel. The minor ingress of water as a result of the grounding was of little importance to the capsizing in my opinion. If you look at the pictures of the hull damage one would realize that so little damage could not have been the cause of such a major disaster. The cargo shifted as a result of the grounding but the grounding would have moved the cargo to port where it was already out of balance as a result of the port side loading.

July 23rd, 2009 at 14:21

I assume the ship capsized by turning towards the port side. I have read no reports to indicate in which direction the ship turned turtle. I assume it was towards the port. As the ship struck the shoals on the starboard side, even as lightly as it did it inclined the ship towards the port side. As the ship was already our of trim towards the port side this sudden movement caused by the grounding accentuated the port list. There is also the possibility that the deck machinery, which had added 3000 tons of weight to the ship above its centre of gravity, may have moved towards the port side and contributed to the port side capsizing. To add to these factors was the ships inherent steering difficulties which had been discussed by the pilot and the ships captain. These steering problems, which were later corrected by the addition of a centre line keel, in my opinion, also contributed to the disaster.

July 23rd, 2009 at 14:43

Upon rereading some information regarding the capsizing I see that the ship rolled to starboard. This will negate my previous statement that the ship capsized to port. This fact makes the capsizing more difficult to explain except to consider the avalanching effect of the cargo shift to that side as a result of the ship listing to starboard. Let’s face it, this ship was inherently unstable.

November 11th, 2009 at 22:17

My opinions, for what they are worth, have now been published in the November edition of Hydro International. They fairly closely follow what I have printed here and remain my opinions after careful consideration of this matter.

May 8th, 2010 at 16:00

I show my condolence to the passengers who have died from this tragedy and Im hoping the justice would be on hand upon the victims. But Im thankful that the 3 filipinos who survived with the help of the authorities. Just cross our fingers that the case will put on justice not forgotten because 18 passengers lost their lives and the victims families lost their love ones.


Richard Maddock
October 14th, 2018 at 08:37

My condolences to those who lost their life


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