What Will Be the Fate of the Captain and Chief Engineer of the Eastern Star, The Capsized Cruise Ship in China?

by Owen James Burke

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The ship was righted and raised on June 6th, when the remains of most of those missing were recovered. Photo: gCaptain/Bloomberg.

As recovery crews continue the search for dozens of the 400-plus missing souls after last week’s tragedy in the Yangtze River in China, the captain and the chief engineer of the cruise ship, Eastern Star, which reportedly capsized in the midst of a sudden and rare but ravenous force 12 tornado which sank the ship, remain in custody. The warning of the severe weather was delivered within mere minutes–as is most often the case with tornados–and there wasn’t much time for the vessel to fall into procedure or make for shore, being such a large ship.

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The number of casualties from the Yangtze River tragedy has risen to over 430. Photo: Getty Images.

What fate will befall the captain and the chief engineer of the Eastern Star? We asked gCaptain Editor-in-Chief and USCG Master Captain of Unlimited Tonnage John Konrad to weigh in:

“I don’t know what the weather looked like on-scene just prior to the tornado but, even if there were warnings, tornados are hard to predict. I have seen one small tornado (or large water spout) at sea myself and luck is the primary reason we didn’t cross paths with it.”

“In short, unlike other notable incidents like the Costa Concordia and Sewol Ferry, there was probably nothing this captain did wrong… but would it surprise you if I said that Captain Hazelwood (ed’s note: of 1989 Exxon Valdez spill fame) did nothing wrong either? In fact Joe Hazelwood was cleared of all charges and the coast guard gave him his license back… he’s legally allowed to sail as captain to this day. Where Joe Hazelwood is guilty is in the court of public opinion and in some countries like China that counts more than the facts.”

“This is, unfortunately, a wide spread problem in our industry” ‘Criminalization of the mariner’.”

Ultimately, there’s a recent trend of governments overlooking international maritime treaties and admiralty laws to address maritime incidents (of which there are more than anyone should want to count) in a manner whose primary objective seems to be initiating a prison sentence rather than following legal precedent and laws related to maritime conduct. How did marine transportation become so disconnected from the general public it so vitally serves? Part of the answer may lie in the vast technological changes occurring in the 21 century that have transformed all things, including the media–an arena in which maritime transportation garners a generally poor public opinion.”

Read more on the Criminalization of the mariner at Ships and Tugs, and Keep updated on the Eastern Star tragedy at gCaptain. -OJB

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