Doomed dredger’s unqualified officer-in-command jailed for two years by Singapore court

An unqualified and non-English speaking deck officer in charge of the Dominica-flagged 108m-long trailing suction hopper dredger JBB De Rong 19 involved in a fatal collision with an Indonesian tanker in Singapore waters last year was jailed for two years by a Singapore court after he pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of five of his crew by performing a rash act, The Straits Times reported.

A district court was told that Chinese national Ding Zongde, who was the vessels’ first chief officer was neither qualified nor certified to be in control of a vessel of that size and in addition could not speak English, according to the report.

In spite of this, Ding took command of the vessel and ignored the directions given by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), resulting in the crash which claimed the lives of five of the 12 crew on the dredger when it sailed into the path of the Indonesia-registered Kartika Segara. The 180m long Sulawesi-bound tanker crashed into the starboard side of the dredger, causing it to capsize.

JBB De Rong 19, which is owned by Johor-based dredging and reclamation works firm Benzmark Development and managed by its unit LK Global Shipping, was passing through Singapore waters to deliver sand for reclamation works in Johor. According to Benzmark’s website, the company lists its current projects as reclamation works for Country Gardens’ Forest City project in southwestern Johor and Kuantan Port. Both these projects involve Chinese companies.

Ding was one of two chief officers on board the vessel and had taken over from the other chief officer at around 2300 hrs on 12 September last year while Malaysian crew member Mohd Zuhair Roslan manned the radio as the Chinese national could not speak English, the report said. All 11 other crew members were Chinese nationals.

Ding and Mohd Zuhair had difficulties communicating verbally and apparently communicated by using simple hand gestures. The Kartika Segara was spotted on JBB De Rong 19’s starboard side and after receiving instructions from Singapore's Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS) Mohd Zuhair signalled to Ding that he should give way to the tanker.

The course of the two vessels can be viewed in a video from VesselFinder

Ding ignored the instructions as he felt his vessel could pass ahead of the tanker. At the time, JBB De Rong 19 was transiting westbound in the Singapore Strait, while Kartika Segara was leaving Singapore and crossing the traffic separation scheme to join the eastbound lane of the Singapore Strait.

At 0035 on Sept 13 VTIS Central asked JBB De Rong 19 to take immediate action to avoid a collision and the vessel was ordered to slow down and give way. Mohd Zuhair acknowledged the instructions and signalled Ding to slow the vessel down.

Ding cut the vessel's engines but only belatedly realized a collision was imminent before going into full reverse. Seconds later, Kartika Segara slammed into the starboard quarter of JBB, and the dredger lost power and was plunged into darkness before capsizing less than a minute later.

Read More: Two bodies recovered from S'pore Strait collision, vessels warned prior to incident

Posted 12 July 2018

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Vincent Wee

Asia Editor, Seatrade Maritime News