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Report Blames Captain Of Tanker That Grounded In Shetland

January 20, 1994

LONDON (AP) _ The captain of a tanker that ran aground in the Shetland Islands, spilling more than 24 million gallons of oil, was blamed today for ″a serious dereliction of duty″ that led to the accident.

The grounding of the Braer in a severe storm on Jan. 5, 1993, was the world’s 12th worst tanker spill.

A final report released today by the Department of Transport’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch for the first time officially accuses the tanker’s Greek captain, Alexandros Gelis, of causing the spill.

Gelis failed to take any action to fasten down or cast off spare steel pipes that broke loose aboard the Braer, the report said.

The loose pipes damaged the ship’s air pipes, allowing sea water to seep into storage tanks and contaminate the fuel supply of the Liberian-registered tanker. Eventually, both the main engine and generator failed, and the crew abandoned ship.

Hours later, hurricane-force winds drove the Braer onto the rocky shore of Quendale Bay. A fury of wind and waves battered the 797-foot ship, which slowly lost its cargo of 24.6 million gallons of oil, more than twice as much as the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil tanker accident in U.S. history.

Failure to deal with the loose pipes was a ″serious dereliction of the master’s duty to preserve the seaworthiness of his vessel and safety of her crew,″ the report said.

The ship’s managers, B and H Group of Stamford, Conn., said the report did not give enough weight to the severity of the weather and relied ″excessively upon hindsight″ in criticizing the captain for not tying down the loose pipes.

The company also noted that the report found the crew acted courageously and competently in difficult circumstances.

The damage from the spill was much less than initially feared because the rough weather quickly dispersed the Norwegian light crude.

But oil from the spill killed at least 1,549 birds, coated crops and livestock, contaminated some salmon farms and temporarily closed fishing grounds.

Gelis, 46, may face prosecution under Scottish law. A spokeswoman for the Crown Office, which handles prosecutions in Scotland, said the matter was being studied and no decision had been made.

The Braer, traveling from Norway to Quebec, was passing through a 26-mile stretch of water between the Shetland Islands and Fair Isle when it lost power. Under a new voluntary code, tankers are to stay within a 6-mile section of the channel, well away from Shetland’s coast. But the local government is powerless to punish ships that violate the code.

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