African Pearl ran aground in Congo river, third vessel since last year

On 8th September 2021, MT African Pearl ran aground in the Congo river and stood still some 400m away from the navigation buoy. The initial reports suggest no severe damage to the vessel, environment, and crew.

The Congo river is now a curious case as the number of vessels running aground is rising. Last year in June, oil tanker MT Sea Force ran aground followed by MT Venlo (recent name: OWL 6) hitting the river bed in July 2020. The initial investigation of the MT Venlo incident held the pilot accountable for the grounding as the vessel was directed some 200m away from the safe path, beyond the navigational buoys.

This time MT African Pearl was found to be lying more than 400m away from the buoy. Industry personnel have raised serious suspicion on the incident being a mere accident. Congolaise des Voies Maritimes (CVM) is directly responsible for the positioning of the navigational buoys, which are placed only after proper sounding of the river has been taken. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that authorities are well aware of the river depth while directing a vessel in the river.

The position of the grounded vessels gives rise to the question, were these vessels deliberately grounded? In the case of MT African Pearl, the pilot had received the instructions to halt the vessel at Boma anchorage and wait for an experienced pilot to board the vessel for final approach and berthing. The onboard pilot deliberately ignored the instructions and proceeded, ultimately grounding MT African Pearl. The pilot has been suspended and may face serious charges once the detailed investigation is complete.

It would be too early to say whether the grounding of MT African Pearl was an accident or not. It would be best to wait for investigation reports to come up before any conclusion is drawn. To protect the interest of charterers who have been directly affected by these grounding, it is very important that people responsible are held accountable and brought to justice.

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