The Sixth Form Purvis Society was delighted to welcome Mr Oliver Weiss to deliver the fourth and final talk of the term. An old boy of the School, and a Governor to boot, he has nearly 40 years’ experience in maritime law and the imagination of the audience was caught, even before the presentation began, by the projection of a (highly speculative) disaster report concerning the loss of the ‘Hanjin Pennsylvania’. She was a large box ship that was launched in March 2002 and, although small by today’s standards, was designed to carry 4,500 containers. These were stacked eight high in the holds (of which the ship had several) and six high on deck and, in the early hours of 11th November 2002, she blew up off Colombo in the Indian Ocean. She was a total loss and two men lost their lives in the explosion.
Using photographs of the ship (some taken several days after the initial explosion when the vessel was still smouldering), Mr Weiss led his audience through the detective work that went into determining what actually happened. While all cases of arbitration are confidential, he did reveal enough detail to allow those present to wonder at the following:
- the need to change ballast water when moving around the world in order not to convey too many foreign life-forms from one ocean to another
- a container, while listed as having a non-hazardous content (but one likely to become very hazardous indeed if soaked in seawater), being placed at the very bottom of the hold
- how the watch could have missed alarms going off informing them of water in one of the holds
- how critical it is to ensure that valve operation through the bridge control systems is accurate.
The result was an explosion that was so huge as almost to empty one of the holds and to clear the deck above (remember that the containers were piled 14 high), reducing a significant section of the ship to a tangled mass of metal. The explosion caused the tragic death of two crew members who were on deck at the time. The families were indemnified under their seafaring contracts. Mr Weiss then engaged the members of his audience to analyse the evidence. Asking them to act and think as lawyers he drove them to identify the issues with which any party involved in a casualty of this nature would have to grapple. Several interesting points were raised and the massive complexity of the situation was gradually revealed.
Several members of the Sixth Form subsequently joined our speaker for a formal dinner in Hall, splendidly prepared by our Executive Chef Jon Smith and his team.