BELGISCHE MARITIEME LIGA  vzw.
LIGUE MARITIME BELGE  asbl.

Koninklijke Vereniging - Société Royale

HISTORIEK  HISTORIQUE  HISTORIC

Republic of Liberia : Report of the preliminary of Investigation Into the Sinking of the Liberian Tanker SALEM O.N. 5958


Which occurred off the coast of West African or about 16-17 January 1980

Published in Monrovia, Liberia

 

INTRODUCTION
On 18 January, 1980 a report was received from Lloyd's Intelligence advising that the Liberian tanker SALEM ( O.N. 5958 ), a ship of about 215,000 tons deadweight, had foundered on 17 January, 1930 near Dakar, West Africa.

Further advice from Lloyd's Intelligence advised that the ship was laden with 193,000 tons of crude oil and had sunk in a position 12º 38' North,18º 34' West as a result of explosions.

The master and other crew members had been rescued by the United Kingdom tanker BRITISH TRIDENT and landed at Dakar. Between 18 and 29 January information received by the Marine Safety Department from the British Press and other sources indicated suspicion that the sinking of SALEM might not have been accidental. Some newspapers openly alleged that the sinking of the ship was deliberate and that no oil cargo was on board, it having been off-loaded at Durban, South Africa more than two weeks before the ship sank. It was also alleged that certain individual crew members of SALEM had previously been involved in the sinking of other ships. It was therefore in this highly charged atmosphere of suspicion and allegation that the Preliminary Investigation into the casualty was organized.

 

AUTHORITY

In accordance with the provisions of Liberian Maritime Regulation 9.258, Fred T.Lininger, Senior Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, R.L. instructed the under noted persons to conduct the Preliminary Investigation.

Captain Alister Crombie, Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, R. L.

Captain A. I. Tzamtzis, Marine Safety Office (Mediterranean)

Kenneth H. Volk, Attorney at Law, Legal Advisor

The investigation was conducted primarily at the Port of Monrovia, Liberia in February and March, 1980. Valuable information was obtained elsewhere, however. Captain Tzamtzis interviewed eleven of the Greek crew members at Piraeus in February and obtained signed statements. Captain David J. F. Bruce, Officer-in-Charge of the Liberian Regional Marine Safety Office, London, interviewed and obtained signed statements from four officers and two deck cadets of the MV BRITISH TRIDENT, the vessel which rescued the survivors of the SALEM. Deputy Commissioner J. C. Montgomery proceeded to Dakar, Senegal where the SALEM's officers and crew had been put ashore by the BRITISH TRIDENT and there he interviewed and obtained a signed statement from Captain Dimitrios Georgoulis, Master of the SALEM. Finally, important assistance and valuable information were obtained from Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Griggs and Detective Inspector Reginald Golding of the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) Fraud Squad.

 

DESCRIPTION OF SALEM

The S.S. SALEM (O.N. 5958), formerly the S.S. SOUTH SUN, was an oil tanker built in 1969 by Kockums Shipyard at Malmo, Sweden. Her length was 1037 feet, breadth 160 feet and depth 80 feet 4½ inches. She was of 92,228 gross tons with a deadweight of  approximately 215,000 tons.

She was powered by a steam turbine developing 32,000 shaft horsepower to a single propeller, with her engine room and bridge structure aft.

Her hull was divided into sixteen main compartments, three abreast numbered  1 through 6, number 4 tank being a single large compartment. All tanks were designed for carriage of cargo with the exception of tanks 3 port and starboard which were permanent ballast tanks. She had four steam-driven main cargo pumps located in the pump room just forward of the engine room. In the engine room, there were two main boilers, with superheat, and an auxiliary boiler. There was one electrically driven bilge pump and two electrically driven general service pumps which could, in an emergency, take suction from the engine room bilges. The vessel was also equipped with one portable pump. There were two main generators, one diesel and one steam, and also an emergency diesel generator of less capacity. The manufacturer, size and capacity of these various pieces of equipment are presently unknown, our only source of information as of this report being the oral testimony of Chief Engineer Antonios Kalomiropoulos who was interviewed in Monrovia and whose version of the facts will be set out below. At the time of her loss the SALEM was classed to the highest standards of Lloyd's Register of Shipping and met all the requirements for registration under the laws of Liberia. All the Statutory Certificates required by International Conventions to which Liberia is a signatory were valid except the Safety Radio Telegraphy Certificate which had expired one month before the casualty. However, with the exception of Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos, none of her officers was properly licensed.

 

VERSION OF FACTS AS GIVEN BY MASTER AND CHIEF ENGINEER

Pursuant to the request of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Liberia, the Republic of Senegal granted the extradition of Captain Dimitrios Georgoulis and Chief Engineer Antonios Kalomiropoulos, and these two officers were brought to Monrovia about 8 March, 1980.Because there was suspicion of criminal conduct on the part of these two men, prior to questioning by us they were advised of their rights to counsel pursuant to Section 5.4 of the Rules for Maritime Investigations. Both thereupon requested legal representation and informed us that their attorney from Greece, Mr. John Katsieris, was present in Monrovia. Mr. Katsieris was summoned and advised that while he himself could not act in a legal capacity, because he is not admitted to the Bar of Liberia, he was free to obtain Liberian counsel of his choosing. In due course The Findley Law Firm was engaged and though out the questioning of the two officers they were represented by Mr. A. Benedict Clark, Jr. of that firm. Although Captain Georgoulis speaks at least some English, he elected to testify in Greek and all questions and answers were interpreted through Captain Tzamtzis. Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos speaks very little English and his testimony also was through Captain Tzamtzis. No stenographic minutes were maintained, nor were the witnesses sworn, this being only a Preliminary Investigation. The witnesses were interrogated separately, Georgoulis on 14 March and Kalomiropoulos on 15 March, 1980.Captain Georgoulis was born in Greece on 24 December, 1937. After graduating from high school in 1956 at the age of 18 he went to sea and made the sea his livelihood except for two years, 1969-1971, when he lived in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. assisting his brother in the operation of a food store. Prior to the SALEM, he had sailed on various vessels, including tankers, as an officer in every grade. The largest vessel upon which he had ever served was about 56,000 tons, whereas his largest vessel prior to the SALEM as master was only 12,000 tons. He does not hold and has never held either a Liberian or a Greek license in any capacity. In 1967 he obtained a chief mate's license from the Republic of Panama which, he states, is still in force. It was not produced for our inspection, however. Chief Engineer Antonios Kalomiropoulos was born in Greece on 22 January, 1947. After finishing his studies at a marine engineers school in Athens he went to sea in 1968 and had made the sea his livelihood ever since. He has sailed on both steam and motor vessels in all grades of engineering, including chief engineer, and holds valid licenses as chief engineer, steam and diesel, both from Greece and from Liberia (license No. 149711). Based upon the crew list and our examination of the pertinent records, Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos was the only officer of the SALEM who was properly licensed and qualified under Liberian law. Both Captain Georgoulis and Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos gave virtually identical accounts of events relating to the SALEM with only minor variations, which will be noted. Their version is as follows: Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos were engaged to serve on the SALEM by Mitnizafir Navigation Company of Piraeus, Greece, acting on behalf of owners. They responded to a published notice and met Captain N. Mytakis of Mitnizafir at some time during the end of August or beginning of September. Neither man had known each other before nor had they ever previously obtained employment through Mytakis. They did not discuss with Mytakis the name of the ship or the owner. In fact they claim they never knew who the owner was. They were only told that the owner was negotiating for a large tanker and was looking for a crew. At one point, probably early September, when Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos first met each other in the office of Mytakis, also present was a man introduced to them as Bert Stein, representing the owner. The conversation centred upon the type of ship and the amount of money they were to be paid, nothing more. Captain Georgoulis said that his pay was to be about $3,000 per month whereas Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos said that he was to be paid about $3,500 per month. Georgoulis told Mytakis and Stein that he had no master's license, but apparently this made no difference. Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos were then advised by Mytakis that the owners were interested in buying a ship named the PAOLA, a steam tanker of about 210,000 tons deadweight registered under the laws of Liberia with an Italian crew. We have been unable to find any vessel of this name in Lloyd's Register of Ships. In early October the two men were sent by Mytakis to Gibraltar where they boarded the PAOLA which was then en route in ballast to Malta. Their instructions were to inspect the vessel to determine her condition and report to Mytakis. On reaching Malta a few days later the PAOLA went to anchor and Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos came ashore. They telephoned Mytakis and reported that the ship was in apparent good condition and were told that the remainder of the crew would be arriving momentarily at Malta to take over the ship, further instructions to come later. About 26 officers and crew did arrive at Malta and they, with the Captain and Chief Engineer, stayed ashore at a hotel awaiting orders. After a few days Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos, apparently concerned about the delay, returned to Athens and went to the offices of Mytakis for an explanation. It should be noted that both witnesses were vague about times, giving only estimates throughout. Mytakis told him that the planned purchase of the PAOLA had for some unknown reason been cancelled but that his principal was still searching for a suitable large tanker. Kalomiropoulos said that he would look for other employment unless Mytakis found him a position promptly. A few days later Mytakis called Kalomiropoulos at his home and told him that a second vessel had been located, the SOUTH SUN, and that he was to fly immediately to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to meet her. Kalomiropoulos went to Dar Es Salaam, as instructed, where he joined Captain Georgoulis and the other officers and crew members who arrived about the same time. There were 25 men altogether, 10 Tunisians and 15 Greeks, including the Master and Chief Engineer. They waited for about three weeks but the SOUTH SUN never arrived. Finally, Captain Georgoulis received instructions from Mytakis to proceed immediately to Dubai where the vessel was waiting. The crew arrived at Dubai about 27 November, 1979. The SOUTH SUN was then lying at anchor in ballast and next day the Captain and Chief Engineer went aboard to inspect her. However, the Master denied them permission to do so and the two men returned ashore where Georgoulis telephoned Mytakis for clarification. They were instructed to try again and next day Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos proceeded to the SOUTH SUN where this time they were authorized to make a complete inspection which lasted into the late afternoon. Upon returning ashore they reported again to Mytakis advising that the ship appeared to be in good order, whereupon Mytakis instructed them to take the crew aboard and await further orders. When the new crew arrived the old crew departed except for the Chief Engineer and Chief Mate who remained aboard for a few days to assist in the transition of ownership. An inventory was taken of bunkers, diesel oil and lube oil and Kalomiropoulos signed a report acknowledging the quantities remaining on board, including approximately 5300 tons of fuel. As reflected in the records of the Office of Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, the certificate of registration of the vessel under the name of SALEM, owned by Oxford Shipping Company, Inc. organized under the laws of Liberia, was issued on 3 December, 1979.However, both Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos deny that they knew that Oxford was the owner, or indeed that they ever knew the name of the owner. Captain Georgoulis also denied that he knew of any charter party. Anything at all which he learned, he learned from Mytakis, who relayed to him the voyage instructions from Shipomex, Inc., another Liberian company. Under these instructions the vessel was to proceed to Mina al Ahmadi, Kuwait, and load a cargo of light crude oil to be taken to Italy for the account of an oil broker named Pontoil giving estimated times of arrival off Capetown and off Gibraltar. Accordingly, about 6 December the vessel, under her new name SALEM, sailed from Dubai to Mina al Ahmadi with 27 people on board including the wives of the cook and the electrician, Papaleon. At Mina al Ahmadi three of the crew departed, Third Mate Tziranis, First Assistant Engineer Ktistakis and Pumpman Dzieris. According to Georgoulis all three left because they were "lazy" and did not want to do the work. Kalomiropoulos said that Assistant Engineer Ktistakis was performing in a poor manner and when he was rebuked about this, he decided to leave. They were replaced by Third Mate Skiadopoulos and Third Assistant Engineer Noros. There was no replacement for the pumpman who was not required under Liberian manning regulations. Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos said that Moros had been sent to the ship as an additional engineer, making four assistant engineers in all, and not as a replacement for Ktistakis. Liberian regulations require only three assistant engineers. Also at Mina al Ahmadi the two women left the ship and returned to Greece. Thus, the total number of persons on board upon leaving Mina al Ahmadi was 24, the original 10 Tunisians and 14 Greeks. The SALEM departed Mina al Ahmadi on 10 December having taken on board approximately 193,000 tons of light crude oil giving a draft fore and aft of approximately 61 feet. This was not quite a full load because of the draft restrictions at the loading berth. The SALEM also had on board approximately 5300 tons of bunkers. The Chief Engineer estimated that at a speed of approximately 12 knots this should be enough for the voyage but without the 5 day margin for safety which he felt desirable for this occasion. The SALEM, being too large for the Suez Canal, set her course for the Cape of Good Hope proceeding down the easterly coast of Africa at a speed of  approximately 12 knots, between 75 and 80 revolutions per minute. This resulted in a consumption of between 135 and 140 tons of fuel per day. Georgoulis estimated the time of passing Capetown at 27 December and so advised Shipomex who were said to be the charterers. The voyage proceeded uneventfully until about a day before passing Capetown when a leak developed in the tubing in the port boiler. The Chief Engineer reported this to the Captain, recommending that the boiler be secured so that repairs could be made. The port boiler was shutdown and speed was reduced to about 7½ knots at 40 or 50 revolutions per minute and using approximately 70-80 tons of fuel per day. Upon inspection it was found that three tubes in the back of the superheat section of the boiler were leaking. These tubes were plugged and the boiler was then re-lighted and put on the line. However, the repairs took about 15 days and the boiler was not back in service until approximately 14 January when speed of 12 knots was resumed. On 16 January, 1980 at approximately 0355 the fire alarm sounded and Captain Georgoulis, who was in bed, immediately started toward the bridge. As he reached the bridge there was a muffled explosion which sounded as though it were just forward of the deck house in the vicinity of the pump room. When he entered the wheelhouse, where Chief Mate Anivas was on watch with seaman Mahmoud, Georgoulis could see smoke coming from the bow of the ship. We questioned him closely about this, but he could not describe the colour of the smoke, although he could see it because it was just breaking day. On the other hand Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos, who had been awakened by the explosion and went immediately to the engine room, said that it was still very dark outside and indeed that it was still dark when the crew abandoned the vessel in lifeboats about a half hour later. At some later time he saw the smoke which he described as being dark grey to black. We have computed that sunrise at the scene of the casualty was at 0626 local time. Upon arriving in the engine room Kalomiropoulos observed that the engines had been stopped and learned from the First Assistant, who had just taken over the watch, that he had stopped the engines without orders as soon as the explosion occurred. Kalomiropoulos also was told that water was coming into the engine room apparently from the forward section where the bulkhead divides the engine room from the pump room. Kalomiropoulos immediately turned on the electric bilge pump and switched the general service pumps to the bilge suction. He then instructed the First Assistant to remain at his station while he, Kalomiropoulos, went to the bridge. There he reported to Georgoulis that the engine room was taking water and that every available pump was operating in an attempt to control the flooding. Georgoulis instructed the Chief Engineer to go back to the engine room to determine whether the flooding was under control; if not he was to turn on the emergency generator and proceed to his lifeboat promptly. Georgoulis told Kalomiropoulos that he had already ordered the Chief Mate to prepare for abandoning the ship. At some time shortly thereafter the Master sounded the abandon ship signal on the whistle, seven short blasts followed by one long blast. When he returned to the engine room Kalomiropoulos could see that the water was rising above the floorplates, having come up about one meter during the time he had been to the bridge. Accordingly, he shut down the turbo generator, causing the emergency diesel to start automatically thus providing the ship with sufficient power for her navigation lights and other internal lights. He then secured the boilers and left the engine room preceded by the First Assistant whom he told to go directly to his lifeboat while he, Kalomiropoulos, checked on the auxiliary generator to see that it was functioning properly. From there Kalomiropoulos himself went to the boat deck where he could see that both boats were already in the water. The ship was at dead stop. He and the Captain entered the starboard boat with nine other men and Chief Mate Anivas was in the port boat with ten men. The radioman was in the Captain's boat. Prior to leaving the bridge Georgoulis instructed the radioman to send out an SOS, giving an approximate position of about 120 miles south westerly of Dakar which he could not remember. The radioman reported to the Captain that the message had been sent but that he had received no response. We have no record of this message having been received by any ship or coast station. Neither Georgoulis nor Kalomiropoulos took with them any personal possessions, explaining that they had no time. None of the ship's documents were saved with the exception of the registration certificate which had been delivered to the ship by the vessel's agent at Mina al Ahmadi. Chief Mate Anivas saved that document along with all passports which he had assembled in preparation for entering Tenerife, where Shipomex had instructed the vessel to proceed for bunkers. The SALEM was abandoned about 0430 16 January with smoke still coming from the bow and the engine room continuing to flood. The weather was good with wind from the northwest about 10 knots, moderate swells and fair visibility. The two lifeboats remained in the vicinity of the sinking SALEM throughout. About 0800 on 16 January a second explosion occurred on the ship but the location could not be determined since the boats were then about a mile or so distant from the ship. Although the radioman was sending out distress signals on a portable radio at regular intervals, no vessels were sighted or heard from throughout the day of 16 January. About 0400 on 17 January another much louder explosion was heard from the SALEM and it was noted that at this time the navigational lights went out. About 1030 or 1100 the radioman told Georgoulis that a ship had responded to their distress calls. This was the MV BRITISH TRIDENT, a large southbound tanker. An orange flare was sent up and about a half hour later the TRIDENT reached the two lifeboats. At approximately this time, perhaps 1100 or 1130, 17 January, the SALEM sank, rolling over to port and going down stern first. Although there was smoke, Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos both said that at no time was any fire or flame ever sighted on the SALEM. However, there was some oil seen on the water which was presumed to be cargo. No one was injured, except for one man who bruised his nose while entering the lifeboat. Captain Georgoulis was questioned closely as to his reasons for abandoning ship so quickly. He said that he was concerned about the possibility of a second explosion and considered the safety of the crew to be of paramount importance. However, he made no attempt of any kind to determine the source of the explosion or its cause. No one was sent to look into the pump room nor was anyone sent forward to the bow to examine the source of the smoke. Georgoulis said he thought this might be too dangerous. The flooding of the engine room, while serious, was not his primary concern; he would have abandoned even had it been possible to control the flooding because of his fear of a second explosion. Nor did Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos make any attempt to discover the source of the water entering the engine room. He gave no explanation except that he found it difficult to see. But he had a flashlight with him and still made no effort to look for the trouble. No one else in the engine room bothered to look either. The fear of a second explosion was uppermost in the minds of the crew. Both Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos strongly denied the SALEM ever stopped at Durban, South Africa. They also strongly denied any suggestion that the sinking of the SALEM was anything but accidental. The BRITISH TRIDENT took the two lifeboats aboard and proceeded to Dakar where the crew was put ashore. Georgoulis called Mytakis and requested money and a few days later a representative by the name of Hatzichristos from the office of Mytakis arrived with $47,000.The Captain disbursed this to the various crew members to enable them to buy clothes and pay for other necessaries. He said that most of the crew had been unable to save any clothes and at most they had just a few personal possessions with them when they entered the lifeboats. Georgoulis gave no strict accounting for the money and was unable to specify how much was retained by him.

 

VERSION OF OTHER GREEK CREW MEMBERS

As indicated earlier, Captain Tzamtzis interviewed eleven Greek officers and crew members at Piraeus in the early part of February. There are some discrepancies between their version and the version as given by Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos. For example, several of the crew stated they saw not only smoke but fire. Chief Steward Molochas states: "From far away we saw smoke and fire like lightning in the bow." Electrician Papleon said that he saw the glow of flames from the vessel. Black smoke and flames were seen by Bosun Molohas and Third Mate Skiadopoulos also said he saw fire and smoke when he looked out his porthole. The significance of all this is that it makes it difficult to explain why there was no fire or smoke when the BRITISH TRIDENT arrived on the scene, The statements obtained by Captain Bruce declare that there was no sign of fire or explosion. Another point of inconsistency deals with the number and severity of the explosions which occurred on the SALEM. Second Mate Gerakoulis states that in addition to continuous smoke and flames from the bow, other explosions occurred followed by a great explosion about1000 on 17 January (only an hour before the arrival of the BRITISH TRIDENT). Others say there were a series of explosions continuing throughout the16th. One would expect that this would result in severe and obvious structural damage, yet those on the BRITISH TRIDENT saw none. Another point of inconsistency has to do with the speed of the vessel. The distance between Mina al Ahmadi and the point of sinking is approximately 8,634 nautical miles ( 5,104miles to Cape of Good Hope and 3,530 from the Cape to the point of sinking ). At an average of 12 knots this would take 30 days so that the vessel should have been at the point of sinking on January 9 were it not for the reduced speed resulting from the trouble with the port boiler. However, Chief Mate Anivas and Third Assistant Engineer Moros told Captain Tzamtzis that the vessel was making an average of 13 knots, not 12 knots. This makes a difference of approximately 2½ days to cover the total distance of 8,634 miles. Further, when he was first interviewed First Assistant Mavros said that the repairs to the port boiler took only 7 or 8 days. Then he returned for a second interview by Captain Tzamtzis and changed his statement so as to agree with the version given by the Captain and Chief Engineer, i.e. repairs to the port boiler were not completed until 14 January, taking a total time of about 15 days for repairs. These discrepancies are of great importance in explaining why it took 38 days for the vessel to reach a point which normally should have required only 27 or 30 days. Some accounting must be given for the missing time of a week or ten days and the explanation given by Captain and Chief Engineer is that the vessel was forced to reduce speed by reason of the repairs to the port boiler. Others contend that the time was spent in Durban discharging the cargo.

 

SCOTLAND YARD INVESTIGATION

On 10 and 11 March, 1980 we met and conferred with Detective Chief Superintendent Griggs and Detective Inspector Golding of Scotland Yard who were then in Monrovia. They had spent considerable time and effort in South Africa assembling facts about the voyage of the SALEM and had come to Monrovia in the hope of interviewing Captain Georgoulis and Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos. They expressed to us the interest of the British Authorities in prosecuting those who might be responsible for what they consider to be an international fraud against underwriters involving the discharge of the cargo at Durban and the subsequent deliberate sinking of the SALEM. The evidence which these two policemen have gathered regarding the discharge of the oil in Durban is indeed formidable. According to this evidence the vessel called at Durban under the name of LEMA between 27 December and 4 January. Captain Georgoulis spent two nights ashore at Durban staying at the Royal Hotel. We have seen copies of the hotel registration bearing the Captain's signature. He was accompanied by a woman who was the wife of the Electrician Papaleon. Arrangements were made for her return from Durban to Greece and copies of the airline bookings are in the possession of Mr. Griggs. While in Durban certain foodstuffs and other supplies were delivered to the LEMA pursuant to the request of Georgoulis and his name and signature appear on the delivery receipt now in the possession of Mr. Griggs. Signed statements have been obtained from witnesses who saw Georgoulis while he was ashore. Telephone calls to Greece and Switzerland have been traced from Durban and it is known that Georgoulis spoke with Mr. Mytakis during that time. One of the Tunisian crew members became ill from an apparent heart condition and was treated ashore in Durban. These records also are in the hands of Mr. Griggs. Finally, Mr.Griggs read to us portions of a statement by one of the Tunisian crew members (name unknown to us) which was given to the London solicitors representing the hull underwriters of the SALEM. This statement describes in considerable detail how the SALEM was deliberately scuttled by removing various large plates and manholes on deck and permitting water to enter into the engine room and other spaces. The Scotland Yard officers would not allow us to take copies of any of the documents which were shown to us, nor would they give us any further details about the Tunisian seaman who allegedly gave the statement admitting the scuttling. They advised us that this information was of a confidential nature and should not be released to anyone not involved in the Liberian investigation into this casualty. Since this evidence is of such critical importance we consider reference to it must be made in this report. We believe that a formal request from Liberia to the Director of  Public prosecutions in London for access to these documents and other evidence for use in the prosecution which the Government of Liberia is undertaking would be favourably considered by the appropriate authorities in the United Kingdom.

 

OTHER EVIDENCE

On 24 March we conferred in New York with Mr. Hilliary Allen and Mr. Kenneth Boothman, senior surveyors for Lloyd's Register of  Shipping. At our request they have undertaken a study to determine what flooding was necessary to cause the SALEM to sink. Their calculations were made upon two sets of assumptions. First, that the vessel was fully loaded to a draft of 19 metres (i.e., 62.32', slightly greater than the actual draft of approximately 61' given by Georgoulis) with a cargo of light crude and second, that the ship was in ballast. Under the first assumption, their calculations establish that the vessel would not sink even with the forward peak tanks, the engine room, the two slop tanks and cargo tanks 6 port, centre and starboard flooded. In this connection they also assumed that cargo was loaded in tanks 3 port and starboard, but if those tanks were permanent ballast tanks, as told to us by Georgoulis, then they would have been empty, providing even more buoyancy. On the second assumption, that the vessel was in ballast, they again assumed a 19 metre draft with all tanks filled except wing tanks 2, 3, and 5. Under these conditions they concluded that the vessel would remain afloat even with the engine room and wing tanks 2 and 3 flooded. The point which these two surveyors stressed was that in no event could the vessel sink without substantial flooding of her cargo tanks meaning that, if there was indeed crude oil in those tanks, the oil must necessarily have been displaced by seawater. This raises the question of how or what caused the oil to escape? Explosions could have done it if the tanks were ruptured and opened to the sea but again there is no evidence that such is the case. Mr. Allen and Mr. Boothman have not yet concluded their studies and we expect further reports from them regarding the type of damage which might be expected from an explosion in the pump room and the type of  flooding which would have been necessary to sink the vessel with an initial draft of 61' instead of 62.31', the vessel sinking by the stern.

 

THE OWNERSHIP OF THE SALEM

By an agreement dated 27 November, 1979 between Andrew Triandafilou and John Avgerinos and "all the shareholders of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc." and Frederick Ed Soudan, the company was to be sold to Soudan upon certain terms and conditions, including the agreement of Triandafilou and Avgerinos to elect Soudan as President and Director and Anna Maria Soudan as Secretary and Director, and then themselves to resign as officers and directors, as of 27 November, 1979. It was further provided that pending the contingency of arrival at Durban and commencement of discharging a cargo of crude oil, certain "papers and documents, corporate books and seal" were to be held in escrow by the lawyers representing Triandafilou and Avgerinos. On 30 November, 1979, before a notary public in London, a required document for the registration of a vessel under the Liberian Maritime Law, the Oath of Officer or Agent of an Incorporated Company, was executed by Frederick Ed Soudan as President of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc.; this document named Dimitrios Georgoulis as the present or prospective master of the vessel, describing him as a citizen of Greece. On 3 December the vessel was sold, renamed SALEM and re-registered in the ownership of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc. On 24 December, 1979, on the letterhead of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc., a letter was delivered to the Office of Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of Liberia in New York, stating: Please be advised that at a Special Meeting of the Shareholders of this company held on December 24, 1979, Mr. Frederick Ed Soudan was removed as President/Director and Anna Maria Soudan was removed as Secretary/Director of this company. The new officers and directors are Andrew Triandafilou, President, and John Avgerinos, Secretary/Treasurer. This letter is to place you on notice not to honour any corporate actions authorized by Mr. Soudan or Maria Soudan as of December 24, 1979.This letter was signed by Andrew Triandafilou as President of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc. On 4 January, 1980, in a telex from Geneva, Switzerland, to the Liberia n Bureau of Maritime Affairs Operations Centre at Reston, Virginia, Soudan stated he had "temporarily lost documents pertaining to my ownership of  Oxford Shipping Company, Inc.", and further, "due to possibilities of fraud [in] transfer [of] registration please note that any request for change in the company status must be refused unless done in my absolute presence until documents are found." Upon the same date, 4 January, 1980, Soudan filed suit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, against Triandafilou, Avgerinos, their lawyers and others alleging violation of the agreement of 27 November, 1979 and procured an Order to Show Cause why defendants should not be enjoined from transferring the stock of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc. to one Anton Reidel instead of Soudan. An affidavit signed by Soudan' s attorney alleges that there was an agreement between Soudan and the defendants under which Soudan was to purchase the SOUTH SUN, have the vessel registered in the name of Oxford Shipping, and thereafter the stock of Oxford Shipping was to be sold to Soudan. The affidavit further alleges that in violation of this agreement the defendants had taken steps to transfer the stock to Reidel. Also included in the court papers was a copy of the written agreement dated 27 November, 1979, although the agreement was actually signed on 10 December, 1979, the day the SALEM sailed from Mina al Ahmadi with her cargo of Oil. It is entitled to Stock Purchase Agreement for the Shares of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc.  Paragraph 3 reads as follows: Purchaser (Soudan) agreed to pay the purchase price of dollars 300,000 to Northern Ships Agency, Inc. or its nominee on or about December 27, 1979, upon arrival of the vessel SOUTH SUN off Durban, South Africa (closing date) or any other discharge port. Paragraph 14 of the agreement states in part as follows: This agreement is exclusively contingent upon and subject to the lifting of a cargo of crude oil by the vessel SOUTH SUN and the arrival of the vessel at Durban, South Africa and commencement of discharging. No copy of this agreement was seen by, nor were any of its terms disclosed to, any officer of the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs until after the casualty. On 9 January, 1980 Oxford Shipping (Soudan) made application to the Office of Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of Liberia in New York City to transfer the ownership of  the SALEM to Mota Holdings Limited and to re-register the vessel under Liberian flag. Because of the letter of 24 December, 1979 from Triandafilou, the Office of Deputy Commissioner consulted Admiralty Counsel to the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs at the Operations Centre in Reston. After reviewing the file and talking by telephone with Soudan, Triandafilou and their lawyers, Admiralty Counsel advised the Office of Deputy Commissioner and the International Trust Company of Liberia and its correspondents to place an absolute freeze upon the status of the vessel and the registered owning corporation. Soudan, Triandafilou and their lawyers were advised by Admiralty Counsel that no applications for any change of status would be entertained until receipt of a certified copy of an appropriate order by a court of competent jurisdiction, resolving the dispute between the parties. On the same day, 9 January, 1980 the defendants in the suit procured a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining Soudan from selling, transferring or entering into a contract of sale of the tanker SALEM. On 14 January, 1980, Admiralty Counsel of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs was advised by Triandafilou that the dispute had been resolved and that Soudan was in complete control of Oxford Shipping, and further that a stipulation would be submitted on the following day to the Supreme Court of the State of New York withdrawing the complaint and settling the suit. This was followed by a notarised statement by Soudan on the letterhead of Oxford Shipping Company, Inc., executed before a notary public in Texas and dated 15 January, 1980, to the effect that he and Anna Maria Soudan 'tare the only two Directors authorized to sign on behalf of Oxford Shipping." Another official Liberian document dated 15 January, 1980, signed by Soudan and notarised in Texas acknowledges him as "President, owner and attorney in fact of the Liberian flag vessel SALEM." It was against this background that the Investigation Division of the Marine Safety Department of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs of Liberia learned of the loss of the SALEM on18 January, 1980. From that moment the Preliminary Investigation was based upon suspicion of fraud. When we questioned Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos they denied knowing or meeting Soudan, Reidel or any of the persons named in the New York suit. They contend that they met Mr. Bert Stein only once, and that was at the offices of Mytakis in early September 1979.Another piece of evidence which we consider to be of importance is the inventory of the property found in the two SALEM lifeboats which was made by the Chief Mate of the BRITISH TRIDENT. This inventory covers some 151 items most of which would not normally be expected to be found as part of the lifeboat equipment. For example, there were such things as hacksaws, screwdrivers, paint brushes, hose clips, even two crowbars. In addition there was a sextant, binoculars, parallel rules and other navigational equipment normally found on the bridge of a vessel. No doubt all of this equipment had considerable value. Since, according to Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos, there was no time to save even the vessel's log books, it must be assumed that the equipment was placed in the lifeboats prior to the alleged explosion which occurred on the morning of 16 January. From this it might be concluded that the abandonment of the vessel had been anticipated prior to 16 January. Still another item of interest is information which has been obtained from Wallem Shipmanagement Ltd., representing the former owners of the SOUTH SUN. They report that the Chinese crew of the SOUTH SUN, numbering 42 in all, were somewhat surprised that they were being replaced with a much smaller crew of only 25. They were also surprised that many of the Greek crew members arrived with very few personal possessions. Lastly, we have received records of various radio telephone calls and radio telegrams showing charges for calls from a vessel identified only as LEMA but whose call letters were the same as those of the SALEM. These charges were incurred at the time the SALEM was in those waters. This clearly bears out earlier reports that the vessel did change her name to LEMA while calling at Durban.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Both Georgoulis and Kalomiropoulos strongly denied that SALEM ever stopped at Durban, South Africa. They also strongly denied any suggestion that the sinking of SALEM was anything but accidental. Although we are continuing to develop facts surrounding this casualty, it is our conclusion, based on all of the evidence at hand to date, that Captain Georgoulis and Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos have not told us the truth. We believe that the SALEM, having changed her name to LEMA, did stop at Durban on or about 27 December, 1979 where she discharged approximately 180,000 tons of crude oil. We further believe that thereafter the ship was deliberately scuttled off Dakar on or about 16-17 January. We believe that these actions were planned by others prior to the departure of the vessel from Mina al Ahmadi. The identity of the others involved in this fraud is not known with any certainty but it may be expected that the facts will eventually come to light through further investigation and court proceedings.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

At the conclusion of the interrogation of Captain Georgoulis he was formally served with charges of violation of Section 32 of the Liberian Maritime Law in that he knowingly acted as Master of a Liberian vessel without being properly licensed; knowingly failed to insure that the vessel had in her service properly licensed mates; and knowingly failed to insure that the vessel had in her service properly licensed engineers. It is recommended that these charges be transmitted to the Ministry of Justice and that Captain Georgoulis be prosecuted for these violations of law. It is also recommended that further charges be made against Captain Georgoulis for the wilful and deliberate sinking of the SALEM and that these charges be similarly transmitted to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. At the conclusion of the questioning of Chief Engineer Antonios Kalomiropoulos he was formally served with a charge for violation of Section 32 of the Liberian Maritime Law in that he knowingly failed to insure that the vessel had in her service properly licensed engineers. It is recommended that these charges be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. It is further recommended that Chief Engineer Kalomiropoulos be also charged with participation in the wilful and deliberate sinking of the SALEM and that these charges be similarly transmitted to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. The sinking of the SALEM was a major marine casualty with most serious consequences. If, as we believe, the vessel was deliberately scuttled, those responsible must be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law. The Republic of Liberia, with the largest merchant marine in the world, has a paramount interest in seeing that its laws are not violated and in demonstrating that such criminal activity will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Because of the international scope of the events leading up to the sinking of the ship, there should be full cooperation between countries having an interest in the matter. Evidence material to criminal prosecution should be freely made available to any country having physical jurisdiction over the perpetrators. Since Liberia now has custody of the Master and Chief Engineer of the SALEM we would hope that the United Kingdom and other countries will make available such evidence as they may have to assist in the proceedings against these men and all others involved.

Captain Alister Croinbie Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, R.L.
Captain A. I. Tzamtzis, Officer- in-Charge, Regional Marine Safety Office (Mediterranean), Bureau of Maritime Affairs, R.L.
Kenneth H. Volk, Of Counsel to Bureau of Maritime Affairs, R.L.

Transcribed by
Raymond Forward

 

 

 

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