The long-awaited, yet frequently delayed, report into the sinking of the 204-foot (60.2-meter) megayacht Yogi has finally been published by the French authorities. Unfortunately, it is somewhat sparse on facts and findings and appears to fall far short of the edifying document that many in the superyacht industry had hoped to read and learn from.
Yogi, delivered in 2011 by Proteksan Turquoise, was owned by a French national, surveyed and certified by ABS, built to MCA Large Yacht (LY2) standards, and surveyed and approved by the French flag authorities. You may recall that Yogi sank on February 17, 2012 while off the coast of Skyros, Greece. According to the Hellenic Coast Guard, the captain reported that Yogi had suffered mechanical failure, was unmanageable due to the weather conditions, and was flooding. Eight individuals—seven crew plus the captain—were aboard. The Coast Guard reported Force 8 weather conditions, a gale with winds between 34 and 40 knots and seas of 18 to 25 feet (5.5 to 7.5 meters). Video footage shot from one of the Coast Guard helicopters shows all eight people aboard the megayacht were in survival suits on an upper deck when rescue operations began, and Yogi was on her starboard side. The Coast Guard states it took a little over an hour to safely get everyone off the megayacht before she sank to the bottom.
The French authority that investigated Yogi’s sinking and created the report is the French Marine Accident Investigation Office, a.k.a. the Bureau d’Enquêtes sur les Évènements de Mer (BEAmer). The 40-page report, with a further appendix running to 50 pages, states at the beginning, “the analysis of this incident has not been carried out in order to determine or apportion criminal responsibility nor to assess individual or collective liability. Its sole purpose is to identify relevant safety issues and thereby prevent similar accidents in the future.” Unfortunately, it gives little away that was not already known, and it leaves questions unanswered. In addition, in places it appears to directly contradict evidence allegedly given by the crew to the Greek authorities just hours after the sinking.
For example, the BEAmer report mentions that Yogi’s beach club compartments and steering room were flooded, yet does not conclude how water got there. While it offers three hypothetical scenarios that each combine a few material and human factors, such as a door defect and no safety patrol right before the engine failure, the report states, “none of the three combinations above seem to be ‘robust’ enough to be retained in full by BEAmer.”
Also unanswered: Why is the safe manning document never referred to? Yogi was the type of megayacht that normally carries a crew of 15, yet she was somewhat shorthanded, with just eight crewmembers onboard, and in deplorable weather conditions. Why is the subject of crew fatigue not looked into by the BEAmer report? Yogi’s crew had been at work all day in the shipyard while preparing her for sea. She took on bunkers after leaving the shipyard, and simple mathematics, when applied to the practice of running of a large yacht, indicate that the guidelines for crew hours of rest may have well been breached. Why was this not mentioned in the report?
Then there is the matter of the floating cushions, a subject hotly debated among megayacht captains on various websites. Search the Web, and you’ll find photographs taken from the rescue helicopters that reveal clear images of cushions floating astern of the yacht—cushions normally used on deck. At first thought, this is not unusual. But, ask any captain in command of a superyacht where he would stow deck cushions while on passage in winter, and the answer will undoubtedly be “below deck.” This means, in all probability, in the lazarette or beach club. Yet, the BEAmer report never mentions them, nor questions what must have been open to let the cushions float free of the yacht.
There’s further the issue of what happened to the ship’s logbook. That might well have answered some of these other questions. Apparently, despite it being placed inside a watertight bag, it seems to have been lost during the rescue. Yet, the crew appeared able to leave Yogi with their personal passports and valuable documents intact.
The reporting organization clearly believes it would be a good idea to have verifiable evidence that backs up the crew testimony. This undoubtedly lays behind the recommendation that yachts should be fitted with voyage data-recording devices.
Of additional note, despite BEAmer not specifying any missteps made by any of the parties involved in the commissioning and operation of Yogi, the report outlines recommendations for individuals involved with other megayachts:
- inform the flag-state authority of any modification leading to a reconsideration of the validity of the vessel’s safety certificates, as well as the class reservations. (The BEAmer report mentions that a watertight door was removed and then put back on when Yogi was serviced at a shipyard in Italy, and seems to therefore find ABS at fault for not informing the French flag authorities. Yet, BEAmer does not present evidence that ABS knew this action had been taken.)
Owners of yachts in commercial use:
- implement, from the beginning of the building, ISO 9001 standard working procedures with the various companies taking part in the project
- inform the classification society, as soon as the property transfer, of any modification that could question the validity of the yacht’s certificates.
Naval architects and yacht builders:
- free themselves from the standards of aesthetics that could impair the safety of the crew and of the passengers, such as liferaft accessibility
- ban architectural options that pose risks for the vessel safety.
- ensure their regulations include references to the international convention with regard to large side doors opening into watertight compartments.
- include in their regulations a stability study, similar to those for passenger vessels, particularly mentioning the consequences of a minor breach:
- using a determinist method, for one vertical zone, or using a probabilistic method for the flooding of contiguous compartments
- including the influence of heeling moments due to heavier superstructures (Yogi, for example, had a different and heavier superstructure than two sisterships)
- require vessels over 500 gross tons to have a voyage-data recorder fitted with a capsule with a hydrostatic release unit and a buoyant device
- participate in inclining experiments.
One thing that is clear is that the BEAmer report has exonerated Proteksan Turquoise. Memhet Karabeyoğlu, CEO of Proteksan Turquoise, is understandably delighted; rumor and industry witch hunting caused the shipyard to suffer financially. He has said, “It is clear, as we at the shipyard have always felt and known, that Proteksan Turquoise acted within the law, that the shipyard did everything that was expected of it, and that there were no failings on our part.” Investigators had visited the Proteksan Turquoise shipyard in Pendrick a month or so after the foundering and were given access to three megayachts. Two of the megayachts were in build, and the third, the 10-year-old Mosaique, was in the shipyard for routine maintenance. In April 2012 three Turkish court-appointed officials concluded that Yogi did not sink due to design or engineering faults or construction defects. They independently, and without the knowledge of BEAmer, arrived at similar conclusions, in part, to those reached by the French investigators.
Even with this, because the BEAmer report still leaves many questions unanswered, it raises many more, especially when it comes to impartiality. The French report into the sinking of a French-owned superyacht that sailed under a French flag does appear to be critical of ABS, despite the French officials authorizing ABS to supervise the build. The report states that the classification society was, as authorized by the flag state, only permitted to issue the international free-board certificate, which is part of the loadline agreements. The report therefore implies ABS should not have been granted authority to do anything further.
Ultimately, for professional megayacht crew, as well as others, seeking to learn so that similar accidents do not occur, the BEAmer findings into the foundering of Yogi have left them in the dark.
The full report is posted on the BEAmer website and available for download.
In related news, the Hellenic Coast Guard has confirmed that it provided information about Yogi’s sinking and the rescue of the crew to the Piraeus-based Public Prosecutor’s Office last year for possible criminal investigation. No further details are available as to whether the case is still under investigation.