August 16, 2019 – As more details emerge about the fatal monoxide poisoning on a Croatian charter boat, more questions need to be asked about industry regulation.
It started out as a story about an alleged bad plate of mussels which led to the death of one Italian tourist and poisoned five others, two of whom (children) remain in intensive care.
The official investigation on the cause of death and illness quickly shifted the focus away from the restaurant and onto MY Atlantia, the charter boat the Italian group had chartered for almost 12,000 euro for a week of sailing around Dalmatia. It appears that the cause of death and illness was carbon monoxide poisoning due to an improperly installed generator on August 8, from which deadly fumes leaked into the boat’s cabins. The owner, a 23-year-old from Omis and the Atlantia’s 27-year-old captain, have been arrested.
Omis is in shock at the tragedy, and various people I spoke to talked of a very ordinary, hard-working family, whose only son bought Atlantia at the beginning of the year for this, his first season. And while it is natural that the focus will be on the events leading up to this tragedy, questions are already being raised not only about how such a thing could happen, but how likely it is that other such tragedies could occur. The Atlantia tragedy has focused attention on this issue, but various industry insiders have contacted me to say how they are sadly not surprised that something like this has happened, as regulation and controls are not what they perhaps should be.
I wrote an article last night called Hvar Tragedy: TripAdvisor 2018 Complaint of Noxious Fumes in Atlantia Cabin.
I contacted the poster, asking for more information and received a reply this morning, which surprised me. And then concerned me even more.
Our situation was different but still the boat was in terrible shape. I am a boater and have a 65ft yacht so I do know something about the mechanical side of things.
During our trip the AC was not running, so the generator they had was off most of the time. I would think that if this happened at night the generator was running and the exhaust fumes were leaking in.
In our case the grey water holding tank was getting full and the water would actually back up into the aft cabin. This was terribly smelly but not a CO issue. The boat was in bad mechanical shape, just not maintained well. From my experience it would need a minimum of about 50,000USD in maintenance at the time just to patch things up.
The boat did have a bit of an old boat smell, also at some anchorages everyone was running the generators so even if your window was open it would stink like exhaust. I can understand that it could easily happen that you would dismiss the exhaust smell inside the cabin. I am just speculating here anyway.
The generator they had when we were there did not work correctly, so it must have been fixed. Whoever did this work probably dropped the ball with the venting of the exhaust.
Also, in retrospect I wonder why a CO sensor is not required on any commercial vessel. I know over here in Canada we are required to have them.
So it would appear that the noxious fumes of last year in the cabins came from a different source, but the answer got me thinking about the level of checks and controls. Croatian nautical tourism is growing rapidly, and my sailing friends tell me that more and more people with less and less experience are jumping on the bandwagon, with profit seemingly the most important factor. A snapshot of a view from an experienced sailor who has spent years working on the boats on the Croatian coast is just one excerpt from my increasingly busy inbox:
The larger story is poor regulations. Boat registries hardly do their job, you can normally pay and they check basics like the amount of fire extinguishers, not important systems like engines etc.
There are also new captains taking over these large yachts and gulets with ZERO experience. I’ve actually been saying since the beginning of the season that I am surprised there haven’t been more serious incidents, what happened is the worst possible scenario.
Everything in the system has been made to make it as easy as possible for boats to get registered and people to get their Captain’s license to fill the increase in nautical tourism. With zero experience and zero respect for basic seamanship.
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Our old friend, the Croatian tourism strategy. Numbers over quality experience.
I am no sailor, my sailing knowledge is limited, and it is in nobody’s interests to sensationalise the story, but surely it is in everyone’s interests to do a thorough investigation into current practices, put safety not profit at the top of the agenda, and make sure that such incidents never happen again?
TCN will invest some effort to researching this topic further in the public interest. If you have a story, expert comment, or something constructive to add (no rants of unhappy customers, please), we would to hear from you on [email protected] Subject Sailing. Contributions will be anonymous if required