Blaming and scapegoating in accidents: Understanding a ship captain’s perspective

September 12, 2021



There is a very basic need that arises at a human, organizational and societal level every time we are faced with an accident. Whose fault was it? Who screwed up? Who is to blame or who is to take accountability?

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand where we will make an attempt to address this question using a very specific accident case. And it goes back to December 2007 when a crane mounted on a barge ran into the merchant tanker Hebei Spirit while she was at anchor which then led to over 10,500 tons of crude oil being spilled into the Yellow Sea off the coast of South Korea.

The high court said in its verdict that “the captain could have averted a collision by pulling up the anchor or moving backwards at full or half the usual speed.”  And the captain of the ship, Jaspreet Chawla, was sentenced to prison for over a month and ended up in South Korea for almost 18 months.

It makes very little sense to blame the captain when the ship is at anchor and hence very limited in her capacity to move and therefore avert a collision. Why then was he sentenced to prison? We blame and scapegoat professionals even when we have reasons to believe that they did everything in their capacity to handle the situation? Why is that so?

To answer this question, I invited Captain Jaspreet Chawla along with a panel of experts in safety sciences and human factors from around the world that includes Johan Bergstrom, Rosa Carillo and Ivan Pupulidy for this hour-long discussion. I hope you will find the discussion insightful and informative.

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