Thursday, January 20, 2022

"Can Overboard"

 Maybe not as recognizeable a cry as the legendary "Man Overboard", but it certainly is a common occurrence these days for containers (Sea Cans in popular parlance) to be lost overboard. Usually we hear of these losses from ships in the Pacific, such as the Zim Kingston off  Victoria, BC, in December. However the most recent case of loss overboard is a lot closer to home.

On January 7 the 13,900 TEU ship Madrid Bridge, owned by K-Line and operating for Ocean Network Express (ONE) reported a stack collapse "mid-Atlantic", with several containers washed overboard. Whether it was a case of underestimating by those aboard ship or a bit of news manipulation by the owners, the number of lost boxes seems to increase every few days. At first it was 30, then it was revised to 60 and as of the latest news 130 - certainly an exponential increase. It strains credibility to think that the ship's people could mistake 130 for 30! There are also reported to be a further 80 damaged containers still on board. Assurances that hazardous materiala are not involved should also be questioned. Once again the Zim Kingston comes to mind where fires continued to break out after the ship reached port. Its intial loss overboard of 109 boxes and damage to other boxes, caused hazardous cargo to ignite.

The Madrid Bridge was on ONE's EC4 service from Europe to the US East coast (Halifax is not on the route) and heading for New York at the time. After a few days standing by offshore the ship changed heading for Charleston, but has had to divert from a direct route to avoid weather. Presumably at least some of the damaged containers are still at risk of going overside or incurring further damage. Safe arrival in a port is a high priority for the crew, the ship and the cargo.

 Containers are rarely stacked five high - even empty - on land, but seven or eight high stacks are not uncommon on ships at sea. Most ships have very little support or protection, and lashing is impossible at these heights.

Ships of the Atlantic Container Line are the exception. They are quite rightly proud to say that they have never lost a container overboard since the line was started in 1965. Their ships have solid structural support and protection for deck cargoes.

Fires and container losses on container ships have apparently not reached the point where ship owners, insurers, cargo owners, classification societies, flag states or the IMO have decided to do something. These episodes are seemingly still part of the "cost of doing business".


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