Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Containers Are Falling Overboard

The P&O Nedlloyd Mondriaan was steaming off the coast of the Netherlands with its decks stacked high with containers from the Far East on Feb. 9, 2006, when it was hit from astern with waves driven by winds of force 8 to 9 on the Beaufort scale. As the vessel rolled with the waves, 59 loaded containers tumbled overboard.

Ten days later, as the 7,500-TEU vessel was returning to the Far East with a cargo of empty containers, it ran into another storm in the Bay of Biscay, with headwinds of the same gale force. The ship lost another 50 containers. On the same day in the same storm in about the same location, the CMA CGM Otello, a vessel of approximately the same capacity but of a different design, lost 50 boxes.

These incidents were among the first of a mounting tally of containers lost overboard during the last two years. In 2006 and 2007, there were “significant” incidents where at least 36 ships lost a total of more than 1,600 boxes overboard. The full extent of the problem is unclear because there’s no central repository for the data, and many ship lines understandably aren’t eager to publicize lost containers.

“There appears to be a trend of near-catastrophic losses of containers stowed on deck of container ships,” said James Craig, president of the American Institute of Marine Underwriters.

One reason for that trend is the practice of loading heavier containers on top of lighter boxes. That has become more common as ships get larger and carry ever more containers.

Container stacks above deck can vary in height between four to 10 or more high and it’s usually just the lower boxes that are cross-braced, leaving the top containers at the mercy of the pin locks on the four corners of the can holding it to the next, said Rick Bridges, vice president of Roanoke Trade Services, an insurance broker.

Unfortunately, shippers really can’t do much to prevent their cargo from going overboard, he said. In most cases, the carriers decide where the container is placed, he said. “Considerations such as commodity, weight, destination or transship points all are taken into account. So in short, the shipper cannot choose whether he is above or below deck,” he said.

As far as anything shippers can do to be proactive in preventing damage due to rolling and pitching of the vessel, Bridges suggests that they hire a surveyor to show them how to properly block and brace cargo.

“This goes a long way, especially if there is a claim where the suitability of packing is brought into question by the insurance company or steamship line. If the shipper can go back and prove that packing was performed as recommended by an accredited surveyor, then they stand a much better chance of getting their claim settled without issues,” he said.

Source : Shipping Digest, July 28, 2008