This photo of the MOL Comfort shows considerable hogging.

This photo of the MOL Comfort shows considerable hogging.

Update (27 JUN): MOL Comfort stern section sinks [PHOTOS]

By Michael Grey

How on earth does a 5 year old 90,000 ton containership, built by one of Japan’s finest shipyards and operated by a tip-top liner company, come to be floating in two bits 19 miles apart?

Weather?

Welding?

Perhaps one of those 100 year waves the Met. Offices are warning us about are rather more frequent?

The smart money must surely be on the stresses induced by under-declared container weights, which shippers routinely refuse to take with any seriousness whatsoever.

Always supposing that there is a good run through the IMO, it has been suggested that it could be another three or four years before SOLAS Regulation VI/2, which provides for the “verification” of container weights, comes into effect. As the distinguished delegates undertake their deliberations on this matter, a huge picture of the after part of the MOL Comfort sitting forlornly in the Arabian Gulf might usefully be displayed on the Council Chamber screens to help focus their minds.

It is now more than six years since the emergency in the English Channel when the MSC Napoli nearly sank through an ingress of water.

It is worth underlining the views of the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch, which painstakingly required all the boxes retrieved from the wreck to be weighed, and note its suggestion that overweight boxes contributed to the loss of that ship.

Wheels often grind slowly in marine safety mills, but there have surely been enough warnings about excessive container weights to wake everyone up. Feeders have been regularly rolling over, fortunately in shallow water or against the quay. This clearly expensive incident which has put 25 lives and more than 4000 containers at risk ought to clarify the issues.

But we shouldn’t bet on it.

Shippers’ organisations, which have been defending their flawed position on container weights for forty years or more will still be arguing about the responsibilities for verification until the bitter end. If the salvors manage to save this ship, let us hope that every one of those boxes retrieved is weighed, and compared with the manifested declaration.

Michael Grey is the former Editor of Lloyd’s List and Fairplay, currently the London Correspondent of BIMCO and holder of a British FG Master’s Certificate. He writes for a wide range of maritime titles and lectures at the World Maritime University, Greenwich Maritime Institute and General Stevedoring Council.

Article originally posted on the Clay Maitland blog, republished with permission.

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  • http://www.strainstall.com Scott Cruttenden

    I have been monitoring the IMO talks closely and it does seem we will have to wait at least 3 years before weight verification becomes mandatory. Strainstall offer several systems that could have prevented this incident. The Strainstall Container Weighing System utilizes existing mechanical components to create an accurate load monitoring system and the StressAlert is a system that monitors hull stresses and hull integrity as well as wave slamming effects. Contact me if you want any further information. scott@strainstall.com

  • RiDo

    As seen on wiki, “Together with her sister ships, MOL Comfort was the first container ship classified by #### to utilize ultra high-strength steel with an yield strength of 470 MPa in her hull structure”
    Is that an area of concern? world first 470 N/mm2 steel for a container vessel? too much tolerances given away?? calculation gone wrong?

  • RiDo

    Cos its capacity is 8,110 TEU and it was carrying 7,041 TEU only that day. So even if some containers were overweight it would not breach the threshold (keeping in mind the FOS they build in it)
    Also note that each of the fore and aft part was floating at nearly even keel.
    If the weight was an issue there would be some trim in the broken sections.

  • Graham Smith

    Hogging, sagging, panting, wracking, rocking, rolling, listing, heeling. My mind goes back half a century to ship construction and stability in our UK ‘tickets’.

    Obviously an ineffective garboard strake but WHY? Can’t wait to find out the ‘official’ verdict.

    • jacques dubois

      THE OFFICIAL VERDICT GRAHAM IS THAT YOU ARE A DOUCHE BAG..!!

      • D. Long

        @Jacques Dubois: Considering you couldn’t even capitalize your name, use regular capitalization or commas properly, or insert the correct endmarks to your sentences, you probably shouldn’t be calling names. Someone might hurl some back at you (such as cretin or troll).

        I have no knowledge of Graham, neither of who he is or his background. But your trollish behavior, Jacques, is childish. Hope you enjoy your 3 seconds of fame.

        • MotherFucker

          Jacques’s middle name is “Dimwit”..;-)

  • http://www.columbia-group.com Jim Greco

    Containers can be weighed when they come into the gate at the load port. Very simple but delays the truckers and costs money. Once the unit is weighed the information can be put into the system by the clerk who takes in the booking. It’s not rocket science.

    We have run into this issue MANY times where containers are much heavier than the declared weight. It causes a huge headache for the vessel planner and the terminal loading the cans to the vessel but nothing will change until it is MANDATED!

    I would bet dollars to donuts that the container weights played a role in the stability condition that caused the MOL COMFORT to break her back. Over ballasting, sea state and weights all played a role…unless there was sever corrosion on the CVK in the area where the fracture happened. (I doubt that though on a 5 year old ship.)

  • Andrew Phillips

    In addition to the container weights a possibility is that the loading sequence may result in excessive strengths. The ship arrives and departs within her stability limitations but because of continuous loading of fore and aft hatches the ship undergoes excessive stresses during loading. Have seen this at some ports where the midship hatches are almost empty while others are almost fully loaded.

  • Joe Hydro

    I think it would be quite simple to not only weigh the containers by the cranes doing the loading, automatically and with no human input, and also to build out the sequence of loading and stability patterns in an automated fashion. this is no more than quantitative Tetris, after all.

  • Patrick W

    Usual story, Commercial pressure, the monsoon is on, short sharp seas, schedule to meet, slowing is down not an option, maybe coupled with a bit of inexperience/reduced manning.
    There must have been some indications that all was not hunky dory down the Burma Road (under deck passage), will await the findings with interest.

  • http://www.tams.com.sg Piyush Nigam

    It is safer to measure, monitor and track the effect rather than the cause in such cases. Instead of setting up an elaborate system of error proofing the weighing process of the containers and then tracking whether the right sequence was followed in loading it and then ensuring that ballasting the ship and changing the ballast water was done correctly – just measure the strain at the critical points on the vessel. Any time it starts going higher than recommended values raise an alarm and take corrective action. The solution can probably be put in place for USD 100,000 – the question is whether in such a state of the industry one would spend that?

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  • Captain Chris Allport, FNI

    Isn’t it a little premature to blame overweight containers as the cause for this incident? MOL clearly think otherwise, as they are “grounding” the sister vessels. Me thinks structural integrity is ,more likely.
    At least give the salvors time to secure the tow of the fore-section and get it to a safe haven so that a full examination and survey can be conducted.
    Jumping to early conclusions, is not Mike Grey’s normal style and I am surprised. Especially as the industry is well aware that misdeclared container weights was not the cause of the MSC Napoli incident, regardless of MAIB statements. IMO knows well that it is more important to address mis-declared containers of Dangerous Goods, which cause many more frequent serious incidents, than the small percentage that are over/under weight.

  • Landlubber

    It is now mid July and MOL Comfort is no longer with us. Very little of the investigative work detailed in the entries above can now be carried out. This too convenient. The high seas are great places to hide stuff.

  • Dionysios Garmpis

    During my 11 years experience in containers as a mate and master I have faced many container weight discrepancies. Only recently on some ports the containers are weighted upon discharge from the truck and differences in calculated and actual drafts are limited. A major issue is on port planners and the sequence of operation, where the vessel is heavily stressed. I have found once myself against a situation where the vessel had all her fwd b/tks full and the vessel still had 6m trim by stern and the planner was continue discarging from fwd hatches and loading aft.
    Another time the same had happen with port and stbd list/tks.
    Regardless the vessel was 5 years old, she has been probably built to fullfill only the limits of classification society.
    The classification societies in conjuction with shipyard invent various tricks in order to make ship giants like this an attractive ivestment. They ussualy reduce the limits, only to minimum requirements.
    Additionally the use of high tensile steel gives the option to use materials of less thickness, therefore less lightship, therefore higher deadweight and cargo.
    Since some ship blocks are constructed in china and korea and later assembled in japan I can guess a “deviation” from the specifications required. Thats why MOL run to reinforce sister ships.
    I beleive that
    a) Bad ship construction
    b) with bad ship handling in ports
    c) and wrong cargo weights
    d) and bad ballast exchange sequence, without taking concideration of the weather
    gave this result.
    It is a matter of time untill we see other similar accidents happening again in the future.

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