Preliminary Report Sheds Light on Container Loss from APL England

Mike Schuler
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October 28, 2020

Photo: AMSA

A preliminary report from Australian maritime investigators into the loss of containers from the APL England says that the ship experienced heavy rolling and lost power to its main engine before crew discovered that containers had gone overboard.

The ATSB preliminary investigation report details that the container ship was rolling and pitching heavily in rough seas and high winds when it lost 50 containers about 46 nautical miles south-east of Sydney on 24 May 2020.

The report includes facts related to the sequence of events leading up the incident, but does not include any conclusions or recommendations.

The report shows that the Bureau of Meteorology issued regular forecasts regarding a complex low pressure system developing off the Australia’s south-east coast, with gale force wind warnings, as the APL England travelled down the east coast of country.

“By 0600 on Sunday 24 May, while maintaining a southerly course and a speed of about 7 knots, the ship was pitching and periodically rolling in high seas and gale force winds,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.

“Shortly after, at 0610, the ship experienced a series of very heavy rolls, to about 25° either side of upright. On the bridge, with many items moving and falling to the deck and the crew holding on to maintain their footing, steering system and engine room alarms sounded, and then the main engine shut down due to a loss of oil pressure,” Hood said.

The report details that the crew restarted the engine, by which time the ship had turned to port, beam on to the seas, while continuing to roll heavily. The ship slowly gained speed, and was turned easterly and then southerly, into the weather, before the crew then decided to head north, with the weather, the ATSB said.

It was not until the next morning that the ship’s chief officer first noticed the fallen stacks of containers.

The investigation has established that 50 containers were lost overboard from both forward and aft bays. One of the lost containers contained hazardous goods in the form of dry powder fire extinguishers, while 23 containers were empty. Another 63 containers were damaged but remained on board.

The ship sailed to the Port of Brisbane under its own power where ATSB investigators boarded the vessel to survey the damaged container stacks, inspect the container lashing equipment, download the vessel data recorder and video recording system, and interview the crew.

“Generally, the ship’s lashing equipment appeared in good condition. However, many of the ship fittings including lashing eyes, lashing bridges and deck structures were found to be heavily corroded and wasted,” Hood said.

“In addition, ATSB examination of the container stowage arrangement showed that the use of high cube (2.9m/9ft 6in high) as opposed to standard height (2.6m/8ft 6in) containers in the ship’s aft-most container bay, bay 62, affected the security of the stow above the container cell guides.  However, the loading computer’s lashing and forces checks did not show any conflicts for this arrangement,” the ATSB said in a press release announcing the initial report.

A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation and will detail include any safety findings or analysis.

“The on-going investigation will review and analyse several areas of interest including the ship’s container stow and lashing arrangement; the maintenance regimes for the ship’s deck and engine room; the ship’s service and inspection history; the ship’s stability condition; weather conditions and information provided to crew; and the actions of the ship’s crew,” Hood said.

“However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken,” he added.

Read the preliminary report MO-2020-002: Loss of containers overboard involving APL England, 46 NM south-east of Sydney, New South Wales, on 24 May 2020

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