Top Maritime Stories of 2015 – gCaptain’s Picks

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 55
December 31, 2015

We saw some big stories in the maritime and offshore industries in 2015. Here at gCaptain, we set a new annual record for visitor traffic as we racked up more than 12 million visits, 33 million page views, and welcoming visitors from just about every country in the world. Of course our job is easy when things are happening as quickly as they are around our industry. So without further ado, here are our picks for the stories that stole the headlines in 2015. Happy New Year everyone! -Mike

El Faro Tragedy

SS El Faro. Photo: Tote Maritime
SS El Faro. Photo: Tote Maritime

On October 1, 2015, the 40-year-old American cargo ship El Faro went missing after sailing into the path of Hurricane Joaquin as it sailed from Florida to Puerto Rico. After days of searching, it was determined that the ship sank with the loss of all 33 crew members. The vessel was eventually found in about 15,000 feet of water off the Bahamas with the navigation bridge torn off and no sign of the VDR. The National Transportation Safety Board is set to release some new material from its investigation into the accident in early January. 

The tragedy is considered the worst maritime disaster in the U.S. in over 30 years. 

Worth Reading:

Panama Canal Cracks

A crack seen in the “step”, or sill, of lockhead 3 (LH3), dividing the middle chamber from the lower chamber of the new Cocoli Lock complex on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.
A crack seen in the “step”, or sill, of a chamber in the new Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

In August, gCaptain was first to report that cracks had formed in the concrete of one of the new lock chambers of the expanded Panama Canal. After several months of back and forth, it became apparent that the cracks would in fact delay the delivery (yet again!) of the $5.25 billion expansion project past April 2016. 

And that’s not the only problem facing the Panama Canal Authority.  

Worth Reading:

Bulk Jupiter Sinking

MV Bulk Jupiter. Photo credit: Gearbulk
MV Bulk Jupiter. Photo credit: Gearbulk

It was January 2nd when the Gearbulk-owned MV Bulk Jupiter sank suddenly off the coast of Vietnam with the loss of all but one of its 19 crew. In the investigations that followed, it was determined that liquefaction of the ship’s bauxite cargo, a clay-like substance not typically prone to liquefying under most conditions, was to blame for bringing down the vessel. The incident sparked new warnings over the carriage of the bauxite cargoes and cargo liquefaction in general. 

Worth Reading:

Höegh Osaka Grounding

The Hoegh Osaka car carrier aground on the Bramble Bank in the Solent estuary, near Southampton in southern England January 5, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
The Hoegh Osaka car carrier aground on the Bramble Bank in the Solent estuary, near Southampton in southern England January 5, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

On January 3rd, the roll-on/roll-off car carrier Hoegh Osaka was intentionally grounded in the Solent after the vessel developed a severe list shortly after departing Southampton with some 1,400 vehicles. All crew were evacuated safely, but the vessel spent about a week slumped over on a sand bank before it refloated during a high tide and strong winds. It took about two more weeks for salvors to stabilize the vessel and tow it back to Southampton. The ship has since returned to service. 

Worth Reading:

MV Cemfjord Sinking

A photo of the upturned hull of the MV Cemfjord taken from a Wick RNLI lifeboat. Photo courtesy RNLI
A photo of the upturned hull of the MV Cemfjord taken from a Wick RNLI lifeboat. Photo courtesy RNLI

In early January, passengers aboard a ferry came across a horrific site off northern Scotland: the upturned hull of the MV Cemfjord just bobbing in the waves. As it turns out, the ship was carrying a cargo of cement from Denmark to Cheshire in western England when it mysteriously capsized and sank on January 2nd with the loss of all 8 crew members. What’s eerie is that there was no mayday call or any indication that the ship may have been in trouble, and we still don’t know exactly what happened. 

The wreck of the ship was found in February, but to date not a single body has been located or recovered. 

Worth Reading:

Pioneering Spirit Arrives in Rotterdam

Pioneering Spirit (ex-Pieter Schelte) arrives in Rotterdam in January 2015. Photo: KOTUG International B.V.
Pioneering Spirit (ex-Pieter Schelte) arrives in Rotterdam in January 2015. Photo: KOTUG International B.V.

One of the most talked-about ships of the last decade arrived in Rotterdam in early January after sailing from South Korea where it has been under construction for several years. And boy is it living up to the hype.  

The vessel, named Peter Schelte Pioneering Spirit, is one of the largest and most unique ships ever constructed, measuring 382 meters long by 124 meters wide and based on a concept connecting the two large tankers side-by-side. Once completed in 2016, the ship will be used for the installation and removal of large offshore oil and gas platforms in a single-lift (and business is supposed to be very good).

Worth Reading

Houston Ship Channel Collision

The chemical tanker Carla Maersk sits at anchor off Morgans Point, Texas, after being involved in a collision with the bulk carrier Conti Peridot March 9, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The chemical tanker Carla Maersk sits at anchor off Morgans Point, Texas, after being involved in a collision with the bulk carrier Conti Peridot March 9, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

On the morning of March 9, 2015, the chemical tanker Carla Maersk collided with the bulk carrier Conti Peridot in thick fog while in the Houston Ship Channel. The collision resulted in damage to the both vessels and the release of an unknown quantity of the fuel additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) from the Carla Maersk. The Houston Ship Channel was shut for three days due to the accident.

Worth Reading:

Maersk Tigris

maersk tigris
Maersk Tigris. Photo: Damietta Port Authority/MarineTraffic.com

On April 28th, Iranian patrol boats randomly seized the Marshall Islands-flagged containership Maersk Tigris as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz. The seizure, which was said to be over a 10-year-old debt owed to Iran by Maersk Line, sparked fears of freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The vessel and its 24 crew were eventually released about two weeks later after Maersk Line, who actually had no involvement in operating Maersk Tigris, struck a deal for the ship’s release. 

Worth Reading:

Baltic Dry Index at All-time Low

Photo: Shutterstock/sunsinger
Photo: Shutterstock/sunsinger

On February 18, 2015, the Baltic Dry Index fell to its (now former) all-time low of 509 points, setting the tone for a turbulent year for the dry bulk shipping market. After recovering above 1,000 briefly during the summer months, the BDI plunged to its new all-time low of 471 points on December 16, 2015. What’s worse is that the turmoil is expected to continue well into 2016. 

Worth Reading:

Jones Act Under Attack

Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. maritime industry’s most loathed politician, Senator John McCain launched a new attack on the “antiquated” Jones Act by attempting to sneak an amendment into a Keystone XL pipeline bill that would repeal the U.S. build requirement of the Jones Act. The attack gave industry advocates a chance to show just how much support the Jones Act really has, especially in Congress, and the Keystone bill was ultimately passed without McCain’s amendment. The rhetoric again reemerged with the sinking of the El Faro in October (but it wasn’t from McCain that time around). 

Worth Reading:

Offshore Lay-Ups

Stacked Hornbeck OSVs hidden away in a Louisiana bayou in April 2015.
Stacked Hornbeck OSVs hidden away in a Louisiana bayou in April 2015.

The meteoric collapse in oil prices over the past year sent shock waves through the offshore industry and beyond in 2015. Particularly hard hit has been the offshore supply vessel sector, which has experienced an unprecedented number lay-ups and lay-offs from the North Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. The same can be said for drilling rigs. 

Worth Reading:

South Korean Shipyards Lose Big

Photo: Lappino
Photo: Lappino

The world’s largest shipyards were among some of the biggest losers from the collapse in the offshore industry, with South Korea’s ‘Big Three’ shipyards- Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries and DSME – all posting record losses in 2015. The losses can almost all be contributed to the shipyards’ bet on more complex offshore oil rigs, a strategy that now comes back to haunt them as oil prices remain low, costs rise, and new orders dry up.  

Worth Reading:

Containerships, Containerships, Containerships

MSC Maya (7)
The 19,224 teu MSC Maya, one of the world’s largest containerships, makes its maiden call in Southampton in December 2015. Photo copyright: Andrew McAlpline

Whether it was the giant “megaships” hitting Asia-Europe trade routes, the always-volatile freight rates, mergers and acquisitions, or the swelling idled fleet, containerships were making news in 2015 – as they almost always do. 

Worth Reading:

Red Hot Tanker Market

Photo: Shutterstock/Nightman1965
Photo: Shutterstock/Nightman1965

As they say, one man’s pain is another man’s gain… this is especially the case for the oil tanker market. Amid the worst crude market downturn in decades, tanker owners are reaping billion dollar windfalls as demand for tankers continues to flourish. In October, rates for VLCCs soared past $100,000 a day for the first time since 2008. Even better, the boom is expected to persist into 2016 as the price for crude oil remains low. 

Worth Reading:

More LNG Firsts

The LNG-powered Isla Bella, sister ship to the Perla Del Caribe. Photo: JAXPORT Marine Unit via NASSCO
The LNG-powered Isla Bella, delivered in 2015, became the first sister ship to the Perla Del Caribe. Photo: JAXPORT Marine Unit via NASSCO

Liquified natural gas continued to solidify its position as a viable alternative fuel within the maritime industry, with several planned projects finally coming to fruition over the course of the year. Notable headlines, to name just a few, included the Kvitbjørn, which in April completed the longest-ever voyage running solely on LNG; the launch (and delivery) of the world’s first LNG-powered containerships at NASSCO; the Harvey Energy, the first LNG-powered workboat in the United States; and the delivery of the MV Greenland, the world’s first LNG-powered dry cargo ship. 

Worth Reading:

Shell’s Arctic Drilling

Shell's icebreaker Fennica threads a group
Shell’s icebreaker Fennica threads a group protestors hanging from the St Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon, July 30, 2015. Photo: Greenpeace

This past summer, Royal Dutch Shell decided to return to arctic for the first time since 2012 as part of its controversial search for oil offshore northern Alaska. Unfortunately for Shell, its effort was met by additional complications in the form of Greenpeace activists, an unexpected incident involving the Fennica icebreaker, and eventually a lack of recoverable oil. The company decided in September to abandon its Alaskan Arctic exploration plans altogether after spending about $7 billion.  

Worth Reading

Costa Concordia (Yes, still)

Photo: Ship Recycling Consortium
Photo: Ship Recycling Consortium

The never-ending saga of the Costa Concordia continued in 2015. The ship spent the year being dismantled in Genoa, Italy, while its disgraced captain, Francesco Schettino, was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in prison over the 2012 disaster. He also released a 600-page book, which apparently provides his version of the disaster along with every little detail about his life. We’d really love to read it, but so far the book has only been released in Italian.

Worth Reading:

China’s Maritime Build-Up in South China Sea

An aerial photo taken through a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, in this May 11, 2015 file photo. When a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near one of Beijing's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea this week, it was operating in a maritime domain bristling with Chinese ships. While the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its technological edge in Asia for decades, China's potential trump card is sheer weight of numbers, with dozens of naval and coastguard vessels routinely deployed in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool/Files
An aerial photo taken through a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, in this May 11, 2015 file photo.REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool

Tensions were running at an all-time high in the South China Sea in 2015 as China accelerated its land reclamation in the resource-rich region, turning reefs into artificial islands for airfields and other facilities in which China claims will help maritime search and rescue, navigational security and disaster relief. Unfortunately, nobody else is buying it. 

Worth Reading:

Cruise Industry’s Asia Push

Quantum of the Seas arrives in Hong Kong in June 2015. Photo: Ian Edwards
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas arrives in Hong Kong in June 2015, on its way to its new homeport in Shanghai, China. Photo: Ian Edwards

The cruise industry has been talking about Asia’s potential for years now, but 2015 was the year that it really took off. Pretty much everyone who is anyone announced real plans this year to send more ships to China.

Worth Reading:

Shipping Emissions

Photo: United Nations
Photo: United Nations

The debate over emissions from ships was reignited in 2015 in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) held in Paris in early December. While shipping was not explicitly referenced in the final text of the historic Paris Agreement, seeking to limit global manmade greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the impact of climate change, it did spark new calls for the UN’s International Maritime Organization to continue its work to further reduce CO2 emissions from ships. 

Worth Reading:

Did we miss any stories? Let us know by sharing on social media and tagging @gCaptain. 

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