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Under-utilised mega vessels attributed to past smooth voyages


Mega box ships having mishaps are now blamed for their full loads

The recent string of maritime mishaps resulting in loss shipments are now attributed to not vessels being overloaded. It is instead “fully-loaded”. Weather conditions and human error are just accessories to the saga.

An unsettling hypothesis

Ever since the ONE Apus’ loss of over 1,800 containers worth an estimated $200 million at northwest of Hawaii during high winds, questions were raised on whether the Japanese-flagged vessel was “overloaded”. In January, the Maersk Essen lost about 750 boxes while sailing from China to the United States. A month later, 260 containers fell off the Maersk Eindhoven when it lost power in heavy seas. One of the speculations were shippers rushing to meet deadlines.

The Suez Canal’s incident seemed to hyped up the notion of liners stacking up the cargo as much as the vessel can handle and start delivering. Alan Murphy, Chief Executive of SeaIntelligence, a container-shipping research and advisory firm in Denmark, told a media: “In the past, these mega-vessels have never really tried to be loaded as full as they are now. Obviously, the fuller the vessel is, the greater the risk of an incident happening. If you’re only half-full and you can stow every container below deck, you’re not dropping any container in the ocean.”

Murphy continued to question the rationale behind building mega box ships despite higher risks at sea when bad weather strikes. Today, the largest box ship can carry 23,000 TEU. If the idea is to load the vessel at half-full for safety precautions, it does not justify the investment for big carriers. Navigation technicalities such at parametric rolling should not even be a concern if the boxes are adequately secured. This is taking into consideration boxes are loaded on a fairly secured height, instead of 12-storeys high.

Indeed, unpredictable weather conditions and the captain’s navigation skills come into the picture. However, if Murphy’s theory is true, it only adds more heat to the big carriers for their surcharges, and “why have mega vessels?”. That may just weaken the big liners’ market position. He added there is no database recording box losses, it is hence unknown how many were lost at sea – till the liners reveal. That is almost unlikely if liners want to remain in business.


Marine Online News Team
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