Containers falling off ships while at sea – who is responsible..??

containers falling off ship2019 was quite the year for maritime disasters with ships on fire, containers falling off ships etc..

2020 seems to be hitting the industry in other ways which could also be considered a kind of maritime disaster..

But in what may be the first reported case of containers falling off ships in 2020, the APL England a 5,780 TEU capacity containership lost around 40 containers off the coast of New South Wales in Australia..

It has also been reported that around 74 containers are lying in a collapsed state within the stacks on board the ship..

The APL England was on its routine A3N ANL service between Asia and Oceania (China to Melbourne) when it is said to have rolled in heavy weather, losing the containers overboard..


As per the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the ship experienced a temporary loss of propulsion during heavy seas about 73kms South-East off Sydney..

The ship has reached Port of Brisbane anchorage (off Port Cartwright) where it has been boarded by a team of surveyors organised by AMSA to conduct a seaworthiness inspection to establish the structural and operational condition of the ship following the collapse of container stacks on deck..

The identity of the containers (container numbers) that have fallen overboard is still not known and from initial information, the containers are said to contain a wide range of goods like household appliances, building materials and medical supplies..

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Australian news channels are reporting that surgical masks have washed ashore on Australian beaches reportedly from the APL England.. There are no immediate reports of any dangerous goods in the affected stack rows and AMSA is verifying all information to confirm the nature of the cargoes in the containers that went overboard..

As per AMSA’s General Manager of Operations Allan Schwartz, “Once the ship is safely in port we will begin our investigation which will focus on the safety of the ship including whether cargo was appropriately stacked and secured on board the ship, and any potential breaches of environmental pollution regulations. 

We have received a report of some medical supplies (for example, face masks) washing up between Magenta Beach and The Entrance. This information has been passed on to NSW Maritime. These correlate to drift modelling of debris and are consistent with items listed on the ship’s cargo manifest.“..

An interesting point to note is that this same ship APL England reportedly lost 37 containers which fell off the same deck in the Great Australian Bight in August 2016 also due to bad weather..

This ship is a Singapore flagged ship and such incidents bring to the fore the question whether the ship register or ship registry is liable for containers falling off a ship and who is really responsible.. Let’s see..

 

Cargo movement while at sea

If you are in shipping or in the business of exporting and importing it would be good for you to understand a bit about the laws of physics, the connection between shipping and physics, concepts like velocity, inertia and how it applies to the motion of the ocean, and the movement of cargo inside containers while it is in transit..

As per the IMO (International Maritime Organisation), the accelerations acting on a ship during its passage results in a combination of longitudinal, vertical and predominantly transverse motions and the forces created by these accelerations give rise to the majority of securing problems.. 

The worst movement a cargo undergoes maybe while it is at sea.. Unlike road and rail transport, while at sea, a ship can move in 6 different ways as shown below..

pack your cargo properly

Each of these movements causes a different kind of stress on the cargo packed inside the container and if there is movement of cargo inside the container due to improper packing, there is a greater chance of it damaging the container and even coming out of the container..

Such opposing and counter acting motion could also result in container stacks collapsing especially if the cargo is heavy and is not packed properly..

 

CSS Code and Cargo Securing Manual

The IMO adopted the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code) in November 1991 as a guideline to avoid the hazards arising from these forces..

The CSS Code which deals with measures to ensure proper stowage and securing of cargoes on board and to reduce the amplitude and frequency of ship motions, provides an international standard to promote the safe stowage and securing of cargoes by:

  • drawing the attention of shipowners and ship operators to the need to ensure that the ship is suitable for its intended purpose;
  • providing advice to ensure that the ship is equipped with proper cargo securing means;
  • providing general advice concerning the proper stowage and securing of cargoes to minimize the risks to the ship and personnel;
  • providing specific advice on those cargoes which are known to create difficulties and hazards with regard to their stowage and securing;
  • advising on actions which may be taken in heavy sea conditions; and
  • advising on actions which may be taken to remedy the effects of cargo shifting..
The General Principles are
  • All cargoes should be stowed and secured in such a way that the ship and persons on board are not put at risk..
  • The safe stowage and securing of cargoes depend on proper planning, execution and supervision..
  • Personnel commissioned to tasks of cargo stowage and securing should be properly qualified and experienced..
  • Personnel planning and supervising the stowage and securing of cargo should have a sound practical knowledge of the application and content of the Cargo Securing Manual..
  • In all cases, improper stowage and securing of cargo will be potentially hazardous to the securing of other cargoes and to the ships itself..
  • Decisions taken for measures of stowage and securing cargo should be based on the most severe weather conditions which may be expected by experience for the intended voyage..
  • Ship-handling decisions taken by the master, especially in bad weather conditions, should take into account the type and stowage position of the cargo and the securing arrangements.. 

The IMO has issued revised guidelines (MSC.1/Circ.1353/Rev.1 – 15 December 2014) for the preparation of Cargo Securing Manual..

In accordance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) chapters VI, VII and the Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code), cargo units, including containers, shall be stowed and secured throughout the voyage in accordance with a Cargo Securing Manual, approved by the Administration..

The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that Cargo Securing Manuals cover all relevant aspects of cargo stowage and securing and to provide a uniform approach to the preparation of Cargo Securing Manuals, their layout and content..

These guidelines state that “It is important that securing devices meet acceptable functional and strength criteria applicable to the ship and its cargo. It is also important that the officers on board are aware of the magnitude and direction of the forces involved and the correct application and limitations of the cargo securing devices.

The crew and other persons employed for the securing of cargoes should be instructed in the correct application and use of the cargo securing devices on board the ship.

It is expected that adherence to these guidelines combined with the possibility of weight misdeclaration, will be the subject of the investigation by AMSA and The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) while they are onboard the APL England..

 

Conclusion

Thankfully there has been no loss of life here and while many may think this is just a small passing issue and an inherent vice of the business, there are a few issues arising out of this..

  1. Losses to those whose containers fell overboard ;
  2. Possible loss and damage to those whose containers are in the collapsed stacks ;
  3. Delays for all the customers whose cargoes are on board the ship whether damaged or not ;
  4. Loss/damage due to these delays which may or may not be covered by insurance even ICC(A) ;
  5. There could even be a few who may not have insured their cargo (intentionally or otherwise)

Stay tuned to get updates on this issue..

*** End of Article ***

3 thoughts on “Containers falling off ships while at sea – who is responsible..??”

  1. The photos of the APL England clearly show that the vertical stacking of one container to another is very effective. But what is evident by its absense is any kind of horizontal bracing across the top, either across or lengthwise along the stacks. As a layman I wonder if something as simple as bracing bars locking say the first five containers running from the outermost container inwards would go a long way to stabilising the container stacks against horizontal movement even in the very roughest of seas?

    Reply
    • Morning Bob, very good point.. As per “A Master’s Guide to Container Securing” by The Standard P&I Club and Lloyd’s Register

      Crossed horizontal lashings from lashing bridges will hold a container. However, the container will be held rigidly to the fixed lashing bridge. When a ship bends and twists, the base of a container attached to a hatch cover will move, but container ends held firmly to a lashing bridge with horizontal lashings will not move. The effect will be to put strain on the lashings and even break the bars or damage the container corner castings. Horizontal lashings should not be used unless specifically permitted in the approved lashing plans shown in the Cargo Securing Manual.

      The general recommendation is cross lashing as below.. Cross Lashing..

      But of course, each vsl/operation has its requirements and policies.. The Code of Safe Practice for Cargo Stowage and Securing (CSS Code) – is a non-mandatory code, but a number of states have been requiring that container ships calling at their ports comply with the CSS Code, and guidelines
      of classification societies like ClassNK now include an audit of ships to ascertain that they comply with the CSS Code..

    • Many, many moons ago we had horizontal locking bars or “Bridge Fittings” that braced the top tiered deck stowed containers; however, now with various sized Containers, that often becomes impossible. Additionally, Ocean Carriers have increased the stacking height of containers to such a point the weight factors on the individual hatch covers can become excessive, causing flexing and compromising existing locking bars.
      I was the lead surveyor on the largest container loss to date in the USA – “APL CHINA” – Nov. 1, 1998, Seattle, WA – 406 containers lost overboard with 555 containers shifted and compromised on deck. Whew!!!!

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