Bad start to 2019 for casualties

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

07 January 2019

A series of casualties involving loss of life, loss of cargo and crew taken hostage have marred the first week of 2019.

The first incident involving the 2009-built car carrier Serenity Ace began on the last day of 2018 when the master reported the vessel on fire 1,800 nautical miles northwest of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean and intention to abandon ship. Several vessels responded to the SOS and recue attempts were co-ordinated by US coast guard. 16 of the 21 crew were taken on board other vessels but four unresponsive bodies were seen in the sea and one remains missing.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the operator of the vessel has contracted tugs to recover the bodies and the badly damaged ship was reported badly damaged and listing heavily when the search for the remaining crewman was suspended on 3 January.

The same day the search was called off, a fire was reported on a second vessel the 7,520teu Yantian Express owned and operated by Hapag Lloyd. The ship is some 650 nautical miles from the East coast of Canada having loaded in NE Asia and sailed via Suez. The owner has reported that a fire broke out in one container on the deck of the Yantian Express and spread to additional containers.

The crew of 8 officers and 15 seafarers is unharmed. Efforts to extinguish the fire in the containers were launched immediately but the owner reported on 4 January that they have had to be suspended for the time being due to a significant deterioration of weather conditions. It is still too early to make a precise estimate of any damage to the vessel or its cargo. The salvage tug Smit Nicobar has now arrived on the scene and 11 of the crew have transferred to the tug. Hapag-Lloyd is closely cooperating with all relevant authorities.

Container ship operator MSC has suffered two unrelated incidents one involving the loss of large numbers of containers carried on the deck of MSC Zoe and the other an attack by pirates on the MSC Mandy from which 6 crew were kidnapped.

The loss of 270 or so containers occurred during a storm on 2 January when the 19,224teu MSC Zoe was on its way to Bremerhaven. Several of the containers are known to contain hazardous cargoes and some have washed ashore at the beaches of Vlieland, Terschelling and Ameland.

On Friday 4 January, Reuters reported that the Dutch coastguard said a criminal investigation had been launched by prosecutors into the incident, one of the largest of its kind off the coast of the Netherlands. The Reuters’ report said prosecutors had sent a statement to Reuters which said that a joint investigation with Maritime Police would focus on “whether the damage caused is the result of criminal acts,” possibly in violation of the anti-pollution laws for seagoing vessels. “It will consider whether we can hold someone - and if so who - responsible for the pollution,” it said.

Tineke Schokker, the mayor of Vlieland, one of the Wadden Islands, said she and four other mayors sent letters to MSC demanding that costs be covered. Debris continued to wash up on Friday, she said, posing a threat to flora and fauna. “They need to remove this as quickly as possible because the longer it’s here the more damage it does,” she said told Reuters. “We have decided to collectively pass on the costs to the shipping company.”

On 5 January MSC released a statement saying the company would like to reassure authorities and members of the public in the Netherlands and Germany that it will pay the full costs of the clean-up of the 2 January MSC Zoe container spill. The statement said MSC is committed to continue searching the sea for the containers which fell overboard, until the last one is found. MSC will also ensure that the beaches of the Dutch and German coastlines are surveyed until all debris related to this incident has been cleared. MSC confirmed the appointment of salvage specialist Ardent Global to coordinate the search at sea in both countries, in full collaboration with relevant authorities.

On the same day the MSC Zoe lost its containers, the 2,668teu was attacked by armed pirates off Cotonou Benin. After ransacking the vessel and robbing the crew the pirates left the vessel taking the master, two officers and three crew hostage. The ship arrived at Lagos on 4 January to await new crew. MSC has refused to comment on the incident citing respect to relatives of the hostages