According to the World Shipping Council last year 1390 containers fell overboard due to different circumstances. But when the MSC Zoe lost 291 containers just north of the world heritage area of the Wadden sea in the Netherlands on January 2nd a natural disaster was born. Hundreds of volunteers and the national army are working tirelessly to clean up the contents of the containers, however the effects on this unique ecosystem will be felt for years to come.

The mayors of the Dutch islands that have seen their beaches flooded with debris have written to the Dutch government to request new regulations and stricter supervision during loading and lashing of containers onboard these vessels.

First and foremost: I do not claim to know how the vessel was loaded or how the lashings where applied, nor do I claim to know the full inside story. From our experience in vessel motions and environmental forces that influence these motions I do however feel that the cause of this unfortunate accident may lie in the accumulated forces brought on by the adverse weather conditions and wonder if or how this could have been avoided.

Many articles have appeared placing blame with or questions at the crew of the MSC Zoe, or the stevedores responsible for loading the containers. But what if we as an industry collectively step away from this blame and try to think of ways to help these guys in the future?

Source: Dagblad van het Noorden. The Yellow areas indicate where the MSC Zoe lost her containers.

When looking at the reconstructions it becomes clear that under the high waves and strong winds the vessel loses the bulk of her containers over a stretch of several kilometers, on both port and starboard.

Loss or shifting of cargo is almost always the result of forces that where too big for the used lashings or even structural integrity of the cargo itself. What if we could provide the master and his crew with more insight in to these forces that are at play during the voyage? Could we provide them with a decision support tool to gain insight in to both real time and future wave and wind induces vessel motions, and from their forces on the cargo?

The offshore industry already utilizes the use of MRU’s for real time motion data and software to help with the planning and execution of the project, taking in to account that the motion response of the vessel to the environmental conditions is one of the key aspects of working safely and efficiently. This same software can be used onboard containers vessels, bulk carriers, etc., to provide the master and his crew with a decision support tool giving them more detailed information on their vessels motion response to safe navigation and resonance avoidance.

As it is a shame that sometimes major incidents have to take place to bring new solutions to the market, I do hope that we, as an industry, can come together and think of ways on how to help our industry forward by utilizing new technological developments to help the crew onboard and in the office by providing more insights in to the weather and vessel behavior.

Author: Marleen Lenting