Four container ship disasters

Who doesn’t like to see a cool picture of a shipping disaster?  Today, however, we’re giving you an insight on how some of the top container ship catastrophes have occurred (we’ll even throw in some photos for the full effect!)

Number one:

17 June 2013

Make a wish – The top spot would certainly need to be taken by the MOL Comfort.

Just off the coast of Yemen, the vessel was on it’s way to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from Singapore. Loaded with the equivalent of 7041 twenty foot containers (it’s capacity was 8110), this 316m long container ship suffered a crack amidship (in the middle of the ship) during bad weather. The vessel eventually broke in two, with both parts sinking.  Prior to sinking, however, one of the pieces caught spectacularly on fire.


Improperly loading of the vessel, mis-declared container weights and incorrect stability calculations were all given as possible causes for this catastrophic accident.  Investigators working on this dramatic event concluded that the cause was indeed:

  • Buckling of the bottom shell plating due to hull girder loads exceeding the hull girder strength
  • Fatigue cracking of welded structure

All sister ships of the MOL Comfort were subsequently checked for faults and repaired.

Number Two:

18th January 2007

A sad end – MSC Napoli

The MSC Napoli was on it’s way from Belgium to Portugal when it encountered a European windstorm Kyrill.  Severe gale force winds along with huge waves caused serious damage to the MSC Napoli’s hull which included a crack in one side and a flooded engine room.  All crew members were evacuated from the vessel.

The MSC Napoli was then towed and eventually ended up in Lyme Bay. During the time of being towed, the vessel developed a strong list.  Salvages decided to beach the stricken vessel, lessening the environmental risk to the coastline.  103 shipping containers fell into the sea during the storm, the remainder of the containers were removed from the vessel via a large barge with crane.

It would be months before the MSC Napoli would be refloated, but upon this procedure being carried out salvagers discovered a 3m crack in the ship’s hull.  The vessel immediately beached itself again.

It was decided that the only option for the MSC Napoli was to put it out of it’s misery. Explosives were used to break the ship apart with the smaller pieces being towed for disposal and recycling.

The cause of the accident was listed as result of structural failure of the vessel hull skin and girders. Investigators also advised that verification of container weights would be critical in avoiding another disaster such as the MSC Napoli.  1 in 10 containers actually weighed far in excess of that which was declared.

Number three:

March 21st 2006

Hyundai (not so much) Fortune

The Hyundai Fortune was on it’s way from China to Europe when an explosion of unknown origin occurred below the deck.  Sixty to ninety containers fell into the ocean. A fire, which started from the explosion, spread through the stern of the ship, which included the container stacks in front of the crew’s accommodation also engulfing the crew’s quarters. Further explosions occurred when several containers of fireworks above the deck ignited. A large section of the hull (above the water line) was blown out as a result of the explosions and fire.

With fire fighting efforts by the crew failing, all 27 members abandoned ship and were later picked up by a Dutch frigate.

Within two days, fire fighters arrived at the listing Hyundai Fortune and controlled the blaze.  At least one third of the containers on board had been damaged, or fallen overboard during the incident.

The Hyundai Fortune was then towed to Oman where the remainder of the containers were off-loaded.  The vessel would be repaired, and then later re-enter service with the new name of Fortune (really!?).

The cause of the fire? Un-declared hazardous cargo. As per the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Appropriations Committee “The cause of the fire is believed to have been a container loaded with petroleum-based cleaning fluids stowed near the engine room. The shipper failed to indicate the hazardous nature of this shipment to Hyundai Fortune, undoubtedly to avoid the special handling fees associated with transporting hazardous materials.”

Number four:

11 June 2011

The Leaning Deneb

This serious incident did not happen out at sea, but rather when the vessel was being loaded at the port of Algeciras. The Deneb encountered problems alongside the wharf as containers were being loaded/unloaded.  The vessel began to appear unstable so operations were halted. The vessel began to list to the starboard side, and the bow became submerged with the vessel settling on the seabed. A few of the crew sustained minor injuries.

A salvage company was employed to re-float the vessel and remove the containers from the deck.

At the time of the incident, the cause was unknown.  Further extensive investigations have found that whilst there were a few reasons for this incident, incorrect container weights were advised.

  • The weights declared for many containers were much lower than the actual weights.
  • The containers were never weighed to verify that the declared weights were accurate.
  • Errors were made during the preparation of the electronic information that was transmitted to the vessel to check her stability under the different expected load conditions. The weights included in the electronic transmission did not coincide with the declared weights.
We hope that you have enjoyed our wrap up of four of the more interesting container vessel disasters and mishaps.