Real Life Incident: Crew Saved But Ship Lost

A ship with new management and a new crew sailed in ballast. The new crew reportedly did not verify the status of the ballast tanks, which were about 80% full. In the next port, 116 stuffed twenty-foot-equivalent containers were loaded in the holds and on deck.

The crew made no changes to the ballast configuration. Freshwater was taken on in the next port before departing for the final destination.

Shortly after leaving port, the ship encountered strong winds and waves. Rolling heavily, the ship developed a list of about 25° to starboard. After about an hour the list increased to 30°.

silhouette sunset container ship
Representation Image – Photograph by Larriel Eleccion

Without attempting to establish the cause of the list, the Master issued a mayday and ordered the crew to abandon ship into a liferaft. All 12 crew were later recovered by helicopter. By that time the ship was listing about 45° but all deck containers were still in place.

Six days later a search found the ship still afloat and listing between15° and 30° to starboard. All of the deck containers were now missing, but the hatch covers were in place and appeared intact. By the time a salvage tug arrived about four days later, the ship had sunk. The cause of the list and subsequent sinking was not conclusively identified. The investigation found that the crew were not fully aware of the severity of the forecast weather conditions and consequently did not take precautions for heavy weather. The vessel’s course was beam-on to a heavy sea and swell, resulting in heavy rolling for a sustained period.

In the absence of any other obvious factors, the reason the ship developed a heavy list was probably related to a change in stability
resulting from an ingress of water, and/or an uninitiated change in the status of the ballast tanks.

Lessons learned

  • Weather is your master. Implement heavy weather procedures when in doubt. If the vessel seems at risk, heave to and reduce speed to reduce rolling.
  • A new crew on a newly acquired vessel? Sound all tanks to determine the state of the vessel.
  • When something unusual happens to a ship, such as taking on a substantial list, every effort should be made to identify the cause and take remedial action before it is too late.

As edited from IMO Lessons Learned from Marine Casualties III 5 (III 5/15, Annex 1)


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