MOL Comfort, which last month suffered a crack amidships during inclement weather before breaking in two.
By Inside Opinion, Ship & Bunker's anonymous maritime expert
I was as surprised as the rest of you when I saw those dramatic pictures of a nearly new 8,000 TEU post-Panamax box ship in two halves off Yemen.
As with all of you I'm sure, I never expected the MOL Comfort to do that. We've seen instances of newish vessels cracking before (although rarely into two halves). We have been able to point the finger, maybe unfairly in some cases, at the bargain-basement yards where they were built with very limited quality control in terms of build but also in materials. We have also pointed the finger, much more fairly in my view, at the classification societies for certifying these below-standard ships in the first place and again, every time she has an inspection.
So I think the most surprising thing for me at least was that the MOL Comfort was built in Japan by Mitsubishi HI, which I am sure we can all agree is a yard and country that certainly does not immediately spring to mind when discussing shoddy workmanship and poor quality control.
That she was classed by NKK, one of the most stringent (and experienced) societies when it comes to these issues, merely makes the event all the more puzzling.
It shouldn't be happening.
Large, Cheap, Simple?
But then we've been saying this for years. It is tempting to imagine that the root cause at the base of all of this (and who knows what other ills beside, but those are for a different blog) lies with the simple need for lots of very large boxships as cheaply as possible. As we all know, the building process is very simple. Sections are prefabricated using plate steel cut and welded mainly by robots and assembed like a huge Lego set on the dock. In the quest for faster and more fuel efficient vessels, plate steel gets thinner and thinner, and the joints and frames get less and less substantial.
Are we seeing the point where such methods become insufficient as box ships get bigger and bigger?
8,000 TEU really is not that large by today's standards. I have no doubt the Japanese builders and the classification society will be carrying out a very stringent and far-reaching investigation to find out.
In poor weather with heavy swells, someone with time on a boxship bridge will tell you the fear of parametric rolling is often more in the front of the mind than midships cracking forces. The mantra is to keep the seas on the bow and where possible not to take them on the beam.
The aft section of the MOL Comfort sank last week.
We've all seen the YouTube videos of the long companionways headed forward bending alarmingly in heavy seas. But the vessels are designed to take these forces and more, in theory at least.
Might the Russian officers on the MOL Comfortbe guilty of "getthereitis"; pushing her a little too hard into big swells with a cargo stowed in such a way as to amplify the loading forces around the midships moment?
Might corrosion have played a part?
As with any major accident, particularly with air crashes, there is usually not one single factor, but many. The old analogy of the holes in the Swiss cheese lining up springs to mind. I have no doubt the Japanese will get to the bottom of it very quickly, and we'll know for sure soon enough.
I'm just very thankful that nobody died. It is good that classification societies with the whips of the P&I Clubs hard at their backs, will undoubtedly be undertaking a programme of some very serious inspections, in the hope that we can understand this incident better and hope to avoid it in future.