A perfect storm, resulting in millions of dollars in cargo losses, struck the container ship Maersk Essen during its voyage from China to the Port of Los Angeles, dropping a total of 750 containers overboard.
The Maersk Essen, owned by the Bank of Communications of China and operated commercially by the AP Moller-Maersk shipping company, has a capacity of approximately 13,100 TEU.
It lost hundreds of containers last January 16, halfway through its Pacific Ocean voyage, sailing from Xiamen, China to Los Angeles-California, USA. However, there have been changes in the port of destination where the vessel will arrive. It will no longer be the U.S. city but the Mexican coasts that will be in charge of receiving the ship in the next few days.
“All crew members are safe and a detailed assessment of the cargo is underway as the vessel continues its voyage,” Maersk said in a statement on Thursday, January 21 this year. Maersk is headquartered in Copenhagen – Denmark and the vessel is Danish flagged.
What happened to this titan container ship has also happened in previous months to other vessels that were in the middle of their voyage, in the same way, transporting goods.
Case in point was the container ship One Apus, operated by Singapore-based Ocean Network Express, which lost about 1,900 containers last November 2020 when it hit a severe storm off Hawaii on its way to Long Beach-California, USA from Yantian, China. The vessel eventually sailed to Kobe, Japan, with hundreds of downed containers on board. It remains there for repairs and investigations into the cause of the incident.
Another case also in the Pacific was the downing of 76 containers from a vessel operated by ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. -Israel, which was sailing from South Korea to North America, during December 2020.
The question now arises: Is bad weather alone the determining factor in this series of incidents through this trade route, or is there also a technical factor that is being lost sight of?
One of the failures that may be contributing to these types of events is the improper stowage of cargo on the vessel. But as these get larger and containers are stacked like multi-story buildings, the stability of a ship can be put under increased pressure from pitching and rolling.
Now what is the pitching and rolling of a ship?
A pitching motion is the action of going up or down the bow and stern of the ship, while a rolling motion is the action of tilting from side to side or port-starboard of the superstructure around its axis.
What does this tell us?
“The higher the boxes are stacked on deck, the greater the forces they are subjected to when the ship moves due to wave effect, and this could be a contributing factor, especially as the recent boom in demand has meant filling all vessels to the brim,” according to statements by Lars Jensen, managing director of Denmark-based SeaIntelligence Consulting.
Marine insurance executives said approximately 3,000 containers have been lost at sea during the past two months.
The World Shipping Council, a Washington-based trade body representing shipping companies, said in a report in July 2020 that between 2008 and 2019 an average of 1,382 containers were lost at sea each year.