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What caused MOL Comfort disaster?

July 11, 2013 at 03:59 by Mikhail Voytenko in Opinion

July 10: Mitsui O.S.K. Lines issued press-release informing that fire is still raging, most of the containers on the deck were destroyed, according to visual observance. Checking the condition of the containers in the hold appears to be impossible. MOL and Indian Coast Guard, whose ship Samudra Prahari continues fire fighting, blame the adverse weather, hampering salvage efforts. According to ICG information as cited by Indian media, some 90% of all the containers on board of the fore section have been already destroyed. One should be careful with the info provided by ICG, but this time it seems to be true.

Nobody knows, including MOL, what exactly what was loaded into quite a number of containers stack on board of the fore section – on board of any ocean-going container ship. It’s a well-known fact, that in order to save on freight, shippers often declare dangerous goods as some harmless items. MOL Comfort could carry materials compared in effect to weapons of mass destruction, if leaked or inflamed or mixed with sea water. Burned out or still burning, MOL Comfort remnants may pose a grave threat to a coast or a port it’s been towed to. That’s what makes the container ship on fire so frustratingly dangerous in case of major fire – lack of knowledge of the character of quite a number of cargoes on board.

If my calculations regarding fore position and movements are correct, then, the salvage team, which includes three tugs and ICG ship Samudra Prahari, is sweating itself off trying to tow the fore section further to the sea.

I can’t but pity vessel itself and MOL Company, with such an awful piece of bad luck. First, broking in two, and second, catching up with major fire. All the faults of present day major container ships mixed up together and destroyed a fine modern vessel with goods on board worth hundreds of millions dollars.

There is a high probability of some initial, basic flaw in design of modern big container ships, making them vulnerable to wrongly calculated weight distribution due to wrongly declared weights. If structural strength was strong enough to withstand misplaced weights along the hull, with sufficient safety margin, it wouldn’t happen. Actually, modern container giants should be designed initially on an assumption, that there will be wrong weight distribution, because such wrong weight distribution is inevitable under the present system of declaring goods in containers and their loading. Obviously this is not the case, and the designers (and ship owners – major carriers) are concerned with fuel efficiency (disguised by very convenient “Green Planet” frenzy) and operational cost per container much more, than they’re concerned with the safety, because under present system, providing sufficient safety will be devastatingly costly.

Designed and built as cost-effective and profit-efficient monstrous tools for major carriers fighting in a madly overheated market race for survival and top positions in the sector, those container giants are prone to major disasters, which may be triggered by a fire in one container (in one box among hundreds loaded into one container, actually) among thousands on board, or by sailing through heavy seas.

Voytenko Mikhail

Maritime Bulletin:

Read disaster chronicles and follow updates at http://www.odin.tc/2013/molcomfort.htm

  What caused MOL Comfort disaster?

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