Maersk Honam threatens high level of loss; reinsurance likely to kick in

Denmark-based container shipping company Maersk Line, part of Maersk Group, has said that it was making alternative vessels available for European exporters who had been scheduled to load containers on the Maersk Honam, which suffered a severe fire earlier this month in the Arabian Sea.

Maersk Honam was part of the 2M Alliance’s AE11 Jade loop, with a port rotation of Qingdao, Busan, Ningbo, Xiamen, Nansha, Yantian, Singapore, Malta, Barcelona, Valencia, La Spezia, Gioia Tauro, Port Said, King Abdullah City, Dubai, Singapore, Shekou, Xiamen, and Qingdao. There were 11 vessels of between 13,000 and 15,900 teu employed on the routes.

Maersk said that Maersk Honam had been scheduled to arrive in Europe one or two weeks after the fire and that the carrier had therefore had time to put in place a contingency plan that would mitigate further disruption.

“For customers who intended to load cargo on Maersk Honam in Europe to be exported to Asia, Maersk Line will be considering an alternative vessel to take over Maersk Honam’s rotation or make other allowances on other Maersk Line vessels sailing to Asia” a spokesperson for Maersk Line said.

Maersk was not speculating on the cause of the fire, but at an industry conference in Long Beach last week there was talk that goods misdeclaration – perceived to be an increasing threat to the container sector — could have been a factor.

Maersk said that “a full investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the fire and the impact to the vessel and cargo.”

The India Marine Police will be interviewing all crew members.

Specialized firefighting vessels are still on the scene, with salvage operations being led by Smit Salvage and Ardent. Maersk Line is cooperating with the salvors and has two marine engineers on site. According to AIS signals received from one of the salvage tugs the vessel was still smouldering while being towed to her port of refuge, heading slowly in the direction of Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Maersk Line was reported to have stopped loading dangerous goods in areas close to crew residential areas and machinery spaces on its container ships until the investigation to determine the cause of the fire has been completed and the cause of the fire is known.

Insurance losses could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, according to some analysts. The announcement of General Average will impact those shippers that chose not to be insured (and the insurers of those that did). Average adjusters will require a substantial deposit before releasing undamaged containers.

Indian coastguard pictures indicated that hundreds of the more than 12,000 teu on board appeared to be a total loss (in the fore section), while boxes stowed behind the superstructure and in the aft section looked to have remained intact. Maersk declared GA on March 9th; Liverpool, UK-based average adjuster Richards Hogg Lindley will be collecting the necessary GA security. It has advised cargo owners of its decision to declare GA. MSC requested its customers to contact their insurance company “so that your cargo can be released without delay”.

Under GA all losses, not just cargo loss, but including salvage, port and transfer costs are shared between all shippers of cargo on the affected vessel. Insurers have for some time been concerned at potential exposure in the case of an event on an ultra-large container carrier, and the bottom line could well run through to marine reinsurers.

Meanwhile, on March 16th a fire broke out in a below-deck container on board container ship Maersk Kensington (IMO 9333010) in the eastern Gulf of Aden. The ship was en route from Salalah towards Suez. All 26 crew members were reported safe and the fire was said to have been contained by release of CO2 into the cargo hold. The ship later dropped anchor off Salalah.

2007-built, USA-flagged, 74,642 gt Maersk Kensington is owned and managed by Maersk Line Ltd-USA of Norfolk, Virginia, USA. It is entered with Standard Club (UK & Americas Division) on behalf of Maersk Line Ltd.