Wadden Islands routes pose threat to large container ship cargoes, report finds

The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) has warned liners that there is a danger of container losses in shipping routes above the Wadden Islands, also known as the Frisian islands, off the Netherlands coast, when certain weather and sea conditions are in play.

Container ship MSC Zoe (IMO 9703318) lost 342 containers of cargo during the night of January 1st/2nd 2019 while the ship was traveling from Sines in Portugal to Bremerhaven in Germany.

The OVV said that shipping routes above the Wadden Islands during north-western storms could cause containers to be at risk on large and wide container ships. The MSC Zoe was a 19,224 teu vessel and had some 8,000 separate containers on board at the time.

There are two internationally designated shipping routes, a northern and a southern route, above the Wadden Islands, and the OVV said that a combination of circumstances could mean that both routes were risky at certain times.

The MSC Zoe cargo consisted of a wide range of items and packaging materials that on the subsequent days washed ashore on the coastline of the Wadden Islands (IMN January 4th 2019 and subsequent editions).

Two investigations were launched: one was a combined international investigation with Panama and Germany into the course of events of the accident, while the second was by the Dutch Safety Board into the risks on the shipping routes north of the Wadden area.

Dutch Safety Board (OVV) investigations, carried out with input from Germany’s BSU and the Panamanian registry reported the storm conditions were not particularly severe, but that the north-westerly winds that were blowing on the day.

MSC ZOE was sailing to Bremerhaven on the southern route above the North Sea’s Wadden Islands. The depth of the water is less in this region than the longer northern route, but the report concluded that, while the northern route was safer than the shorter southern transit, it remained a difficult path to navigate in the conditions encountered by MSC ZOE on the night of the accident.

The wide design of the vessel makes it highly stable, rolling means that the vessel will roll back to upright quicker than less stable vessels. This means that, with the wave intervals at about the same period of the rolling motion of the ship, the forces acting on the lashing equipment are increased further.

Hydrodynamic forces on the MSC ZOE were at and beyond the lashing gear’s limits said investigators. “Even though this may sound counterintuitive, this means that large and wide container ships with a high stability have greater roll motions in a beam wave scenario than less stable ships. In addition, a high stability also leads to the effect that the ship wants to return fast to its steady state. This leads to high accelerations and hence large forces on containers and the lashing material on board. The occurrence of contact with the seabed, green water and slamming can further amplify these accelerations and/or forces,” the OVV report said.

Although it was less likely that vessels would hit bottom on the northern route, which has deeper water, however, OVV said the investigation “revealed risks of loss of containers for large, wide container ships on the shipping routes to the north of the Wadden Islands”.

MSC ZOE’s investigation concluded that “the northerly shipping route is from the perspective of container loss not a safe route, at most a less risky route during north-westerly storm conditions. In different conditions the southern route may be less risky.”

It was observed that hydrodynamic phenomena and ship behaviour in shallow shipping routes such as those above the Wadden Islands had been the subject of only limited scientific study and recommended that further research was necessary in order to map out the risks on both shipping routes in other conditions and/or for other ship sizes and types.

Currently there were no specific guidelines or restrictions for large container ships operating in the comparatively shallow waters to the north of the environmentally sensitive region on the Wadden Islands.

The MSC Zoe was found to have lost cargo at six different locations.

MSC said that “the MSC ZOE accident of January 2019 was very regrettable and required a substantial response operation costing several tens of millions of euros overseen and funded by MSC, in full coordination with the Dutch and German authorities. After the incident, MSC made its own decision to avoid the southern sailing route for subsequent voyages and we will continue to follow official guidance on designated container shipping routes in the North Sea, if and when such guidance evolves.”

MSC observed that the response to the MSC ZOE catastrophe showed that there was a huge amount of debris underwater from lost cargoes dating back to long before the MSC Zoe incident, even before the beginning of container shipping more than 50 years ago.

The international report has recommended the Panamanian, German and Dutch governments review the technical requirements imposed on container ships in an IMO context, specifically:

  • the design requirements for lashing systems and containers
  • the requirements for loading and stability of container ships
  • obligations with regard to instruments providing insight into roll motions and accelerations
  • the technical possibilities for detecting container loss.

The German and Dutch governments have also been advised to investigate, in cooperation with Denmark, the need for additional measures on these shipping routes or adjustments to the routes and to submit a proposal to the IMO on that basis.

2015-built, Panama-flagged, 192,784 gt MSC Zoe is owned by Xiangxing International Shipping care of manager MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co of Geneva, Switzerland. ISM manager is Mediterranean Shipping Co Srl of Piano di Sorrento, Naples, Italy. It is entered with West of England Club (European Claims Team) on behalf of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co SA.