Did it fall or was it pushed? Investigators are not sure whether a fire in collapsed containers aboard the 11,000 teu Eugene Maersk on 18 June 2013 was a result of friction heat during the collapse or whether there was an existing smaller fire in a container before the collapse. They are certain that in both scenarios the collapse of containers was considered a major contributing factor to the fire.
Fighting the fire might have been easier if the available equipment was appropriate to the job. In the crew’s opinion there was no doubt about the importance of getting water inside the burning containers but the special
equipment provided on board for this purpose proved to be of little or no use.
Denmark’s Maritime Accident Investigation Board, DMAIB, says: “The reason for the collapse of containers leading up to the fire was most likely a combination of multiple factors, including the structural integrity of the containers, the weather conditions, the stack weights, the lashings and dynamic forces acting on the ship.
Containers were not weighed upon loading it is uncertain whether some stack loads exceeded the maximum acceptable load and thus could have contributed to the collapse of the container stacks. Given the fact that a deck officer normally does not know the criteria based on which the loading computer gives its results, he or she has no reason to question the output unless, of course, there is physical evidence to suggest problems.
Although the deck officer has the authority to request changes to stowage the normal operating circumstances on a container ship – time constraints, financial considerations, social factors and mechanisms – it is doubtful that he or she would actually do this, even if he or she felt uncertain.
Says DMAIB: The combination of the position of these containers, at the very aft of the ship, and the ship’s motions and the resulting dynamic forces may have contributed to the collapse of containers before the fire.
The successful fighting of the fire was, says DMAIB, due to: “…the crew’s efforts, and the fact that Djibouti Harbour was willing to assist and allow the vessel to enter the port, and the availability of specialized personnel and their equipment. .. One very important factor was the crew’s ability to adapt to the situation at hand. By showing the willingness and capability to exercise organizational flexibility, i.e. delegating responsibilities, deploying crewmembers where they were most needed, changing watch keeping schedules, etc. as opposed to strictly following muster list procedures, the crew put themselves in the best possible position for a successful outcome.”
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