Britain’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch has described as ‘regrettable’ the reluctance of the container industry to tackle what it believes is a ‘widespread fallacy’ that container vessels do not need to reduce speed for heavy weather. The comment is part of the MAIB annual report for 2008 which describes correcting the fallacy as ‘critical’ following the report on the structural failure and subsequent beaching in heavy weather of MSC Napoli in Branscombe Beach on 18 January 2007.
MAIB accident investigations are intended to result in recommendations that it believes will enhance maritime safety. It is not mandatory for the recommendations to be accepted or acted upon but MAIB is required by law to present the results of its recommendations in its annual report.
In its report on the MSC Napoli incident MAIB says: “The commercial advantages of containerisation and intermodalism such as speed and quick turnarounds appear to have become the focus of the industry at the expense of the safe operation of its vessel.”
There is no single organisation for the container industry and the MAIB recommendations were made to the International Chamber of Shipping” that “When developing a Code of Best Practice for the container industry… Ensure the Code addresses the… importance of safe speed and prudent seamanship when navigating
in conditions of heavy weather.”
ICS, however, responded that it: “took a conscious decision at the earliest drafting stage that this was not part of the Container Guide. It belongs more appropriately in the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide.”
In its annual report, MAIB comments: “This investigation (Into the MSC Napoli incident) identified a widespread belief within the container industry that container ships did not need to reduce speed for heavy weather. It is regrettable that this opportunity to correct a critical fallacy has not been taken”.
MSC Napoli was making good a speed of 11 knots Speed Over Ground, with engine revolutions that would normally result in a speed of 17.5 knots, and the height of the waves was up to 9m when her hull failed. It believed that a ‘whipping effect’ caused failure at a point where thinner deck plates had introduced a weakness. Among MAIB’s conclusions was that “The ship’s speed was not reduced sufficiently in the heavy seas… it is almost certain that a reduction of speed would have significantly reduced the risk of hull failure… As MSC Napoli was making good 11kts over the ground when the structural failure of her hull occurred, there was ample scope to reduce speed further and still maintain steerage.”
A two-part podcast on the MSC Napoli Incident and the issues raised, The Case of the Bendy Boxer, is available for premium subscriber download in the Library.