Feb 072010
Damage caused during the fall in the dark

An AB died and a master remains unable to work a year later because they didn’t have enough to hold onto when their containership, Chicago Express, rolled by up to 44 degree in a typhoon. Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation, BSU, has also expressed concern that “on the basis of the current state-of-the-art alone, the establishment or energetic promotion of a clear, internationally binding framework is needed, which facilitates greater recognition and practical utilisation of available scientific findings in relation to the vulnerability of vessels at sea”.

The report on the incident also discusses the issue of voyage data recorder failures.

Says the BSU synopsis: “At about 0245 in the morning on 24 September 2008, a very serious marine casualty occurred on board the 8749 TEU container vessel Chicago Express in which a Philippine crew member was fatally injured, the German Master of the vessel suffered serious injuries, and four more German seamen suffered minor injuries.


At about 1730 on the previous day, the vessel put to sea from Hong Kong and sailed for Ningbo following instructions to shipping from the local port authority because of the approaching Typhoon Hagupit. At about 1945 , immediately after

reaching the open sea, Chicago Express encountered heavy winds and swell from a south-easterly direction; this exposed the vessel to rolling motions of up to approximately 32 degrees.4 The ship’s command therefore decided to deviate from the intended general north-easterly course towards Ningbo and weather the storm, which at the time of the accident had reached a wind force of 10 with gusts of up to 12 Bft, by steering variable courses against the direction of the wind and swell. This led to the roll angle being reduced to values of about 20 degrees.

Hardly a handhold in sight, especially in the dark

At about 0245 h, the vessel, which at the time was under the control of the Master and steered by the Helmsman manually, was suddenly hit by a particularly violent wave coming from starboard just as she rolled to starboard. Following that, Chicago Express keeled over severely several times, at which the inclinometer registered an uncorrected maximum roll angle of 44 degrees for an estimated 10 seconds.

Due to the enormous accelerative forces on the bridge, the Master, the Helmsman and the Lookout also present lost their footing and were thrown across the bridge. The Officer on Watch, who was the only person on the bridge able to hold on to the chart table, hurried to the helm and stabilised the vessel’s course.

Is enough known about containership stability in bad weather?

The uninjured Helmsman was able to regain his footing relatively quickly and after a short period of orientation, he and the Officer on Watch found both the Master and the AB lying unconscious on the floor with bleeding wounds. While the Master regained partial consciousness shortly after, in spite of immediately initiated first aid measures carried out with the assistance of other summoned crew members and guided by medical consultations by radio, they were unable to save the unconscious AB. At 0417, resuscitative measures were discontinued.

During the ensuing weeks, the Master, who was in acute danger of losing his life for an extended period because of the severity of his internal injuries, initially received medical care in Hong Kong and was flown back to Germany after his fitness to travel was restored. Thanks to the excellent medical treatment his initial acutely life-threatening condition was stabilised after several weeks.”

Look around your bridge and imagine rolling to an equivalent angle, in the dark, and figure out what you, and others on the bridge are going to hold on to and how to address such a hazard before it becomes, literally, painfully apparent.

A solution for the helmsman

The other issue is that those on watch did not have enough information on how a ship of this kind behaves in such a situation. Says the report: “A central question requiring clarification within the framework of the expertise was whether the crew would have been able to recognise the danger and whether the accident would have thus been avoidable. It was also a matter of ascertaining whether the vessel’s high level of stability caused the accident and if so whether, at reasonable expense, such a high level of stability ought generally to be avoided with this type of vessel…

“…It is clearly possible to explain such accidents using currently available calculation technology. To some extent, this may be interpreted as progress. However, with the regulatory documentation and instruments generally used in the construction, approval and operation of vessels it is currently not possible to formulate recommendations for action or guidelines that would definitely help the crew to avoid such accidents. In this context, the expert makes reference to the still existing need for developing dynamic stability criteria for the intact stability of vessels, which are physically correct as regards mapping the swell-related stability effects.”

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