Much bandwidth has been expended on social media, including MAC’s Maritime Investigation group on LinkedIn, following the collision between the German-flagged Hapag-Lloyd Colombo Express and the Singapore-flagged Maersk Tanjong at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 29 September. Captured on a mobile phone, the incident caused serious disruption to canal operations, dunked several containers overboard, and put a 20 metre dent in the port side of Colombo Express.
No-one was hurt there was no environmental impact and both vessels were able to continue on to an anchorage to await recovery of the lost containers and investigators from the Suez Canal Authority.
Even at this early stage there may be lessons to be learned.
What is known about the incident is that both vessels are understood to have been in good condition, visibility was good and both vessels were under pilotage.
The canal authority operates three main convoys each day: one northbound and two southbound. Colombo Express was on the second southbound convoy of the day. Maersk Tanjong was departing the Suez Canal Container Terminal to join the same convoy.
An AIS recording shows Colombo Express travelling at 14 knots attempting to overtake Maersk Tanjong, which was moving at 10 knots. Suddenly Colombo Express veers to port and makes contact with Maersk Tanjong.
This early in the investigative cycle the cause of the incident cannot be identified with certainty, there are too many unknowns and speculation regarding what or who was responsible is unwise. Nevertheless, thinking about what might have gone wrong can be a useful “what would I do if…” exercise akin to a sort of post-hoc risk assessment.
Whether or not one is proven correct when the final report emerges awareness of the risks and thinking about appropriate response, may contribute to overall safety consciousness.
Catastrophic steering failure is one possibility.of course – it does happen.
Much discussed in online fora is the ‘bank effect’, which has been invoked in several accidents covered by MAC. Several of those were while under pilotage. A vessel passing through confined waters can be ‘sucked’ toward the bank and the same phenomenon can occur when one ship passes another at higher speed.
The AIS plot also appears to show Colombo Express suddenly becoming aware of Maersk Tanjong emerging from the container terminal and taking avoiding action to starboard. It was still moving to starboard immediately before the sudden fast turn to port.
One can be sure that, when issued, the final investigation report will show not merely a single-point failure but the contribution of several factors.
In an ideal world no vessel would be in such a situation but we do not live in an ideal world and exploring what might happened, without intending judgement or blame, may make for safer sailing.