Friday, January 4, 2019

Double Whammy for Container Shipping Giant as Both Freight and Crew Lost at Sea

Pirate Attack Sees Kidnapping as Storm Washes Box Cargo Overboard
Shipping News Feature
WEST AFRICA – NETHERLANDS – WORLDWIDE – 2019 could hardly have got off to a worse start for the world's second largest container shipping outfit, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which has suffered a 'double whammy' this week with one ship suffering a pirate attack, resulting in the kidnapping of several crew, whilst in Dutch waters a violent storm meant the loss at sea of around 270 shipping containers all loaded with freight.

The sub-panamax box ship Mandy, 47,000 dwt and flagged in Panama, was attacked in the Gulf of Guinea on 2 January and boarded by several men who reportedly then kidnapped crew members before leaving the ship. Currently unconfirmed reports indicate 6 crew were seized from the 2,700 TEU vessel when she was sailing approximately 50 nautical miles south of the Port of Cotonou, Benin whilst en route from Lome Togo to Lagos Nigeria. The Mandy then proceeded to an anchorage off her destination port where she moored on 4 January.

Piracy off the Nigerian coastline and in the Gulf of Guinea is a subject we have written on many times and, since the authorities have maintained a stringent watch on the seas off Somalia and the Indian Ocean, coupled with security aboard ships, Best Management Practice protocols and convoy tactics, the Gulf of Guinea has now become the most pirated region, with kidnappings from ships resulting in hundreds of people being abducted in the last few years.

As with Somalia, increased security in the Niger Delta, particularly around the traditional target of oil company assets, has seen the pirates venture out further each year into the waters of the Gulf. The pirates still attack smaller vessels on a regular basis but attempts on larger vessels have increased of late. Guidelines similar to the protocols for transit off the Somali coast have also been published for the Gulf of Guinea region.

The islands in the North Sea off the Dutch coast are meanwhile the scene of a huge variety of trade goods strewn on the beaches having been washed from the decks of the 19,000+ TEU MSC Zoe, once again on 2 January whilst she was heading for Bremerhaven. The company immediately appointed a salvage company to coordinate the retrieval of cargo and beach clean-up operations and is also deploying specialised ships equipped with sonar to search for missing cargo at sea, saying it takes the incident ‘very seriously’.

Whilst the islanders of Terschelling and Vlieland were helping themselves to cargo washed up on their island beaches after the storm, a practice they apparently consider quite moral as collection of flotsam, more boxes were known to be seen semi submerged in the sea off two other islands, Schiermonnikoog and Ameland.

Despite the obvious headaches for shipping company, shippers and insurers alike, those lost containers are potentially the major worry for seafarers. Around the world are many 20 and 40 foot boxes which drift in the currents, too low to be detected by radar and the potential source of tragedy for any vessel which meets up with them.

Add to that the fact that a handful of the containers aboard the MSC Zoe, one of the new generation of ever larger box carriers at a scratch under 400 metres and 200,000 dwt and also flagged in Panama, contain hazardous chemicals posing a level of environmental risk and collectively this has certainly not meant a good start to the year for the Swiss shipping group.

Photo: A beach clean up after the MSC Zoe spill – or scavenging flotsam – you decide.