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Article: Mega box ship bulletin introduction

11 July 2019

As the size of container ships has steadily increased, so has the level of difficulty in handling casualties involving them. This special edition of the standard bulletin looks at the different legal, technical and practical considerations.

Mega box ship casualty

Ultra large container ships, or mega box ships as  they are commonly called, can have a carrying capacity in excess of 20,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) and are frequently in excess of 14,500 TEU.

This can have a considerable impact in the event of a casualty. In particular, the global shipping and insurance markets have expressed concern regarding the firefighting capability of these ships, which has not necessarily kept pace with their increasing size. It can be extremely difficult to find suitable ports of refuge to accommodate these ships and which have infrastructure capable of handling the number of containers on board. There are also concerns about the difficulty and cost involved in carrying out a salvage or wreck removal of a mega box ship due to their size and the lack of suitable heavy-lift cranes/floating sheerlegs.

P&I club response

The Standard Club has had first-hand experience of dealing with container
ship casualties, having handled the MSC Chitra, the MSC Flaminia and, more recently, the Maersk Honam.

On 6 March 2018, the 15,000 TEU Maersk Honam (which was carrying 7,860 containers) caught fire whilst sailing in the Arabian Sea, which tragically resulted in the death of five of its crew. It took five days to bring the fire under control and a further seven weeks before the ship could be towed to a suitable port of refuge – Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. The fire destroyed cargo in almost 2,000 containers in the ship’s first three holds and led to a complex and challenging operation to remove and dispose of the waste, which is still ongoing over a year after the incident.

In the event of a mega box ship casualty, the club would take the lead in co-ordinating the initial emergency response in conjunction with the member, salvors and relevant authorities. Experienced claimshandling personnel would be deployed to the site to devise a longer-term resolution strategy with the member and the appointed surveyors, salvors, technical experts and lawyers who form the overall casualty management team. The club can also spearhead contractual negotiations to facilitate the removal and disposal of the damaged cargo, the environmental response and the salvage or wreck removal of the ship, as well as handling cargo, personal injury, pollution and property damage claims. 

This bulletin

The articles in this bulletin provide an overview of the various legal, technical and practical issues that may arise in a mega box ship casualty. 

These are available via the links on the right. 

Thank you to all of our authors for their contributions to this bulletin. We hope that all who read it find it useful and informative.