As owners of container ships order ever larger vessels, the salvage industry will need to deal with far more complex operations. However, the salvage industry does not have the capabilities to deal with a casualty involving a fully-loaded 22,000 TEU container ship, according to maritime insurers in London.
AmTrust at Lloyd’s head of marine Peter Townsend highlighted the risk of grounding and cargo loss from the larger size of container ships. He explained that ships that are more than 50 m high, 350 m long and almost 60 m wide would be a considerable challenge to salvage.
Mr Townsend cited an incident in 2016 when 19,000 TEU container ship, CSCL Indian Ocean, grounded near Hamburg as an example of a challenge for refloating these ships. He said 6,500 tonnes of bunker fuel was discharged from that ship, the river bed needed dredging and 13 tugs were used to haul it out of danger during a six-day operation.
He also cited the grounding of CSCL Jupiter outside of Antwerp on 14 August 2017, when around 10 tugs were needed to drag the ship off the seabed. “This was a soft grounding. [Tugs] got this ship off the seabed, but it was a close shave,” said Mr Townsend.
“There is less frequency of loss, but I am not sure we can handle another large container ship grounding,” he added. Mr Townsend also questioned whether the salvage industry has enough capacity to deal with a major cruise ship casualty far from a coastline.
“Support services are inadequate,” Mr Townsend said. “Our needs are not matched by existing salvage capabilities. “We need greater investment in salvage and we need to address the root cause of these problems.”
Tug Technology & Business highlighted how CSCL Jupiter left a berth between Saftingen and Lilo on Antwerp’s northern outskirts, rounded two bends in the Scheldt before going off course and grounding.
Another major issue with ultra-large container ship incidents is getting the cargo off before salvage work can be conducted. Although the CSCL ship incidents showed that ships can be refloated with containers on board, a hard grounding, such as the recent Kea Trader accident in the Pacific, show there is need to remove containers in some accidents.
Mr Townsend worried that there is not enough crane capacity to remove all containers from a 22,000 TEU ship. “They may get the deck containers off, but may not get all the cargo out of the hold,” he said.