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The MOL Comfort sinking and its wider industry concerns

The MOL Comfort sinking and its wider industry concerns
As a shipping journalist it was with some sadness that I read email update number 24 from Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) on the MOL Comfort casualty on Thursday morning. It was the not unexpected news that the fore section of the broken boxship, which had been burning for five days, had sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

For three weeks we had been following the unfurling drama of the MOL Comfort accident here on Daily updates had been hugely well read by many thousands of people and clearly we were not the only ones in shipping eager to know what would happen next.

However, on a more serious level the fire on, and subsequent loss of, the last part of the MOL Comfort will hugely hamper investigations into how the five-year old containership broke its back in heavy weather and later split apart.

Had attempts to tow both, or even one section of the broken ship, to Oman been successful it would have provided investigators with large amounts of evidence to analyse. As it stands though, despite the heroic attempts of the salvors in clearly very difficult conditions, the two halves of the wreck now lie thousands of metres down on the ocean floor.

While we do not doubt the skills of ClassNK and the Japanese government authorities, as well as Lloyd’s Register, who have been appointed independently by MOL to find the cause of the accident, with no actual physical evidence to work with apart crew accounts and photos it will be an extremely difficult, if not impossible task.

Indeed ClassNK has already said that in view of the “unfortunate circumstances” it will now likely complete its preliminary investigations by September.

But knowing why this accident occurred is of major importance to the shipping industry as a whole. It brings into question the issue of whether the structural standards of large containerships are good enough to stand the potential rigours they face on the world’s oceans. Lessons learned could also be applied to other ship types, making shipping overall a safer industry. There have also been suggestions that overweight containers, not declared as such, could have been the root cause of the casualty.

Whatever the reason, the loss of the entire vessel is a blow not just to MOL, cargo owners and investigators, but the industry as whole in its ongoing quest for safer shipping.

Related stories:

Fore part of MOL Comfort sinks

MOL Comfort blaze rages out of control for fourth day

MOL appoints LR to determine cause of MOL Comfort accident

MOL Comfort's aft section sinks

MOL Comfort wreck breaks its tow

Salvors towing MOL Comfort fore section to Arabian Gulf

MOL Comfort sisterships to be sent for hull-strengthening

ClassNK expresses concerns over MOL Comfort accident

MOL Comfort split in two, rescue underway