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Size Does Matter: The Industry’s Problem with Growing Containership Sizes

As container vessels continue to increase in size and capacity, a new alarming trend of wind-related incidents has become more common, leading to more vessels becoming disabled, containers sustaining serious damage, and boxes falling overboard.

One of the most well-known events from the past year is the stranding of the Ever-Given in the Suez Canal, which, for nearly a week, prevented any ship from passing through the canal. The vessel’s size (1,300 feet from stern to bow), and at the amount of cargo it was hauling (18,300 TEUs of freight), and how the containers were stacked (eight containers high and twenty-four 40’ containers wide) created a giant rectangular wall with a surface area of 65,280 square feet. Investigators have suggested that strong gusts of wind were largely to blame for the vessel running aground, as a ship of that size is powerless once the wind hits a wall of containers that size.

“Ships of that size are becoming more and more common, and growing containership volumes are not slowing down,” said Anthony Fullbrook, president of OEC Group’s Northeast Region. “Even though these vessels are very heavy, the side profile of a fully stacked containership can act as a gigantic sail that effectively catches wind, which can cause ships the size of the Ever Given to run aground and disrupt operations for the entire industry.”

Another recent example of wind related accidents occurred a few weeks ago at the Port of Prince Rupert. Sixty-knot winds ripped the MSC Altair from its place at one of the terminals, pushed the vessel across the width of the bay, and forced it to run aground near Digby Island. This incident necessitated the use of a team of tugboats to free and guide the Altair back to its original position. In another incident off the coast of Japan, severe winds actually broke a ship into two pieces.

“The solution to minimize these wind-related incidents is to lower container volume and employ a more strategic system for stacking,” said Joe Klobus, Insurance & Claims specialist for OEC Group’s Northeast Region. “Unfortunately, due to our current demand for goods and the shortage of vessels to transport them, it looks like things are not going to change and the current rate of container incidents will become the new normal.”
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