Container Feeder Capsizes at Bandar Abbas

GOOD LORD! how on earth can this happen?

Those little feeders are very tender all of the time from what I’ve seen. Someone messing with the ballast to compensate for list and then not readjusting when the load starts going the other way? Deballasting too much before the upper tier cargo has been discharged? Either way it was a shitty day in Iran.

They probably didn’t start out the day saying, “Today, we capsize the ship.”

Too often we get caught up in hindsight bias and fail to try to understand how things looked to the people involved in the incident at the time. We look at this capsized vessel and see the linear decisions and actions that lead directly to the capsizing. Unfortunately, to the person in the situation at the time, there isn’t such clarity.

A few thoughts from the first responder world below :

First, realize things are not always as they appear. Frame what you see and read in the context of the events and information that led to the actions (or inactions). Second, do not be quick to judge. And finally, always ask “Why did it make sense to do (or not do) something?”

  1. How did things look to them at the time it was happening?
  2. How did things unfold (the timeline)?
  3. Why did things make sense to them as the incident unfolded?
  4. Could this happen in your organization?

The feeder Deneb seen capsized in the harbour of Algeciras, Spain.

The capsize in Bandar Abbas is no real surprise as it had probably the same cause as that of the Deneb, basically an unfit design. Competition in container transport led to the design of ships with lower GT, that carry more containers on deck than in enclosed cargo spaces. The tonnage-based dues for feeders are charged only for the cargo carried in enclosed spaces (cargo holds), while those stowed on deck are free from dues. As a result the feeders’ holds are kept as small as possible with a (too) low freeboard. It is an irony that the earning space, such as deck cargo space, is omitted from tonnage whereas desirable features such as crew space or forecastle or double-hull envelope are included.

Ports, as always attentive on their earnings, since more and more cargo are being carried on deck, have started using other means than GT or NT to recover the dues. For container ships, many ports are using TEU as the basis, thus it was after all unnecessary to develop stupid rules so we are now stuck with a generation of unstable and therefore unsafe ships. Another reason for building of these minimized ships was that they could sail with three less crew.

Unstable due to small depth/cargo hold, low freeboard with a very small angle of deck edge immersion so that with a small list there is already water on deck and the large number of containers on deck. Add to that the fact that 10 - 20% of the containers are overweight. For a normal container ship this is not am immediate problem but for ships balancing on a knife point it can become vital like with the Dutch feeder Dongedijk which had in total 150 tons of overweight on deck and capsized in August 2000 near Port Said.


The Dutch flagged feeder Dongedijk that capsized after a simple rudder command.

The overweight was not the only cause of the capsize. The ship also had a trim of 1.60 m and with a heel of only 2° to 6° water came on deck and filled the gangways with tens of tons of sea water.

All problems are gone if feeders got one more container layer in the hold and one less on deck. Another positive result would also be a much larger freeboard and a safe and stable ship.

It is sad to see that seamen’s lifes are put in harms way in order to increase the profit margins of the ship owners. It is perhaps even more sad that governments and classification societies allowed such an in fact unseaworthy type of ship to set sail. Back to Plimsoll’s days?

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