Container with 3 tons of sulfuric acid is floating somewhere off Outer Banks

And getting closer to shore. I was going to take my dog for his weekly dip in the ocean this morning but with the possibility of leaking barrels of sulfuric acid washing ashore on our beach, I’m having second thoughts.

Other than observing guidelines published by the IMO/ILO/CTU et al, are ship operators liable for toxic chemicals washing ashore like drillers are for oil spills? It’s good that weights are being addressed but given that hundreds and occasionally thousands of containers fall overboard annually, should stack heights be reduced? At what point does the shipping industry’s blind pursuit of ever increasing loads cease to become a convenience to consumers and become a liability?

The numbers claimed in the Yachting World article are unsubstantiated but still…

Is this rhetorical?

But seriously. I’ve passed an MSC ULCV in the North Sea that was lightly loaded and way too stiff. Hatteras and the North Sea are both areas not to be trifled with. This is the reality of these huge ships when they are not fully loaded. The designs are incorporating lashing bridges that are 4 stacks high and in some cases cell guides above deck, but physics wins out every time when the forces get out of control.

I’m sorry that you are waiting for a pending hazmat incident on your beautiful shoreline. More than likely it will sink to the bottom and slowly leach in the ocean for decades. Out of sight and out of mind unfortunately.

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Relax, Sulfuric Acid is water soluble. I am of the opinion that the boxes fell off because they were not lashed / secured properly. I have been monitoring the weather for a towing survey and while it was a rapidly developing merger of two lows, the sea state never developed to the point it would have taken out boxes on a container ship with extra freeboard. Look at a picture of the ship, the hatch tops must be 35 feet above the waterline. The seas never reached that state off of Hatteras during this blow.

Dude, I’m like, totally relaxed. I know sulfuric acid is water soluble and like Damn Yankee says, if the barrels sink offshore we’ll never hear about them again. On the other hand, several containers have been reported drifting to the SW so it’s not inconceivable that they could eventually fetch up in a populated area and begin leaking as the result of damage suffered when they fell overboard and/or being slammed by the waves on the beach or against a pier piling. There is an enormous quantity of debris on the beach from that blow as we speak.
How do you calculate the floating properties of a steel container filled with drums of sulfuric acid and formulate a potential drift scenario? What if the container busted open and the barrels escaped? How would they behave? This is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night.
Don’t get me wrong though, overall, I’m still relaxed.
I don’t take it as gospel because I read this in the newspaper but an article said that the Shanghai reported 40 foot waves to the CG. That does seem pretty steep. Then again, the Chesapeake Bay bridge was closed to traffic and wind speeds there reportedly reached 80 mph. On the sound side the wind blew up from a fresh to a strong gale for about 3 hours.
Without being there, saying that those seas never reached that state and faulting improper lashing is a bold statement.

PS Hatteras will kick your ass. Last summer on a calm cloudy day, four water spouts formed suddenly outside the harbor (north of Oregon Inlet). One came in for a quick spin sending patio furniture flying hundreds of feet in the air and tearing off roof tiles did a 180 rejoined the other 3 and they all disappeared to the NW.

At a density of 1.84 g/cm3 I am pretty sure that drums of Sufuric Acid would sink.

Thank you, that’s useful information. You say without having been there that the seas never reached that state and that the containers were not lashed properly. Do you have inside information?

As I said I have been monitoring the weather for a towing survey since last week. I live on the coast about 100 miles from Oregon Inlet where the containers were reported to have gone over. The Maersk Shanghai departed Cape Henry at approximately 17:00 EST on Saturday the 3rd. That evening when the Shanghai was off of Oregon inlet the low was moving well offshore and the gusts were recorded in the vicinity of 35 mph max. That isn’t enough to tear loose a properly secured container much less 70 of them. Looking at the weather charts and how fast the low was moving and the fact that the wind off of Hatteras was rapidly veering from West to NW as the low moved offshore, in my opinion, it did not have the time or fetch to develop into 35 foot seas. I am assuming that the Shanghai had proper stability and was doing long slow rolls as is appropriate for a container ship. In my experience it is not unheard of for longshoremen or crew to fail to notice if the automatic twist locks failed to lock properly. If the twist locks were properly engaged and the ship was not excessively “stiff” then the containers would have stayed in place.

The link doesn’t work. The conditions I described were on Friday and by late Saturday the wind had laid way down. Now the press has toned down the ship’s report to seas up to 30 feet and winds up to 65 mph. Nothing monstrous.

Now I have to ask if that is sarcasm? 30 feet and 65 knots is fairly large seas in my book. Enough to whip up substantial wind driven seas (particularly from the NNE directly into the face of the Gulf Stream) to cause some pretty severe motion if the stability wasn’t where it needed to be. Lashings May have been a factor but those conditions would be enough to overload the limits if the ship got synchronous or god forbid parametric. These ships are grossly overloaded above their lashing limits already.

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No sarcasm intended and not belittling 30 feet/65mph but by monstrous, I mean hurricane size. And yeah, it doesn’t take long for a strong north wind to set up a nasty ride in the Gulf Stream especially where the Labrador current gets into the mix.

Maybe we’ll get more free junk food…


Salted on the inside and salted on the outside.

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Word on the street was 14 meter seas. That’s more than enough to induce some pretty radical rolling (think parametric or synchronous rolling).

At what point does the shipping industry’s blind pursuit of ever increasing loads cease to become a convenience to consumers and become a liability?

See this thread: Major Fire on Ultra-Large Containership Maersk Honam in Arabian Sea, Situation ‘Critical’

“Ah! These great, big things, they want some handling.”
"…the mere increase of size is not progress"

Word on the waterfront is that she was close to 9 feet of GM. Definitely stiff

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The largest wave heights recorded by the buoy 22 miles off of Duck NC (30 miles north of the Oregon Inlet) occurred on Monday 3/5, three days after two lows decided to get married on Friday 3/2 and blasted 60-80 ish winds butting heads southward against the Gulf Stream. @Seago puts the departure of the Shanghai from Cape Charles the next day, Saturday 3/3 at 1700 so it would have arrived 17 miles off of Oregon Inlet at around 2200 on Saturday night. By then the winds had laid way down so it appears that the wind by itself was not a factor. Its cumulative effect on the sea state is what appears to be the major factor the Shanghai’s troubles.