Matsonia - Hull Cracks & Oil Spills From El Faro’s 46 Year Old Sister Ship

Hull crack, near sister of the El Faro?

Any local knowledge?

Hull Cracks & Oil Spills From El Faro’s 46 Year Old Sister Ship - gCaptain post.

Thursday morning, shortly after mooring in Oakland, the hull of the 1,727 TEU Matsoncontainership S/S Matsonia cracked spilling heavy fuel oil into San Francisco Bay.

The vessel was built in 1973 by Sun Shipbuilding, one year before the doomed El Faro at the same shipyard using the same basic hull design.

On Thursday the Matsonia’s crew, noticed a sheen surrounding the vessel around 8 a.m., initiated the vessel response plan and deployed an oil boom around the ship.

I read Konrad’s article regarding the Matsonia. I think he missed the mark when he alluded to the “known” structural issues. We know Tote scrapped the El Yunque after significant wastage was found in her ventilation trunks. It is believed the El Faro was in similar condition. The Matsonia however does not have those ventilation trunk appendages on her hull.

The cause of the hull crack remains to be determined.


The MATSONIA was built as a sister the EL FARO and EL YUNQUE (without the midbody addition), but was later modified to deepen the hull (fully enclosing the previous weather deck), smaller midbody addition and only carry containers in the holds forward of the house (plus the “garage” aft of the house). That’s why the ventilation blisters are no longer there. Further, she is only 760 LOA, where the Tote ships were 790’. Comparing the MATSONIA to the EL FARO is comparing apples to oranges.


I’m a crew member on The Matty leaving Sand Island on 15FEB we sailed directly into nasty weather, we pitched badly for two days, likely this caused the crack, though no one knows for sure.

Worth noting that in Jan we diverted to Long Beach to pick up cargo from one of Matson’s newer vessels that had cracked.

Matsonia was scheduled to lay up for one trip starting 21MAR to do boiler work, that lay-up has been, canceled and we are laying up this week for 7-8 days.

All in all much ado about very little,and way to many people trying to make some political point.


I agree DavidMT, the article was more about the USCG than about the Matsonia. Cracks happen, even on newer vessels. Let us find out what the cause is before jumping the gun. The article should be about specific frames, longitudinals, tanks, plating, corrosion, ballast/loading stresses, sea conditions… not spectacular headlines to make a political point.


Mostly, crack propagation takes place due to fatigue, which is not something this article is about.

Metal Fatigue

Ship structures are prone to fatigue because of high cyclic loading caused primarily by waves, but also because of changing cargo distributions and excited vibrations.

Age of US Flag ships is always a point made in these incidents. Mostly by those who take issue with the Jones Act, then attempt to make the connection.

If age of the ship were always the issue, how does one explain the MOL COMFORT breaking in two pieces off the coast of Yemen a few years ago? The ship was one of 5 hulls (if I remember correctly) built five years before here infamous crack. Run by a reputable company and built in a reputable shipyard, she was a relatively new ship by any measure, But more than just a crack, she literally broke in two whole pieces.

Yes, there is more to the story. Comparisons of the MATSONIA and the EL FARO are indeed apples to oranges. Given the MATSONIA had significant major hull changes designed and rebuilt into here original hull, the MATSONIA is a demonstrably different ship altogether.

However I do agree that all these old steamships should have been forced to accept changes in lifeboat design and installation. There is no credible reason why this should have been delayed. How do you justify “grandfathering in” a safety issue like lifesaving equipment. THAT issue is on the shoulders of the USCG and they will never live that one down.


I take issue with the Mol Comfort. IIRC it was a case on naval architects, and complicit approval from class, that took the design parameters a step to far for what was known at the time. The stringer strake was of 75mm high tensile steel, but 2 m wide, whilst the hull was of regular construction. Whilst the vessel was upright the bending stress was distributed across the whole double bottom, but, when she rolled, as ships do in the SW Monsoon, the stress was concentrated at the bilge, which gave way and the crack propogated.

The Matsonia was probably well built but sadly now time expired.

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Live what down? That implies shame or guilt about some action or condition. I doubt if Diogenes could find a Coastie who feels any guilt about “that” issue.

There is not a single person in the USCG whose life has been or will be changed in any form or manner or or even be named when mariners die as the result of some institutional safety policy.

Mariners’ opinions or feelings are irrelevant, the general public knows nothing, and those who would be forced to pay for change are the ones who prevent it.

Yes age is always an issue when older vessels have an accident of nearly any kind. That applies regardless of which flag the vessel is flying.

It is a fact that the US fleet has more old ships than others and there is a tendency to convert or patch up such vessel, rather than building new.
Would that still be the case if it was allowed to build ships at foreign yards?

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Just as OPA 90 signaled the end of single hull tankers which resulted in the building of replacement tankers. The emission requirements coming due in 2020 will result in the retiring of most if not all of the remaining steamships. Replacements have been under construction for the last several years.

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Age can contribute to development of cracks and especially the growth of it, but not necessarily as also new builds already have many undetected cracks. During ship construction it is practically impossible to detect all significant cracks with the current inspection procedures of the class society and the shipyards. An inspection of ship hull structures could reveal hundreds of cracks, some of which may later lead to structural failures.

Especially welded ship structures are susceptible to crack damage. Design inadequacies, material selection, material imperfections, improper welding, incorrect fabrication and poor workmanship are some of the probable causes for damages during construction while fatigue and corrosion are related to operations. Crack formation or initiation appears inevitable or unavoidable given the uncontrolled variables involved in the construction of welded ship structures

Normally cracks may not pose a direct threat to the ship structural integrity but when subjected to a sudden impact force typically associated with collision, allision and grounding accidents, these existing cracks could propagate at a faster rate and lead to structural failure and compromise for instance hull integrity.

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I agree that there are cracks that is not detected during construction for the reasons that you mentioned. But even hairline cracks can develop into major problems over time when exposed to fatigue.
That is not to say that well maintained vessels cannot last a long time. Especially vessels built before computer programmes made it possible to reduce the safety factors.

With years of service sometime also with neglect and exposed to corrosion, it is fair to assume that structural strength is weakened, both locally and overall, which may eventually cause catastrophic failure. The older the vessel the greater the risk.

Conversion and patchwork “life enhancement” can also add stresses to the hull structure that is not detected by normal inspection methods.

Use of HTS in the construction has been identified as a problem for older vessels. When
inspecting tankers for selection for conversion to FPSO/FSO this was one of the main considerations, With a 15-20 years life expectancy w/o docking once in service it was important to start with as little potential problems as possible.


For me It is still quite amazing how ships, like the Matsonia, can stand up for 40 years and more to the almost daily, often relentless and sometimes gruelling motions as hogging, sagging, twisting, yawing heaving, pitching, rolling , swaying, surging, hull drag, slamming, whipping, force of propellors, water pressure on the entire hull, water driven up against the bow etc. In short the six degrees of freedom of motions and some more that a ship, boat or any other craft can experience during its lifetime.

For naval architects calculating the strength of a ship is probably the biggest challenge in the design of a ship. They mostly use the simple-beam theory as the simplest way of giving an estimation of hull girder strength, which is one of the most important parameters for the strength of a ship. It simplifies the whole ship as a beam with equivalent bending stiffness and area. Hull girder strength, or longitudinal strength, is the most important and fundamental strength for structural safety of marine structures. The loss of hull girder strength is related to ship collapse with catastrophic consequences. The maximum stresses will be midships at the deck or at the bottom of the ship which can be a reason that a ship will break at this location.


Beam theory - Example of buckling.

Container ships brought a new problem to light as container cargoes are light in weight compared to their volumetric capacity, and thus the still water vertical bending moment is always in hogging condition. Due to this characteristic, the ship’s double bottom structure under wave-induced vertical bending moment is always subjected to compressive load. As for cargo holds, the upward load due to bottom sea pressure is dominant on the double bottom structure since container cargoes are relatively light. Also the weight of the cargo is not distributed equally as for instance in tankers and bulkers and differs from voyage to voyage and even from port to port.


quality steel?
huge different between old and new vessels in just that area


Obviously, you understand and know in far more detail than 99% of us on this forum. And thanks for that detailed description. I had not read that anywhere before and appreciate the info. Clearly a design flaw and interesting that the naval architects originally involved didn’t appreciate the issue they were unknowingly creating.

All the Matson, Horizon, & PASHA ships that call in Hawaii are subject to a bumpy ride on their eastbound leg of each voyage. Comments above about heavy weather on the voyage back to the coast are nothing new. Matsonia, like others, has been on this routine run for years.

As somebody who goes aboard all these ships (in addition to many foreign ships) that call in Hawaii, I’ve always been impressed by how well the US ships have been maintained, given their age. To characterize the US Jones Act fleet as a bunch of old decrepit ladies running around is, I believe, unfair to the US mariners that routinely work aboard these ships and actually do the maintenance…and the companies that are ensuring the care and maintenance of these ships. I agree the system can be improved, it has its flaws. But to paint the whole fleet as old pieces of junk is not only unfair, but simply not true. Matson already has one new hull, just a few weeks old, now in service. Three other hulls will follow within the year. Old tonnage will be phased out. PASHA is building two new hulls presently. Their financial plan will, eventually, allow for new tonnage as well, hopefully very soon.

“…It is still quite amazing how ships, like the Matsonia, can stand up for 40 years and more to the almost daily, often relentless and sometimes grueling motions as hogging, sagging, twisting, yawing heaving, pitching, rolling, swaying, surging, hull drag, slamming, whipping…”

I agree. I find it odd that many people characterize the US Flag fleet as old pieces of junk and simultaneously, do not appreciate the fact that…they are in fact still running!

Once upon a time in America…we built great stuff. Our shipyards (yes, 40+ years ago) pumped out old school style hulls that were built to last. Many voyages of rough weather, dry-dockings, poorly loaded stow plan conditions, and everything else, and they are still in relatively good condition. Ask the men and women that work aboard these ships each day.

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Link to the Final Report on the MOL Comfort incident can be found in this article:

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Yeah right . And the crew have time to enter the double bottom tanks after complying with HR and inspect the bottom plates for deformation.