MSC Zoe loses 270 containers in North Sea

In the German Bight, close to the northern Dutch Islands and in stormy weather, the MSC Zoe lost no less then 270 containers. A number of the containers landed on the beaches of some of the islands, this to the delight of and received as a gift from heaven for the local population who are known as notorious beachcombers. In that area many containers are lost during the course of a year.

Not much joy by the looks of it. Who wants that…? OK, I take that doggie.

That’s a lot of $100 a pair trainers. It’ll be work to wash them and match them up by size and left and right, but worth it. They’ll probably start showing up on eBay next week.

Dunno, it depends. Seawater is nasty stuff! Also lots of light bulls were washed up on the beach, these are okay when washed and dried but I also saw people carrying flat screens…

On Wednesday a deep depression of 975 hPa tracked from North England in a westerly direction across the North Sea towards Northern Germany and the Baltic. South of the low pressure area large pressure differences existed causing westerly winds with storm force 9 - 10 along the Dutch coast. The core of the depression passed just above the northern Dutch islands and almost exactly hit the area of the buoy route in the German Bight.

The MSC Zoe, en route to a German harbor, had probably to deal with a stern quartering and following sea scenario on this route. Operating vessels in these scenarios may lead to parametric roll problems, which can be more critical than in head seas due to the fact that the stability of the vessel is generally lower and large roll angles occur very suddenly. Parametric rolling causes excessive accelerations which are probably responsible for losing a massive number of 270 containers. Well, we will have to wait for the results of the investigation which undoubtedly will be held.

The German BIght can be a tough place to work in the winter when a low comes through.

Northern Europe ports are close together so the crew is worn out, likely on a tight schedule so limited options. Lots of traffic, crowded anchorages.

I’ve had the unfortunate occurrence of these conditions in this exact area. I’ve pulled all nighters on the bridge either hove to or “cross tacking” the ship up German bight to minimize the excessive rolling. At this point in most voyages my vessel is excessively stiff as we are in the middle of the port rotation and not fully loaded. This is always a problem when the weather craps out in the North Sea. Large seas of short period.


Yeah, short nasty chop, high winds, no visibility in the rain, 3 cm almost nothing except sea return and rain clutter.

The domino effect is clearly visible.

The beaches of the islands Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog are seriously polluted, on Terschelling for instance over a distance of 20 km. Volunteers, young and old, are helping to clear the beaches of the rubbish for a large part consisting of plastics, packing material and foam. Also soldiers were sent to the islands to assist with the major cleaning operation. This is developing more and more into an environmental disaster as more garbage is expected to be washed up during the coming days.


Containers drifting around in an intensely busy area as the buoy route in the German Bight can present a huge danger, especially to smaller ships. Some of these containers can be so low in the water that it will be very hard to detect them on the radar or visually in daylight in heavy weather conditions and visually certainly not during the dark hours.

In the mean time the Geneva-based MSC company which owns the ship has asked a salvage company to use sonar equipment to help retrieve the missing containers.

Weather conditions at the time


When you see closely spaced isobars aligned parallel like that it’s bad news, lot of fetch, more fetch then in a typical low where the isobars are more or less concentric.

So far in total 21 containers were washed up the Dutch beaches. More than 200 containers are unaccounted for, ticking time bombs. A number of containers probably sank to the bottom of the sea, an unknown number is still drifting around in an ever widening area. It is expected that for years to come the pollution will be felt. On the island of Ameland 8 km of beach has been cleared from a total of an estimated 130 tons of debris! Especially styrofoam, which easily breaks up in thousands of small pieces, has a very serious impact on the environment. Plastic Lego pieces, originating from containers lost in 1996, are even nowadays still found on the beaches!

In the mean time the islands have laid a claim for the damages with the owners, MSC in Switzerland who have already sent assurance experts to assess the damage and discuss the situation.

I don’t understand that this happens so often. I guess the cost to the company for pollution are less then the money gained by shorter stowing times?

It is one of the risks of placing a ship on the ocean. It is part of the cost of doing business at sea.

Look up the origin of the word “average.”


Ok, I agree that things can happen and not all can be avoinded. However, lossing 270 containers suggests that it is more than a “oops”.
The bad weather could have been avoided or more time should have been spend on securing the cargo.

The parametric rolling of modern containerships is emerging as a serious problem. Due to the shape of the hull of a container ship (narrow relative to length) the buoyancy shifts due to the change of the under water volume, when the waves are coming from the quarter causes a virtual decrease of GM. If the GM is not sufficient and if a safety margin is not applied this can lead to this problem. The solution is simple, change of course and/or speed or fill up the double bottom tanks to increase GM. Another possibility is to install anti-roll tanks.

It is possible to predict what are the safe course and speed to avoid this to happen. Changing course on the MSC Zoe while sailing in the buoy route in the German Bight is impossible, but changing speed, that is decreasing the speed is. However, vessels often have to sail exactly on schedule because of berth availability, also it has to leave on time to free the berth for the next ship. Under these circumstances it is difficult to decrease speed. Increasing speed in heavy weather is also not an option. All in all the conclusion is that this was, in my opinion, an avoidable accident.

IMO has published circular 1228, the REVISED GUIDANCE TO THE MASTER FOR AVOIDING DANGEROUS SITUATIONS IN ADVERSE WEATHER AND SEA CONDITIONS which also deals with this phenomenon, see the annex on page 6 for more details.

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400m long x 60m beam, that’s a length/beam ratio of 6.66.

That’s similar to a canoe. A canoe has adequate GM when you are kneeling on the bottom, but loses its stability when you stand up.

Apparently, these big narrow ships need more GM —-fewer containers.

Are these mega ships going to be commercially successfully?

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Square-cube law says they are. That is to say volume goes up with the cube of the dimension, but material and power only with the square. That’s a huge win for monsters, so who cares if they lose a few? It’s only sailors and other people’s stuff.

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Standing up in the canoe is the same as increasing the VCG in a vessel. The trend is to build ships higher and higher, increasing the VCG. For a sufficient GM the KM should rise. KM is typically increased by increasing the water plane area coefficient through large flare angles, but is penalized by more fuel consumption. GM must be sufficiently large to cope with the large GM variations when a wave passes the hull.

A sure way to increase the threshold for parametric resonance is to reduce the VCG, which requires a reduction in payload however that may not be commercially feasible or an increase in ballast which generates a penalty in fuel oil consumption. So that will not happen either.


That the accident with the MSC Zoe was caused by parametric rolling is an educated guess based on these three facts:

  1. The large number of containers lost. This resembles the loss, due to a hurricane in Mid-Pacific, of 233 containers and 450 damaged of the APL China and the 517 containers lost in a heavy storm in the Gulf of Biscaye of the Svendborg Maersk.

  2. The proven vulnerability of large container ships to parametric rolling. Parametric rolling is a phenomenon that occurs with head seas and quartering or following seas.

  3. The encountered quartering waves caused by the westerly storm force Beaufort 9 - 10 and the probable course en route to Bremerhaven.

There always exists the possibility that it was caused by another type of severe rolling or insufficient lashing. So far not a word from the master or crew of what exactly happened. We will have to wait.

The storm that caught the APL China was formed ENE of Japan and while it had hurricane force winds it was not a hurricane (not a tropical cyclone).

Ocean Navigator article here.

“This storm was an explosive deepener which formed quickly ENE of Japan and then really went to town as it moved northeast across the Pacific,” said Joe Sienkiewicz, a senior forecaster with the NWS in Suitland, Md. While the storm was not classified as a typhoon, since it formed north of the tropics, pressure gradients and surface conditions were equally intense in this storm.

The storm was first identified on Oct. 22 and was forecast to move northeast and intensify. On Oct. 24 the storm had a low pressure of 1002 mb. Pressure then dropped to 984 mb 24 hours later, and the storm was given the label “bomb” on surface weather charts, which would have been received at seavia Comsat, HF facsimile, SSBby commercial vessels and by commercial weather-routing services. In the next 24 hours, pressure plummeted to 963 mb, eventually reaching its lowest of 953 mb on Oct. 26. Wind speeds were between 50 and 60 knots and seas were more than 50 feet, according to ship reports.