MSC Zoe loses 270 containers in North Sea


Bremerhaven operates helicopter pilotage in heavy weather. I don’t think I have ever seen them close the port and that includes storm force conditions.


We go inside the locks, less tide for the ramp. I see the containerships on the river.

We went through the locks at 35 kts gusting to 45 with four tugs one time, seemed a bit risky. I did see a notice that the ships were getting some damage there.

But yes, in this case the Zoe would have stayed in the river.


I don’t want to dismiss the risks of parametric rolling in large container vessels on a long following swell, but I’m pretty sure the problem with container ships on the North Sea is a surplus of GM’ rather than not enough,

These big ships on the Europe to Asia run will call at several ports on each end of the run, and as @damnyankee alluded to earlier, Zoe would have been partly loaded and very stiff, with a large GM and a very short rolling period. This combined with heavy rolling due to the short/high sea causes large acceleration forces on the bottom tiers of those high stacks of containers.

I’ve got only a little experience with containers, but I did spend a fair bit of time on the North Sea and North Atlantic with cargoes of steel, zinc ingots or copper concentrate so I know how much fun a very ‘stable’ ship can be.

At any rate we’ll find out in a year or so when the incident report comes out, since the flag state will not be much use in this I’m assuming the dutch authorities will be investigating?


I would add to this MSC’s ‘sterling’ record overloading it’s ships and you then have several options for probable cause.

Lashing limits that were within reason for a fully loaded ship can quickly fall out of the allowable limit as the GM climbs. This happens regularly with container ships when they are doing their rounds in the coastwise portion of their voyage. It is further exacerbated when you increase the size of the ship and with that, stack heights. I don’t think it takes a rocket surgeon to figure that though the ships design says the containers can go that high, the containers have a limit to how much weight and dynamic force they can handle. One flaw, one cracked corner casing, one crease in the container side plating on the bottom container in the stack could certainly cause a failure. Then it’s a domino effect.


Parametric or synchronous rolling both seem plausible. Don’t know which is more likely.

To counter synchronous rolling a low GM with a long roll period is generally more advantageous in a short steep sea as it depends on roll period and wave period.

To counter parametric rolling a higher GM is better.

The crew is almost sure to recognize synchronous rolling as most mariners have experienced it. Most mariners also know the proper counter measures but it’s possible to get caught by surprise.

Parametric rolling is rare so the crew is more likely not to recognize it and may not know the best countermeasures.


I am curious whether these large container ships have commercially available (early) detection systems on board. The cost of these, except perhaps of the computer controlled active dynamic stabilization systems, are peanuts compared to the cost of the damages, also claims and legal costs, for lost containers.

There is for instance the Arrow software tool which requires only a few inputs:

  • Ships course and speed
  • Loading condition (GM, lever arms)
  • Ships mean draught
  • Wave situation (direction, wave period, wave height)

Roll reduction can also be achieved using active dynamic stabilization where fin stabilizers or active tanks are the most common systems. Active tanks are ideally tuned so that the motion of the fluid has the same frequency but are phase shifted to the roll motion of the vessel to counteract the exciting forces.

There also is the possibility of roll reduction by rudder control. The rudder can be used to provide active dynamic stabilization to mitigate roll motions. The advantage of rudder stabilization is that no physical modifications are required to the vessel, only changes to the auto pilot algorithm.

Commercial products such as Roll-Nix was developed by SSPA in Sweden and RSS by RH marine in the Netherlands, both incorporating an auto-pilot that manages roll reduction and course keeping at the same time.


I don’t know what the Zoe had but the weather program I use shows the areas where heavy rolling is predicted based on projected weather.

Wave height and period data is downloaded from the routing company. I only enter ship data, drafts, GM, rpm.


The styrofoam on the islands and even mainland has been blown by the wind into the dunes and even far inland. In time it will break up in ever smaller pieces, becoming microplastics to be found in the entire food chain. The next stage is nanoplastics which can penetrate and may damage human cells.

MSC has reassured everyone that they will pay the full costs for the clean-up of MSC Zoe containers going overboard. I donot know whether this also applies for the pollution at sea, still 41 containers are still unaccounted for and probably sank. In total 281 containers have been lost. So far 222 containers have been localized, 18 were washed up on the beaches and 41 are still missing.

The MSC Zoe is still tied up at Bremerhaven. Members of the Dutch Safety Board are on board the ship to confer with the captain and German authorities. The Board investigates incidents like that of the Malaysian Flight MH17 shot down by a Russian BUK missile, when flying over the Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

In the mean time the Dutch Justice Department has started an official criminal investigation whether the incident was punishable in law. That could be for instance things like sailing with too large a GM, not using suitable tools for the prediction or detection of intense rolling areas or the unavailability of such tools, not changing course and/or reducing speed in time, poor lashing or using worn out lashings etc.


Just a experimental thought. The water depth above Borkum and in the East bound lane is in some places not more than 20 m. With a beam of 60 m and a draft of 14 m a roll of only 11.5° is enough to touch the sea bottom. I have no indication that this was the case but in theory it is under the prevailing circumstances a possibility to be considered.


The ratio waterdepth and draft or H/T = 20/14 = 1.42 ≈ 1.5

With V = 14 knots the squat is 0.9 m that means that the bottom clearance of 6 m is reduced to 5.1 m. The angle at which the ship will touch the sea bottom is then reduced from 11.5° to 9.8°.


With regards to UKC, don’t want to forget wave height.

A ship that size what is the minimum that could cause heavy rolling or pitching? It would have to be more than 4 or 5 meters certainly?

According to the report you linked to the SVENDBORG MÆRSK lashing was rated for 20 degree roll, the ship rolled 38 and 41 when the boxes were lost. The report shows that some of the boxes failed as well as some lashing.


Wave height plays an important role. The German Bight is infamous for wind waves and not to forget the refractions from land masses which can cause confused seas. The wave height in that area is usually not more than 5 - 7 meters with short choppy seas and I am not sure how that effects these giant ships and how much heaving and pitching, apart from rolling, this will cause. I suppose that adding up all things sailing with ships with such a large draft as the MSC Zoe, as far as touching the sea bottom is concerned, in relatively shallow water and in adverse weather conditions is a risky business as the margins are pretty thin.


Risky for the small boys farther inshore, too…


Hey Dave. Dead link on this one.


Pity. Works for me. It’s a chunk of Admiralty Chart 407 (from 1900 or so) showing the location of the stranding of Dulcibella on the East Hohenhorn sand near Neuwark Island and Cuxhaven.

From The Riddle of the Sands.


This one?


Today we have a combination of a northwesterly storm, with gusts up to 100 km/ h along the coast, and a spring tide. In 1953 we had the same situation that then caused dykes to break flooding a large portion of the country with almost 2000 people killed.

As a result the Delta Works was developed and dykes were hightened and strengthened and river openings to the sea closed. The New Rotterdam Waterway at Hook of Holland can be closed with a huge tidal flood barrier.

Hook of Holland tidal flood barrier.


In Zeeland the Eastern Scheldt barrier. It has many sliding gates, which can be closed if necessary, for fish and other marine life to pass.

The Hollandse IJssel barrier at Krimpen aan den IJssel that was founded in 1277. It is the place where I live and is seen at the right. We are closed in by water, at the point where two big rivers meet, the IJssel and Lek.

It is expected that as a result of the storm the beaches, just cleaned, will be polluted again.



In the mean time the number of missing containers has risen to 291. There is a report that the loss of 250 containers was noticed for the first time by the crew four hours after the fact!

As soon as possible and weather permitting the search for containers with the help of side looking sonars will start and will be followed by a large scale salvage operation.

It was standard practice that shipping companies went to court to limit their liability. For instance APL immediately went to court after the incident with the APL China to limit its total liability to $50 million, the value of the ship.

The liability limit of a ship nowadays depends on the size of the ship. A certain number of units are allocated per tonne and are expressed in Special Drawing Rights. The first 2,000 tons of a ship is the most heavily loaded and for all subsequent tons an ever lower tax is charged. The Special Drawing Rights can be converted into an amount in euros and thus form the limit from which MSC could limit itself.

A container giant like the ‘MSC Zoe’, which is 396 meters long and 59 meters wide and can carry 19,224 teu, weighs 192,237 tons. That translates to 73,457,574 SDR, which translates to 89.5 million euros.

Therefore, even if MSC were relying on its liability limitation, the company would in any case have to pay that amount for the damage incurred. That contribution does not necessarily have to come out of pocket, because many ship owners are insured for such damage.

MSC has reassured the Dutch and German authorities shortly after the incident that the company would be responsible for all clean-up costs. Governments are often saddled with salvage costs because shipowners rely on their liability limitation. For example, the Netherlands paid the majority of the 67.5 million euros involved in the salvage of the car carrier ‘Baltic Ace’, that with its weight according to the current prices, only 17.6 million could be held liable after the shipowner renounced ship and invoked its liability


From gCaptain: Stowage Questions Mount as Enquiries Begin into MSC Zoe Box Loss

The former managing director of salvage company Smit, Tak Klaas Reinigert, now resident on Schiermonnikoog, one of the islands affected by spills of styrene and other particles, told The Loadstar that, while the north-west force nine wind in the area may have been a hazard for small coasters,it should not have been a problem for a vessel as large as the MSC Zoe.

The high winds may have been a factor but wave height and period would have more of a direct impact.


An animation of the route of the MSC Zoe is shown here. Pardon me for the irritating commercial at the beginning!

I stated earlier:

There is a report that the loss of 250 containers was noticed for the first time by the crew four hours after the fact!

That seem to be supported by the animation which shows that 200 containers were lost between 19.00 and 21.00 hours. The ship continues her voyage in the shallow water route as if nothing has happened. I suppose that it is difficult to detect the loss of the probably 250 containers with all the ship noise, noise of the storm wind and the total darkness. At 23.30 again 5 containers are lost and at 01.00 another 20. At last at 01.45 the ship turns into wind and sails towards the deep water route. A little further she goes round, probably for inspection. After continuing in a northerly direction at 07.00 hours the German Harbor authorities take over.

It beats me why she sailed with that draft in the shallow water route. I think that the captain has some explaining to do why he chose to sail on that shallow water route instead of the northern deep water route that would have taken the ship 90 kilometers from the the islands. Probably because it is a shorter route…