MSC Zoe loses 270 containers in North Sea

The numbers of the containers containing dangerous goods:

Thanks for the correction. I picked it up somewhere, also found this one: “when they were overrun by the typhoon off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.”

The ship was en route to Bremerhaven? I wonder if the port was even open?

Having to come up with a good plan when a port closes or a delay is sometimes a big problem in bad weather. I don’t know how those ships do at anchor, I suspect they don’t in many cases if any bad weather is expected

An German Coastguard person said om TV that organic peroxides are unstable and cause an explosion when in contact with fire or if heated, but under the present wet circumstances that will not be the case. It is very corrosive and direct contact, such as skin and especially eyes should be avoided.

As far as I know the Port of Bremerhaven is only closed in exceptional cases, for instance when there is too much traffic volume and congestion with containers which is often due to bad weather railroad delays.

There are anchor areas as shown here.


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.

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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?

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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.