Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. (MOL) and the owners of seven “C-series” container ships are seeking damages of ¥13.8 billion ($135 million) from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in connection with the MOL Comfort incident.
The 8,000-TEU MOL Comfort split in two and sank off the coast of Yemen in June as it sailed from Singapore to Jeddah. There were no injuries to the crew, but both halves of the ship sank and all cargo was lost.
MOL filed a lawsuit in February in Tokyo, and this week provided a summary explaining its claim to American Shipper.
The Japanese carrier said, “In every capacity and facet of its use since taking delivery from MHI, MOL has ensured that the operations of C-series ships have been maintained well within all allowable stress limits.”
MOL said specifically:
- No C-series ship encountered abnormal weather conditions since commencing service.
- MOL took all necessary steps to ensure sound operating management.
- There was no evidence to suggest the existence of an excessive load.
- MOL kept all classification inspections and statutory requirements, and made full and satisfactory maintenance of the C-series ships.
The company said that, “Despite these endeavors, MOL Comfort broke into two from the mid-ship section,” and other C-series ships had buckling damages in their midship bottoms.
MOL said it is claiming, among other things, that:
- MHI’s design and construction of the C-series container ships was defective.
- MHI did not take all necessary measures to construct the double-bottom structure, in particular, the middle section, and to provide sufficient hull strength.
- MHI failed to maintain a sufficient safety margin in the design and construction of C-series ships to offset cases where MHI could not calculate all potential load and stresses.
- MHI failed to provide proper warning and information despite knowledge of potential risks associated with vessels of the same class or those that MHI should have known.
“As one part of its supporting argument, MOL is claiming that MHI, the shipbuilder, neglected to provide warning despite having found deformities in 2011 on a 2010-built vessel sharing MOL Comfort’s structural design. MOL is asserting that after this discovery in 2011, MHI should have advised C-series shipowners and operators of the potential of a defect in structural design, as well as the risk of buckling deformation and breach of bottom-shell plating.
“On reasonable grounds, it is argued that preventive measures could then have been taken. In addition to defective construction, MOL is therefore asserting MHI’s negligence preventing MOL from taking steps to avoid the MOL Comfort incident.”
MOL said that following its lead, NVOCCs, as well as insurers of cargo and the containers that were on board the MOL Comfort, have lodged claims against MHI.
Unlike for bulk carriers and tankers, there are no common structural rules among classification societies for container ships.
In December, the council of the International Association of Classification Societies — an association of 13 classification societies that reviews plans for ships and inspects them — said it had decided to “take a proactive approach to structural safety of container ships, following a comprehensive review of existing technical requirements for hull structural design, construction and survey.”
IACS said it, “decided to expand the scope of current IACS unified requirements for post-Panamax container ships. These requirements will cover two important areas: scope of hull girder strength assessment and specific loading cases that will provide more comprehensive safety margins.”
Speaking at the Connecticut Maritime Association meeting last month, Christopher Wiernicki, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), the U.S. classification society and a member of IACS, noted the rapid increase in container ship size, adding that while key ports and waterways, as well as cargo handling, place limits on how large container ships can become, it was not clear whether larger ships had reached the point of diminishing returns.
He predicted that, “ultimately, like the million-ton tanker, such large vessels will be technically feasible, but commercially impractical.”
Speaking to American Shipper after his speech, Wiernicki said that ABS would never have classed the MOL Comfort, saying it “would not have met our requirements.”