VIDEO: How MSC Zoe lost 342 containers in a Storm

On the night of January 1st 2019, the large containership MSC Zoe sails on the southerly route along the Dutch Wadden Islands during a northwesterly storm. The storm causes the ship to lose 342 containers, leading to large-scale pollution of the sea and Wadden Islands. The Dutch Safety Board asked the Deltares research institute and the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands, MARIN, to assist in an investigation.

The aim: to answer two central questions: what could have caused the loss of containers above the Wadden Islands; and how can we prevent this in the future?



Based on its model test investigations, MARIN came to the insight that the following four phenomena together could have led to the loss of containers above the Wadden Islands in shallow water and high (breaking) waves:

    • Resonant roll motions in beam waves. For wide and stable Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCS) like the MSC ZOE, their natural period can be close to the wave periods above the Wadden Islands in storm conditions, resulting in resonant roll up to 16 degrees. Large accelerations and forces on the containers that can exceed the safe design values.

    • Contact with the seabed. As a result of combined rolling and heaving in shallow water, a large containership can hit the seabed. When this happens, shocks and vibrations can occur in the ship, containers and lashings.
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  • Impulsive green water loading against the containers. Breaking waves can hit the side of the ship, resulting in a large upward jet of water, up to the containers 20 to 40 metres above sea. This can damage containers or push over container stacks like dominos.

  • Slamming induced impulsive loading on the hull. This can result in vibrations in the complete ship, so that containers and lashings can be damaged.These four phenomena can also be critical for other ship types and needs further action to prevent future container loss. Based on the annual traffic above the Wadden Islands, MARIN has advised the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to conduct further investigations of three ships types: beside the ultra large containerships of almost 400 metres like the MSC ZOE, also a shorter and narrower Panamax, nearly 300 metres and a smaller container feeder with a length of 160 metres. The importance of testing smaller ships was underscored when the feeder ‘Rauma’ lost seven containers on February 11th 2020.

    The goal of the present MARIN investigation is that these ships and their crews and cargos may also sail safely in this Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, as well as the prevention of container loss. MARIN will determine safe wave heights for these four phenomena for all three ship types, both for the shallow southerly route directly above the Wadden Islands, as well as the deeper more northerly route.

Based on these results the government can determine what policy is required: advice to ships with their crews from the Coast Guard, or closing an entire route under certain conditions.

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