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Container ships - stability margins & unseaworthiness

Container ships are generally known to fully utilize the available limits when it comes to stability margins and often experience large deviations between the calculated and actual sailing drafts. In a rare instance, the German regional and appeal court considered the effect of this in relation to cargo claim brought by cargo insurer against the freight forwarder, in the case of The MOL Comfort (6 U 86/16) – a ship that broke in two in the Arabian sea in 2013.

When she started her journey from Singapore to Jeddah, the actual drafts were in error by more than 40cms. Expert evidence indicated that this was a substantial difference and ship was hogging considerably. Permissible bending moment was noticed to be more than 100% and shearing forces & torsional moments were also high. The combined effect, as per the court, was to limit strength of the hull and atleast warranted an investigation by the officers. In court’s view seaworthiness could have been achieved by partial unloading or other load or ballast distribution or subsequent reinforcement of the hull.

The freight forwarder could not also limit its liability as it was not the Owner, Charterer, Manager and Operator of the ship and hence not in any way involved in or responsible for the operation of the ship.

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