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Palfinger August 2022

Container ship Angeln Casualty

While departing from the port of Vieux-Fort on the Caribbean Islands of St Lucia on the 21 February 2010 the six year old 657TEU container ship Angeln capsized and founded. Fortunately the crew of 15 all survived and were unharmed. The weather at the time was fair with only a little wind and marginal swell. The ship did not touch ground and a collision did not take place.

Container ship Angeln

The vessel was operated by Brise Bereederrungs GmbH & Co in Hamburg and was chartered to Miami based Bernuth Lines. It was trading on a tight scheduled loop with regular calls on Trinidad, St Lucia, Barbados, Surinam, Guyana and back to Trinidad.

The vessels crew was a mixture of nationalities primarily comprising of Poles, Romanians, Ukrainians, Sri Lankans and filipinos. The master was a 63 year Polish National who had joined the Angeln on 8 February 2010 in Port of Spain. The Chief Mate was a 31 year old polish national as well. He had joined the vessel on the 15 January 2010. He had not been on the vessel before and there had only been a couple of hours handover available prior to his signing on. Consequently, his knowledge of the vessel was minimal.

Prior to arriving at the port of Vieux Fort at 5.30 hour on 21 February 2010, the Angeln had loaded 218 contains in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The cell position as well as the actual weight of this cargo was only partly know to the accident investigators because they lacked detailed cargo information and records. The vessel arrived with a 7 metre even keel draught. Cargo operations started at 7.00 hours and 25 containers previously loaded in Port of Spain were discharged, six from the cargo holds and 19 from the upper deck. A total of 79 containers were to be loaded at Vieux Fort.

The cargo loading proceeded without incident until towards the end of the loading. The ships cranes were being used to help speed up the loading operation and during one such container movement the vessel listed excessively to starboard and operations were temporarily stopped and the vessel eventually settles upright. There was a dispute between the Chief mate and the Captain regarding the loading pattern and there was a refusal to load some apparently too heavy containers. Further loading using the vessels crane was stopped at about 16.00 hours.

The pilot was original told that the vessel would be ready to sail at 17.15 hours but on arriving at the dock was told sailing would be delayed until 18.15 hours. While loading operations continued, the pilot who was still on the dock observed the vessel listing up to 15O to port and starboard when the containers were loaded and moved on either side, so much so that some of the crew ran off the ship. Operations continued until about 21.30pm when the pilot was informed that the vessel was ready to sail. The exact number of container movements could not be recalled at the time of the on-scene investigation because neither a booking list nor a port load list was available for access.

The vessel was fitted with ballast tanks, comprising of double bottoms, side tank arrangement, fore peak and aft peak tanks. The vessel was fitted with a fully automatic anti-heeling system for continuous and effective loading and unloading cargo operations while in port. The ballast condition of the vessel was to some extent unclear. The fore peak was empty and No.2 double bottom tank was not in use due to an apparently defective valve.

The details of the bunkers on board Angeln upon departure from Vieux Fort remain unknown. However, the vessel did not take any   in Port of Spain at the start of the service loop. For reasons of draught consideration bunkers were scheduled to be taken on until Surinam. There is  likely to have been a an impact on the vessels stability due to the free surface effect  from the bunker tanks.

From the total of 79 containers loaded in Vieux Fort only 8 were stowed under deck in the cargo holds. The remaining 71 were stowed on deck primarily into upper tiers. This stowage will have impacted the vessels stability. It is likely that the Angeln developed a negative GM. Both the list that developed while using the ships crane in port and the side to side list experienced out at sea and while manoeuvring are symptomatic of an unstable equilibrium.

The vessel departed the docks at 21.50 hours with the vessel lying on an even keel. After leaving the container pier the pilot started a turn to port with engines running dead slow ahead and with bow thrusters pushing to port and the wheel hard over to port. The master noted the ship handling was a little strange and the vessel developed a slight list to starboard. The vessel made the necessary turn and headed out to sea. The pilot then left but while on the pilot gangway realized that the vessel had started to list even more to starboard.

The master then instructed the chief officer to go with the bosun and sound the tanks and holds to ascertain if the vessel was taking water. The Master also tried to position the vessel more head to the sea and swell but the vessel was reluctant to comply even when the bow thrusters were used. The master also used the heeling tanks to try and rectify the list. The details of his actions remain unclear but it was noted that the list was reduced after which the vessel went to port and then back to starboard list. The master then ordered all crew to report to their abandon ship station. Shortly after which the vessel listed even further and the order to abandon ship was given and the free fall lifeboat launched. At 22.00 hours the vessel capsized.  

While there were undoubtedly overweight containers loaded onto the Angeln, however,  the marine accident investigation seems to conclude that the issue of container weights was not in itself a primary cause for the capsize and founding of the vessel.

The vessel owners (Angeln Shipping) and their hull underwriters tried to counter claim against Bernuth Lines and Mediterranean Shipping Co (who had an agreement with Bernuth for them to carry their containers on the vessel) that the allegedly improper storage and inaccurate container weights data were to blame for the accident. However, in April 2014 a US judge throw out the $34.3m claim, saying at “There is no evidence that errant weight information provided by Bernuth proximately caused or contributed to the ship’s sinking,” He further wrote that. “The information provided, even if errant, accurately warned that the vessel would sink if it were taken out to sea as loaded.” According to the Judge’s ruling, the ship’s chief officer advised against loading the cargo and told the Captain that he was unable to load the vessel in a way that would result in sufficient stability. The Judge wrote that the vessel’s computer also showed the ship was “in peril” but the captain allegedly ordered the boxes to be loaded anyway.

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