The Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) has praised what it called the “professional and calm response” of the crew on board the ill-fated MOL Comfort.
The 8,000 teu post-Panamax container ship broke up and sank about 200 nm off the coast of Yemen following an incident on 17 June 2013 after departing Singapore on its westbound rotation of ports (Jeddah, Suez, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Southampton, and Le Harve) on 11 June.
All 26 crew members of the Bahamas-flagged ship, owned by Mitsui OSK Lines, were safely evacuated.
In a report issued in September 2015, the authority said it could not definitively identify the cause of the event. However it noted that damage to the vessel’s bottom shell plating had subsequently been found in five of MOL Comfort’s six sister ships.
“Whether or not the MOL Comfort had similar damages and, if so, to what extent remains an unknown,” the report concluded.
“Following the initial indications of a developing problem, all the evidence points to a professional and calm response by everyone on board,” the report said. “The fact that a lifeboat was launched in difficult circumstances and challenging sea conditions, and with the added complication of floating containers in the water below the launching station, without loss of life or injury is a testament to the effectiveness of training, drills, and competence of everyone on board.”
In the early hours of 17 June, the MOL Comfort’s bridge watchkeepers noticed that the ship was hogging in an unusual manner. The vessel’s chief officer and chief engineer, both Russians, found water ingressing into the pipe duct keel space, No 6 hold, and fuel tanks.
At that point, the master determined that the ship should be abandoned for the crew’s safety. Distress messages were sent and crew left the ship in a lifeboat.
Although there is prevailing lack of confidence in the on-load release systems of lifeboats, the BMA noted that the crew decided against liferafts as sea conditions made them hazardous.
Hapag-Lloyd’s 7,506 teu ship Yantian Express was approximately 24 nm from the MOL Comfort when it received the first distress message and proceeded to the scene.
A cargo net was rigged and the lifeboat manoeuvred alongside but the rescue operation was complicated by the presence of floating and semi-submerged containers.
The BMA report said that the crew’s evacuation on to Yantian Express could not be described as ‘orderly’.
“While the master and crew of that vessel expended every effort to make the rescue in circumstances of adverse weather and in the presence of many floating and submerged containers, and did so with consummate professionalism, it is the case that a number of individuals fell into the water during attempts to climb the rigged cargo net to safety from the lifeboat,” the BMA said.
On 26 June salvage teams were dispatched to the scene and a towline was established to the fore end to bring it to a suitable port. However, attaching a line to the aft section proved challenging and it sank on 27 June, along with 1,700 containers and 1,500 tonnes of fuel oil.
Meanwhile, the fore section had been under tow towards the Gulf of Oman at slow speed until the towline broke on 2 July. The tow was re-established but on 6 July a fire broke out in that section. Despite firefighting efforts from the salvage vessels and the Indian Coast Guard, the fire continued unabated and on 10 July the fore end of the MOL Comfort sank.
ClassNK, which classed MOL Comfort, led the investigation into the accident.