An aerial photo provided by the Kustwacht Nederland, the Netherlands Coastguard, shows the container vessel MSC ZOE on Wednesday, January 2. Authorities in Germany and the Netherlands are searching for up to 270 shipping containers lost at sea by the cargo ship which was caught in a storm, saying some are carrying hazardous materials. German authorities are saying the ship landed in the German port of Bremerhaven early on Thursday.
Picture: AP African News Agency (ANA)
An aerial photo provided by the Kustwacht Nederland, the Netherlands Coastguard, shows the container vessel MSC ZOE on Wednesday, January 2. Authorities in Germany and the Netherlands are searching for up to 270 shipping containers lost at sea by the cargo ship which was caught in a storm, saying some are carrying hazardous materials. German authorities are saying the ship landed in the German port of Bremerhaven early on Thursday. Picture: AP African News Agency (ANA)
Containers that were lost overboard on the cargo vessel MSC ZOE on January 2.
Picture: AP African News Agency (ANA)
Containers that were lost overboard on the cargo vessel MSC ZOE on January 2. Picture: AP African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - International shipping got off to an unfortunate start this year with deadly fires on ships, containers lost overboard and pirates swinging into action off the West African coast.

Insurers woke on New Year’s Day to the news that a Mitsui OSK (MOL) Line car carrier, a Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) ship named Sincerity Ace, which is similar to those that call regularly in Durban, had been abandoned in the mid-Pacific Ocean after a fire on board.

The 59400-gt Sincerity Ace, which can carry up to 6500 motor cars at a time, was built in 2009 and had previously called at Durban around 2012. She was sailing between Japan and the Hawaiian Islands and was 1800 nautical miles from her destination when the blaze got out of hand.

The fire commenced in the late hours of the old year - was the crew setting off flares to help celebrate, perhaps? The inquiry will investigate such questions but whatever the cause, the fire quickly spread and, as a result, several of the 21 crew members abandoned ship by jumping overboard.

The remaining crew took to the ship’s life rafts but reports say five of the crew have perished. Four bodies were found in the sea by rescue ships that arrived on the scene. They remained “unresponsive” in the water and rescuers were unable to recover their bodies. A fifth crew member is missing and is also presumed dead.

The remaining 16 crew who climbed into life rafts were safely rescued by the approaching ships. Two Hercules aircraft of the US Coast Guard flew over the area to help with the rescue effort, but eventually the US Coast Guard, which was co-ordinating the rescue, called the search off.

Sincerity Ace remains abandoned and on fire and is listing to starboard.

A second ship of the German Hapag-Lloyd Line, the 7500-TEU container ship Yantian Express, experienced a fire that broke out in a container before spreading to others.

The ship was sailing across the North Atlantic towards Canada and was 650nautical miles off the coast on Thursday when the fire broke out. The crew of 23, who fought the fire until adverse weather brought an end to their efforts, are reported to be safe.

The salvage tug Smit Nicobar has since arrived on the scene to assist. Hapag-Lloyd said that it was too early to make a precise estimate of any damage to the vessel, which remains under way, or its cargo.

The loss of containers from a MSC ship, the giant 19000-TEU container vessel MSC Zoe is numbered at around 270. This took place off the German and Dutch Islands of the North Sea and followed a storm, during which the containers on board the vessel shifted and fell overboard.

News images and social media have reported Dutch residents on the islands as having thought Santa Claus had come to them a little late as broken containers began to wash up along the beaches. Flat-screen television sets, toys, shoes, tyres, car parts, furniture - those helping themselves could afford to be selective about what they scavenged.

“The sea takes. The sea gives. Thirty containers with Ikea-ware. My little pony and car parts. The islanders are happy,” one Dutch islander tweeted.

It was shades of the MSC Napoli going aground off the Devon, UK coast in 2014. On that occasion the ship was heading for South Africa after completing several European calls. Until the UK Customs people stepped in, bystanders had a bonanza and were seen taking away new BMW motor bikes intended for a Johannesburg showroom.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Coast Guard issued warnings that several containers carried hazardous materials and had not been recovered. The warning had little effect. The Netherlands authorities are also seeking damages for the cleaning up of the coastline and say they will look at laying criminal charges arising out of possible violations of the country’s Pollution Prevention Act.

MSC said it hired Ardent Global to co-ordinate a search at sea off Germany and the Netherlands, in full collaboration with the relevant authorities, for the unrecovered and missing containers and would pay the full costs of the clean-up.

“MSC is committed to continue searching the sea for the containers which fell overboard, until the last one is found” and “will ensure that the beaches of the Dutch and German coastlines are surveyed until all debris related to the incident has been cleared”.

Nearer home, six Russian crew members of the 2668-TEU container ship MSC Mandy remain missing after pirates struck as the vessel was sailing off the coast of Benin in West Africa. MSC Mandy has just sailed from the anchorage at Lagos when the pirates came on board on January 2.

There has been a lull in cases of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea but the threat of ships coming under attack is never lessened, say security experts.

MSC ships usually carry their own security guards when operating in risky waters although the Nigerian authorities frown on armed guards on board foreign ships in their waters. It is not known whether MSC Mandy has a security presence on board.

The attack is reported to have taken place 55 nautical miles off the Benin coast.

The Mercury