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ATSB: Corroded Steel Contributed to APL England Cargo Spill

Corroded steel aboard the APL England
Corroded, wasted steel in APL England's container securing arrangements (ATSB)

Published Dec 15, 2022 9:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its final report on the container spill involving the boxship APL England off Australia's eastern coast in 2020, and it has laid the blame on badly corroded lashing arrangements. 

“Our investigators found this condition would have taken several years of poor maintenance to develop,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said. "This showed the ship had not received the scrutiny from crewmembers, shore management, or other agencies that a ship of its age or condition required.”

On May 11, 2020, the 5,800 TEU boxship APL England left Ningbo, bound for Australia. She was partially laden with 3,161 containers aboard. Before departure, the master and chief mate ran the numbers on the ship's load computer and found that the ship had nine lashing force exceedances. Since the vessel's changing ballast and fuel condition would reduce these numbers to an acceptable range during the voyage, they carried on without making any changes. 

On May 22, as she neared Australian waters, a weather system began to develop off New South Wales, generating swells of about 15-20 feet. On the morning of the 23rd, as APL England passed off the coast of Port Macquarie, the weather deteriorated and the master reduced speed to seven knots to reduce rolling. All lashings were checked by the crew. 

That night, winds increased to about 45 knots and waves to about 18-25 feet. The ship rolled heavily for hours, enough to wake up sleeping crewmembers and set off engine room alarms. At about 0600 on the morning of the 25th, the ship rolled through about 25 degrees each side. The rolling continued, and it was so severe that the main engine lost lube oil suction and shut down automatically due to loss of oil pressure. 

The conditions were bad enough that the master and chief mate opted to turn around and head north, with the weather. As dawn broke, the mate noticed that a stack of boxes had toppled aft of the accommodations block and another forward of the wheelhouse. 

Image courtesy AMSA

Image courtesy AMSA

As Sydney and other nearby ports were closed by heavy weather, APL England continued north to Brisbane, the nearest port of refuge. She entered port for inspection and salvage on the morning of May 27. 

On arrival, inspectors found that she had lost 50 containers over the side, and that another 79 on board were damaged. 

Over 550 corroded or worn lashing plates also required replacement, along with "significant amounts of deck steelwork and structures." This included wasted steel in locations where containers had been lost over the side. 

"Some of the lashing plates were reduced to less than 5 mm effective cross-sectional thickness from the original 25 mm plate," ATSB found. 

Images courtesy AMSA

APL repaired the fittings aboard APL England and had a closer look at all of the vessels in its fleet, making repairs as required, according to ATSB. Parent company CMA CGM has also taken safety actions in response to the agency's findings, and class society DNV has added guidance on allowable wear levels for container lashings and related fixtures. 

After APL England's post-accident yard period was completed, class noted that "numerous" corroded or thinned brackets and stiffener plates still needed to be repaired, according to ATSB. The ship was sold to new owners shortly thereafter, and she continues to operate today as the ZIM Haifa, under new management and class. Over the last two years, port state inspectors have recorded about 20 deficiencies on board ZIM Haifa, including issues with her propulsion, electrical equipment and steering gear, according to Equasis. 

The APL England's master on the casualty voyage, Malaysian national Capt. Mohd Zulkhaili Bin Alias, faces one criminal charge of taking a vessel to sea while unseaworthy. He has been allowed to return home while awaiting trial.