Is this nightmare going to end soon?

29 Aug 2012

MSC Flaminia

Press release # 6 and chronology.

The MSC Flaminia’s wandering after its accident has lasted since July 14th, 2012. Until August 21, the containership in great distress, the tugs, and their crews were pushed away from French and British waters. The convoy remained in a no-man’s land, out of the range of helicopters in case of emergency. The lack of information about the kind of hazardous materials on board was a strenuous challenge to rescuers.

On July 18, after the second explosion, the first tug moved away about 2 km from the MSC Flaminia in order to avoid all risks. Simultaneously, MSC spoke of a “small explosion”.

Contrary to the statements of the French maritime prefect of the Atlantic, there has always been urgency in this case: the need to prevent the ship from sinking and to avoid drifting of hundreds of containers and 2000 tons of oil.

The ship is not just a containership in distress; it is also a chemical tanker loaded with 20,000 tons of extinguishing water polluted by a toxic cocktail mixture.

After a month and a half of crisis, the accurate inventory of hazardous materials was kept confidential. Robin des Bois inquired the possible presence of radioactive materials on board; the owner replied that 7th Class substances were not transported aboard MSC ships. “The MSC Flaminia charter policy prohibits any radioactive material transportation” He continued. However, we assert that it is very common for charterers not the strictly apply charters clauses. Therefore, a statement by MSC, or by the French Nuclear Safety Authority would be much more convincing in this regard.

The silence from harbor authorities in Charleston (USA) is surprising because, since 9/11, the United States have reinforced their surveillance on containers in transit within its borders. The lack of information from the United States does not help to understand the initial reasons for the fire and explosions on MSC Flaminia.

On the other hand, Robin des Bois appreciates that the results of the experts’ reports conducted aboard the MSC Flaminia will be transmitted to countries bordering the English Channel and the North Sea. We wish these countries public will simultaneously be informed too.

Finally, Robin des Bois called the European Commission to quickly gather experts in order to study rescue scenarios and emergency control of containerships in the European waters and ports. The European maritime routes are used by containerships that carry 14,000 boxes, measure 400 meters long, and are bigger in size and in capacity than the MSC Flaminia. Therefore, the absence of a contingency plan, especially in ports, is one of the critical gigantic-ships-induced dangers.


The MSC Flaminia was built in South Korea and launched in 2001. Its length: 299 m, Its storage capacity: 6750 containers, (2876 containers on board at the time of the accident). Its owner: NSB – Niederelbe Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG (Germany). Its flag: German. Its charterer: MSC – Mediterranean Shipping Company.

23 crew members (5 German, 3 Polish, 15 Filipinos) and 2 passengers.



July 14th

Fire and explosion in hold 4 – The ship was sailing from Charleston (USA) to Bremerhaven (Germany) via Le Havre (France), Antwerp (Belgium) and Felixstowe (United Kingdom).

Mayday received in Falmouth (UK) at 10:07 UTC.The wounded passengers were evacuated aboard the MSC Stella, to the Azores (4 men, one dies during the transfer), the most severely burned were transferred from the Azores to Lisbon (Portugal). The rest of the crew was taken in by the VLCC DS Crown (a tanker).

Death toll: 1 dead, 1 missing, 3 injured with one in critical condition.

Situation at the time of the accident: 1,000 nautical miles off the coast (1,850 km).

Abandonment: 1600 km off Cornwall and 1700 km off Brest, then the ship drifted eastwardly.

July 15th

Smit Salvage, a Dutch company, is chosen by NSB to carry out the rescue.

Two fire-fighting vessels are headed towards the explosion location.

July 16th

MS Hanjin Ottawa (belonging -like the MSC Flaminia- to NSB) awaits the rescue ships arrival and takes photos. No damage inflicted to the superstructure, the engine room, or the bow and the stern of the ship, but a smoke plume is noticeable.

July 16, 8pm: 1459 km off Cornwall, 1540 km off Brest.

July 17th

11 am. Arrival of the first rescue ship: the Fairmount Expedition. Firefighting initiated.

July 18th

During the night: a second explosion is reported in the bay 47.

Firefighting operations are suspended.

The Fairmount Expedition sets itself back 1 nautical mile (1.8 km) away from the MSC Flaminia “because of the hazardous materials on board,” according to NSB.

For MSC “small explosion, fire and heat are less intense in the 4th compartment, the damage to the shipload is unknown.”

July 19th

The survivors arrive in Falmouth (UK).

Fire-fighting operations are resumed. There has been no fire expansion, no further damage after the second explosion.

The containership lists 8-10°, because of extinguishing water and unstowed containers.

July 20th

Second rescue ship, the Anglian Sovereign, arrives from Scotland.

Four specialists come aboard the MSC Flaminia and reactivate its fire control system.

Ship listing 8,5 °.

Damage: holds number 4, 5 and 6 were destroyed, but number 7 was not on fire.

July 21st

Arrival of the third rescue ship, the Carlo Magno.

July 22nd

5.20pm : 840 km off Cornwall , 933 km off Brest.

July 23rd

“The fire is under control”, MSC says.

Towing started. Listing 10 °.

600 nautical miles off the coast of England and Brittany (1100 km).

July 24th

Towing speed was 5 knots. 320 nautical miles off England (593 km).

Listing 10 °.

The fog prevented rescue teams to go aboard the MSC to monitor each container and identify potential new fires.

“Only after these checks may the ship obtain authorization to make a port call”, NSB says.

July 25th

2:39 p.m. – 410 km off Cornwall, 454 km off Brest.

July 26th

Speed 4 knots, and listing 11 °.

Board inspection: less fumes in the 4th and 5th holds. There are still hot spots in some containers. Close inspection is impossible because of the heat. Rescuers stop MSC fire control system.

“British authorities’ authorization is expected in the next few days”, according to NSB.

July 26 4:48 p.m. – 330 km off Cornwall, 360 km off Brest.

Between July 25 and 26, the convoy speed has switched from 4 to 2 knots.

July 28th

2: 06 UTC – 70 km off Cornwall , 160 km off Brest.

9: 32 UTC – 254 km off Cornwall , 332 km off Brest.

The ship sails off, in circles.

July 29th

100 nautical miles (185 km) off the coasts: waiting.

“The situation is improving,” said NSB: there’s almost no smoke in the 4th and 5th holds, but there are still hot spots.

7:46 p.m. – 85 km off Cornwall, 187 km off Brest

July 30th

238 km off Cornwall, 120 km off Brest.

The ship drifts away from the English coast, and sails towards the south. No access yet granted to British and French territorial waters.

5:35 p.m. – press release from Robin des Bois request refuge for the MSC Flaminia.

July 31st

Due to bad weather since the day before, it is impossible to board the MSC Flaminia.

The convoy goes further and stabilizes at 200 nautical miles (370 km) off Cornwall.

Angle of list: 10 °.

The fire was extinguished in holds 4, 5 and 6, but there is smoke in the 7th, in which the temperature rises.

Robin des Bois mails both British and French governments, and the European Commission.

August 1st

Sailing South-south-westerly in the Atlantic.

The smoldering fire spreads to hold 3.

18:00 – 560 km off Cornwall, 560 km off Brest.

August 2nd

The CEDRE (Centre for Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution) confirms Robin des Bois’ alleged data.

August 3rd

Listing 10 °.

Waiting 360 miles (667 km) off Cornwall.


4:56 p.m. – 720 km off Cornwall, 720 km off Brest

August 6th

MSC can be inspected after 6 days of no-intervention on board.

Less smoke in hold 7, the temperature is lower.

Listing 10°; 317 km off Cornwall , 357 km off Brest.

Firefighting with tug boats is not necessary.

August 8th

9:24 – 327 km off Cornwall, 320 km off Brest.

Still no reaction to the mail and press release issued on July 31 by Robin des Bois.The French government remains completely silent.

August 9th

Listing 10 °.

Fight against hot spots is still in progress: extinguishing is proceeded in each container.

Negotiations go on with neighboring states authorities to obtain a call in permission.

NSB director declares, “it’s shocking for a ship flying the German flag and facing such a situation not to be allowed to take refuge in a European-state port.”

MSC states that “General Average” (the proportional share of losses) will be applied.

August 10th

11:30 – Press release from Robin des Bois : “Lead Medal for the European Union”

In the afternoon, the first reaction of France and the Ministry of Ecology: the number of 37 containers of chemicals in the affected area is discussed.

August 11th

6:42 – 179 km off Cornwall, 220 km off Brest.

August 13th

Steady weather: the struggle continues against hot spots.

Extinguishing waters have been transferred in ballast tanks and the angle of heel is corrected to 2.5 °. 240 000 nautical miles (444 km) off the coast of England.

The convoy, still not being granted harbor access, heads west.

August 14th

No change since the previous day. Photo from August 13th : visible smoke in the 7th compartment.

August 15th

Bad weather.

Towing 4.5 knots 400 nautical miles (741 km) west off the English Channel entrance.

The Maritime Prefect of the Atlantic believes that there is no immediate danger, no urgency.

August 16th

1:37 – 867 km off Cornwall, 1000 km off Brest.

August 20th

450 miles (833 km) off the coast of England.

German authorities allow the ship to access German waters as well as a harbor yet to be determined. The ship is at an anchor, 12 nautical miles (22 km) west off the island of Heligoland (55 km off the mainland, 73 km off Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven 85 km).

However, crossing the Channel requires the bordering states agreements (France, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands).

6:30 p.m. press release from Robin des Bois: The MSC Flaminia en route to Germany.(First request to check on the ship radioactivity)

August 21st

The English and French maritime authorities decided to send a team of experts aboard the MSC Flaminia. The generated report would be provided to the coastal states.

Germany takes responsibility for the ship’s rescue and safeguarding.

350 nautical miles (648 km) off the Channel entrance.

August 22nd

10:21 p.m. 136 km off Cornwall, 198 km off Brest.

August 23rd

12:00 press release from Robin des Bois: chase uncertainty on the MSC Flaminia’s radioactivity.

Choice of port of arrival: Wilhelmshaven.

No fuel, water, or ballast tanks leakage.

Hazardous materials in the cargo are secured, including chemicals for the German industry.

“No radioactive materials in its charter contracts, NSB does not permit the carriage of Class 7 (radioactive)”, NSB said.

Location 100 nautical miles (185 km), the convoy approaching England, up to 40 nautical miles (74 km) for inspection.

August 24th

Permission to pass granted by the Channel and North Sea maritime prefecture, provided that the fire is off and the hull is durable. It is expected to get offshore off Cherbourg on the weekend of August 25-26.

August 26th

The ship is at anchor, new on-board monitoring expected in the afternoon.

Evaluative documentary is made by the German authorities. 1st official statistical data: 2876 containers containing 151 hazardous materials of different classes: 72 destroyed, 24 damaged, 55 intact.Special monitoring of the 3rd compartment: 245 containers with one containing adhesives, one with magnesium sulphonate (pharmaceutical and paint), one with testosterone (pharmaceutical), two with nitromethane (flammable Class-3 product, which is oftenly used as solvent in resins, or within insecticides or explosives)

The temperature near nitromethane containers is 50 °.

Considering the nature of the product, the German authorities in accordance with the national standards and procedures of Germanischer Lloyd suggest flooding the 3rd compartment.

13h 49-50 km off Cornwall.

August 27th

Waiting for inspection, 30 miles west off Cornwall.

No permission from the British authorities to cross the English Channel before the experts’ report.

August 28th

In the night (morning), the MSC Flaminia convoy leaves its position at the speed of 6 knots towards the Channel.

In the afternoon: a 5 hour-long inspection is conducted by a team of international experts. Their report should be submitted to authorities on Wednesday, August 29. Rudder and engine tests have been performed. The maximum temperature on board is still 40 °. According to the maritime prefecture of Cherbourg, the ship should cross French waters on Friday, September 1st .

August 29th

7:54, 250 km off Cherbourg


Sources : AIS – Automatic Identification System ; Havariekommando – Central Command for Martime Emergency ; Maritime Bulletin ; MCA – Maritme and Coastguard Agency ; Ministère de l’Ecologie (France) ; MSC – Mediterranean Shipping Company ; NSB – Niederelbe Schiffahrtsgesellschaft ; Ouest-France ; Robin des Bois; Télegramme (le).





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