The Achilles Heel of Global Commerce

19 Jun 2013

Mol Comfort disaster

A 316 meter long container ship broke in two after some hours of undulation in the Arabian Sea. The MOL Comfort was transporting the equivalent of 7,040 standard sized containers. The fate of the front and rear sections, and the number of containers that fell into the ocean, are uncertain. The Arabian Sea is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes; it connects the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal.

The MOL Comfort in the process of snapping in two on June 17, 2013
Photo IANS – Indo-Asian News Service

The MOL Comfort left Japan for Northern Europe. It was scheduled to make a port of call at Le Havre, France.

The splitting of this relatively new ship, that began operation in 2008, confirms the vulnerability of these sea giants and once again justifies experts’ concerns after disasters such as the MSC Flaminia in summer 2012 (1).

The MOL Comfort has five sister-ships, the MOL Celebration, the MOL Creation, the MOL Charisma, the MOL Competence, and the MOL Courage. All six were constructed by Mitsubishi in Japan and have the capacity to transport 8,000 containers. There are 600 container ships with a similar or superior capacity in operation across the globe. In 2015, around thirty ships will be able to carry 18,000 containers.

As ships become bigger, ship-owners, especially the loaders, win, while safety and the environment lose.

The splitting of the MOL Comfort released containers that could contain hazardous and plastic materials to drift at sea, potentially polluting and creating a disaster for biodiversity, the fishermen of Yémen, Oman, Iran, Pakistan, and India. The containers and their contents could drift over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. The Arabian Sea is abundant with tuna, sardines, sharks, and crustaceans; even sperm whales are in this zone, and in summer months there is a peak of biological productivity. Container ships as large as the MOL Comfort contain 9,000 tonnes of fuel oil in their tanks; it’s what keeps them going. There is a risk of fire and an oil spill after the fracture.

The crew was evacuated after the rupture. If one or both parts of the MOL Comfort are towable, it will be interesting to see how long it will stay adrift and to see which country will accept to be a refuge port.

The disaster seems far away, but it is nearby. It could occur tomorrow off the coast of Marseille, the coast of Brittany, or in the North Sea. What means will be put in place and what will be the European and international cooperation to reduce the consequences of supersized global commerce?




Imprimer cet article Imprimer cet article