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I Told You Not To Kill That Albatross!
July 15, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Disaster at Sea!! A collection of dozens & dozens of photographs of misfortune striking those GIGANTIC shipping vessels, the kind that bring goods from China to Wal Mart. Every kind of affliction imaginable, from shipboard fire to heavy weather to grounding amidst crushing waves to capsizing from ill balanced loads to random explosive cargo to terrorist attack to so much more. Descriptions of the vessels and what brought them down are included in the first link.
posted by jonson (57 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very interesting -- thank you. If you're looking for more about container ships, John McPhee's "Looking for a Ship" is excellent.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:37 PM on July 15, 2007


wow - it would be quite weird to see this when you stroll down to the beach for your morning constitutional
posted by jmccw at 4:10 PM on July 15, 2007


Fun link, thanks.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2007


wonder how many iphones were in there
posted by jmccw at 4:17 PM on July 15, 2007


Great links - this sort of thing is why people come back to MetaFilter.
posted by sien at 4:19 PM on July 15, 2007


Every time I see this sort of stuff, I'm astonished.

How in the world can a modern vessel carrying millions of dollars worth of goods be so poorly managed that it can succumb to these sorts of idiotic accidents?
posted by Ickster at 4:35 PM on July 15, 2007


Ickster, same with a whole country with a trillion dollar GDP?
posted by Burhanistan at 4:36 PM on July 15, 2007


What happens to all the workers on the boats when they capsize like that? Is it a sudden thing, or do they have time to get off the boat?
posted by vernondalhart at 4:43 PM on July 15, 2007


Ickster--

The cost of having a loss rate of zero is significantly higher than the cost of having a loss rate of slightly more than zero. Ships aren't like planes -- we can absorb much more loss of goods than we can loss of passengers.
posted by effugas at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2007


You'd think "Vessel hit the island" was just bad English, but no.
posted by cillit bang at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2007


jmccw; probably less iphones there than here; lots more detailed pictures here, if you scroll through a couple of screens of hideously formatted links first.

I've spent a bit of time wandering through Cargolaw before, and while they have many interesting pictures I find their Grandiose Use of Capital Letters to be Somewhat Irritating (sometimes the captions sound like something out of a Richard Scarry book: "Something Is Very Wrong At Port Hueneme, Unless It Is Trash Collection Day" / "Port Hueneme Has Lost A Large Wheeled Crane" / ... "It Apears Something Has Fallen off The Side of M/V Madame Butterfly" / "Why It's A 2006 Model 72' Sunseeker Predator On Her Way To A Summer Cruise!"). I've AdBlocked most of their animated gifs, too.

And if the picture* in this one is real (They Think it Is), I would like to buy the photographer a drink.
posted by Lebannen at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


Great stuff. The sequence starting here helps clarify why you, yes you, do not want this job (unless you do, that is).
posted by mwhybark at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2007


This is great!
posted by mediareport at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2007


What about the pirate ninjas? Surely they're still on the high seas today, pillaging and all that.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2007


I'm surprised you have to ask, ZachsMind - there are at least 30 pirate ninjas in every photo I linked to.
posted by jonson at 5:09 PM on July 15, 2007


Nearly 5,000 Mazdas lost at sea!
posted by RMD at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2007


I wonder where all the plastic crap in those shipping containers ends up?
posted by anthill at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2007


Very good post; great title.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:19 PM on July 15, 2007


Failboat.
posted by Balisong at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


There are still pirates, though these aren't the vessels they're likely to prey on.

Great post - anything to do with cargo shipping is fascinating. It's amazing how unaware we Americans are of the ubiquity of cargo shipping - despite air transportation and interior train and truck transport, 90% of our consumer goods still travel by ship over salt water. There are two reasons that has largely left our consciousness: one is that cargo ports used to be located in the wharves of major cities (NY, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore, Seattle) where they were highly visible. Due to the increased size of machinery and bulk of cargo that came with containerization, ports moved away from cities to places where land was abundant and cheap - Elizabeth, NJ, for example, became New York's port. The second reason is that insurance fees and regulations drove American vessel operators to register, staff, and homeport vessels overseas, usually in the countries where licensing and insurance are very cheapest. Most cargo ships have crews from these developing countries, so Americans are likely not to know anyone any more who's in the merchant marine trade. We don't hear about, read about it, or see it any more, so it's like it's not happening at all, except that we go to Wal-Mart and Crate & Barrel and Old Navy and buy all the things that arrived on these boats.

At my job I once worked with a donor whose company was a high-end moving company - they managed international transfers for large corporations. Basically, when executives in big firms got an overseas posting, they contracted with her company to have them pack and ship all of their home possessions to Europe, Asia, Australia or what-have-you. They containerized these shipments and sent them via cargo container vessels. She said the hardest part of her job was when she had to tell a family their container was lost at sea - and from her telling, it was not terribly uncommon for that to happen. She said that in certain terribly rough sea conditions, container ships will sometimes jettison the deck load in order to lower the center of gravity and restabilize the ship. They simply unchain the containers and let them roll off into the ocean, regardless of what's in them. Their insurance is supposed to cover the loss. Of course, Old Navy must be unhappy when one of their containers is lost that way, but that's a risk of business and the goods are replaceable. When it was a family's heirloom furniture, musical instruments, and so on, it wasn't such an easy loss to explain.

Great post, great find, great supporting links. Thank you!
posted by Miko at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2007 [8 favorites]


And if the picture* in this one is real

I saw that picture on Snopes but only now noticed the guy hanging on for dear life at the top right.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:28 PM on July 15, 2007


How do you explain this to the boss? He just drove straight into a big-ass island. Oops.
posted by wsg at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2007


The photographer was probably safely on the boat lift. But he deserves a drink for capturing the series of images.
posted by Miko at 5:36 PM on July 15, 2007


How in the world can a modern vessel carrying millions of dollars worth of goods be so poorly managed that it can succumb to these sorts of idiotic accidents?

The short answer is that Minimum Safe Manning isn't. The long answer involves fatigue, lack of communication, fatigue, lack of ability to communicate, fatigue, lack of desire to communicate ('That guy's an idiot, do you think he knows he's done xyz wrong?' 'Nah, let him find out the hard way.'), fatigue, lack of training, and fatigue. And equipment failure, which is often related to poor maintenance, again often due to factors listed above, all of which are also compounded by shipowners who don't invest in their vessels or crews (Buy a new widget? no chance, here's a roll of duck tape and a box of welding rods. Sack the idiot? but where else are we going to get someone else with the right bit of paper who's prepared to work for peanuts?).

What happens to all the workers on the boats when they capsize like that? Is it a sudden thing, or do they have time to get off the boat?

Sometimes they go slowly; see the Republicca di Genova or however you spell it, in the original link; she took a couple of hours to go completely over and all the crew and passengers got safely off onto the quayside. Sometimes they go quickly, as in the cases of the Rocknes and the Bourbon Dolphin, and people die.
posted by Lebannen at 5:37 PM on July 15, 2007


How do you explain this to the boss?

How about "Navigational error?"
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on July 15, 2007


Miko, that's prolly not going to be enough to placate him.
posted by wsg at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2007


Ships aren't like planes -- we can absorb much more loss of goods than we can loss of passengers.

Depends on the context. There are countries with local airlines that are reknown for their lack of safety. Ditto buses.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:01 PM on July 15, 2007


How about explaining this one?

Master did not wait for a pilot and tugboats to enter the port, due to the strong current and waves vessel grounded near the port.

Well, gee boss, I was kind of in a hurry so I just went ahead and tried to do it myself.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:02 PM on July 15, 2007


wave damage to this container? Good god, that is a lot of impact force.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:05 PM on July 15, 2007


In addition to what Lebannen said, one key to surviving a sinking is getting some distance away from the vessel before it sinks. Even if crew members can get off the ship in life rafts, you can imagine the turbulence and sucking vacuum caused when a ship of this size goes down - enough to pull a small inflatable after it.

But in many of the pictured accidents, there was probably no need to abandon ship. Even though the ships and/or cargo are sometimes very messed up, they can often float in crippled condition.
posted by Miko at 6:08 PM on July 15, 2007


Seeing merchie LOLOs in distress reminded me of a convo or two I've had about what kills big ships.

70,000 tons displacement is one hell of a big ship, but a 95-foot wave ain't nothing to scoff at neither.

USA today article on monster waves

Harvard physics professor's article (PDF) on same subject

Science Frontiers article on the topic

Really big, long-period waves do terrible things to large ships. A ship's design assumes that its weight is distributed throughout the water along its entire keel (the structural "spine" of a ship that runs down the centerline of the hull) at all times, but sufficiently large waves can actually suspend the bow or stern briefly in mid-air. What's worse, a ship might be temporarily down in a wave trough such that the bow and stern are supported by water while she's in mid-air amidships -- or the reverse can happen: An unlucky vessel amid radical sea states can be, for a few awful, metal-wrenching seconds, be "hogged" when her bow and stern are out of water as a giant wave takes her in the middle. Either event can, with tremendous force, snap the ship's keel. Such an event results in breaches in the hull, and when the ocean starts pouring in below the waterline, it's only a matter of time.

(For you submarine-warfare enthusiasts: In antiship attack mode, the Mk 48 ADCAP torpedo takes advantage of this phenomenon to kill ships in a gruesomely reliably way: not by slamming into the side of the hull and detonating as torpedoes did of old, but by detonating beneath the keel, creating a huge bubble that hogs the hapless vessel instantly. Results look kinda like this.)

For all you Gordon Lightfoot fans out there: There once was a theory that the SS Edmund Fitzgerald (she sank 10 Nov 1975) got her keel broken when she hogged over a storm-created wave. She'd reported shipping water through her hatch covers, but she was found in two large pieces.

---

On preview: FFF, sure; a wave's got thousands of tons of water to it, and it's movin' right quick, too.
posted by pax digita at 6:09 PM on July 15, 2007 [10 favorites]


one is that cargo ports used to be located in the wharves of major cities (NY, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore, Seattle) where they were highly visible. Due to the increased size of machinery and bulk of cargo that came with containerization, ports moved away from cities to places where land was abundant and cheap - Elizabeth, NJ, for example, became New York's port.

S.F. seems to have a lot of containers stacked up need rowes on the edge of the sea, according to google earth.
posted by delmoi at 6:35 PM on July 15, 2007


Just got back this morning from a seven day cruise. Thanks for the rogue wave links, pax digita. *shudders*
posted by Standeck at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2007


All the more cool, pax, all the more cool. Big Nature is wonderful. We are but ants.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2007


One of the things I miss since leaving Detroit is the freighters passing on the Detroit River.

Detroit area vessel passages.

Live webcam.
posted by The Deej at 7:53 PM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


(BTW, you can control the Detroit River webcam.)
posted by The Deej at 7:56 PM on July 15, 2007


This is one of my favorite kinds of metafilter posts: something every day, that few of us know anything about, plus lots of really interesting comments.

and delmoi - I'm pretty sure Oakland is the main shipping hub around these parts.
posted by serazin at 8:58 PM on July 15, 2007


Great post. Great comments. I can't get enough of ship pr0n. OH and here's my contribution.... This great article by William Langewiesche about ships going to that great harbor in the sky and all the poetry and hauntedness (and injury and death) it entails.
posted by Skygazer at 9:21 PM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Skygazer - that's a hilarious coincidence. I watched a documentary on the shipbreaking yards at Alang four days ago and spent the rest of the week looking for pictures & articles to make a post. It was during that scrounging around that I ran across the site I link in this post, which causes you to contribute an article about the shipbreaking yards at Alang. Serendipity.
posted by jonson at 9:29 PM on July 15, 2007


great stuff. some of these images look truly alien, the scale is so immense. a large collection of photos, a few of which are quite lush; arresting in their colors and forms.
posted by spaceproject at 9:30 PM on July 15, 2007


The biggest container-shipping port in the U.S. is still in a very big city -- most of that crap comes right here to the Port of LA/Long Beach. They claim it's 5th biggest in the world. But unless you're taking the Harbor Freeway to Long Beach or maybe taking a cruise ship out of LA, you're unlikely to see the port operations just because they're out in the funny-shaped San Pedro Bay, facing away from the coastal part of town.

It is a noxious nightmare of fumes -- from the massive ships, from the idling trucks, and from the locomotives, all of which run 24 hours a day. So the Port of LA/Long Beach has the highest incidence of cancer in the whole monstrous LA metropolitan region.

And then the containers are put on trains and trucks, where they sit in rail/highway traffic until reaching these massive mile-long warehouses in the "Inland Empire" (San Bernardino and Riverside counties). The desert is filling with these things.

Here, mostly illegal laborers prepare all the crap for its next journey, by rail and truck, to regional distribution centers for Wal Mart, Home Depot, Toys R Us, CostCo, Dog-Killer Dog Food Club, etc.
posted by kenlayne at 10:21 PM on July 15, 2007


Skygazer, shipbreaking has always fascinated me. Here are a couple of series of photos on the topic, one by Edward Burtynsky and another by Brendan Corr.
posted by philoye at 10:47 PM on July 15, 2007


I am completely magnetized by container ships. If I could favorite this post 15 times, I would.

Oh, and if you happen to own a freighter and default on the payments, here's what will happen.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:26 AM on July 16, 2007


Failed monadic transposition.
posted by spasm at 4:17 AM on July 16, 2007


"Dammit, Swabby.....I said TANQUERAY on the rocks!!!!
posted by spirit72 at 5:48 AM on July 16, 2007


Safety first.
posted by gene_machine at 6:04 AM on July 16, 2007


How do you explain this to the boss?
"It was like that when I got here."

posted by kirkaracha at 7:00 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I get my boat-nerd fix at ...boatnerd.com Lots of pictures of Geat Lakes shipping).
posted by acro at 7:37 AM on July 16, 2007


The biggest container-shipping port in the U.S. is still in a very big city

Yes, some of them are within the boundaries of a city, but my ill-stated point was that they used to be located near the central business districts of cities for obvious reasons, so everyday people saw maritime activities in their downtowns every day. The plots of land needed for container equipment and storage are so huge that when containerization happened, shipping companies moved outside of the center cities to take advantage of lower land prices (often building on wetlands). So the effect is the same - people don't see shipping activity much anymore, usually just flying by on some ring-road highway - even if the facility is actually within municipal boundaries.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on July 16, 2007


I'm curious, how do they define "worst container accident?" Because what they call "worst container accidents" in the first link don't seem as bad as some of the others on the same page.
posted by moonbiter at 10:22 AM on July 16, 2007


The Seafarers

Directed (1953) by Stanley Kubrick. Stanley Kubrick's first feature made in color. Lost for over 40 years! The documentary extolls the benefits of membership to the Seafarers International Union.
posted by hortense at 11:42 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is sweet. I just posted a piece on my own website about shipping disasters. (Is this a major trend lately or something?) There's this crazy website called CARGO LAW, managed by a trio of shipping lawyers, which is devoted to disasters like this....but "Container Shipping" has made this content a lot more accessible.
posted by Milkman Dan at 11:46 AM on July 16, 2007


Re pax digitas explanation of modern torpedoes and their destructive bubbles. Watch this video of an australian torpedo test.
posted by jouke at 11:53 AM on July 16, 2007




Serendipity indeed Jonson. I love that Langewiesche piece. The paper version in the Atlantic included beautiful photos, which alas I could not find online, so wouldn't you know it Philoye shows up with these incredible photos. Thanks Philoye those are brilliant.
posted by Skygazer at 5:16 PM on July 16, 2007


The cost of having a loss rate of zero is significantly higher than the cost of having a loss rate of slightly more than zero.

But the cost of installing a decent fucking autopilot that will keep you from running a giant ship smack into the side of Australia is about 59 dollars plus tax. Or more. Maybe a lot more. But a hell of a lot cheaper than a whole ship and its cargo and the cost of environmental cleanup and so on. If it costs a few dollars to make a large ship capable of running itself from A to B despite crew error, it's worth it. Take most of the crew off, starting with the captain.
posted by pracowity at 3:21 AM on July 17, 2007


But a hell of a lot cheaper than a whole ship and its cargo and the cost of environmental cleanup...

Sure, but you're not thinking the same way shipping companies think. Risk is the name of the game, and if you have no losses (which is the case the vast majority of the time), you'll do better than you would investing in expensive systems. I have seen more philosophical tolerance of risk in the maritime world than I have in any other sector of society.

Besides which, you can't have crewless vessels even with the best technology. Dealing with the ocean is incredibly complex and demanding. You can't automate the kinds of reactions and judgements needed at sea. Yes, a few people screw up and there is great loss of property and sometimes life, but these extreme accidents also need to be looked at in perspective. There are hundreds of these voyages taking place every day, right now, at this second, and every day of the year. Shipping is a huge humming global engine that runs all the time. These accidents are relatively rare in proportion to the number of safe voyage completions. If we are concerned about human safety and property loss, I wonder if we shouldn't take a look at the damages caused by 18-wheeler container truck accidents on America's highways. I have a feeling the trucking would add up to greater loss of life, if not also property.
posted by Miko at 4:56 AM on July 17, 2007


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