Posted on Sep 15, 2023 at 11:09 PM
In a shocking turn of events, an estimated 600 cargo containers float off Taiwan's southern shore following the sinking of a container ship near the Port of Kaohsiung on July 21. This incident has raised concerns about environmental damage and maritime safety.
Let's delve into the details of this unfortunate event, its aftermath, and its potential consequences on the shipping industry.
The vessel in question, the ANGEL, registered in Palau, faced a harrowing situation on July 20 when it began to list dangerously, possibly due to a hull leak. The crew was promptly evacuated, but the ship sank early on July 21 despite their efforts.
As a result of the ship's sinking, more than 1,300 empty containers were on board, and approximately 500 to 600 of them floated between the shores of Pingtung County and Xiaoliuqiu Island. This precarious situation has raised concerns about the navigational safety of Taiwan's largest port, which handles over 10 million 20-foot containers annually.
In response to this crisis, a salvage crew was dispatched to the scene on July 23. Their immediate priority was to prevent any potential oil leaks. This step involved sealing vents attached to the oil tanks and safely pumping out the oil. While plans are underway to remove the approximately 500 tonnes of oil on board, including heavy fuel oil, diesel, and lubricating oil, divers are also exploring the sunken ship for potential leaks. Fortunately, as of now, no oil leaks have been detected. The complexity of this procedure must be considered, as it involves considering hull stresses during the oil tank evacuation.
Adding to the concern surrounding the ANGEL, the Indian Register of Shipping removed its class status earlier this year. Additionally, the vessel had not undergone a port state control inspection in the area since 2018 and was classified as high-risk under the Tokyo MOU.
This incident threatens to undo the progress in reducing the number of shipping containers lost at sea. Recent data from the World Shipping Council reveals that the average number of containers lost at sea had dropped to 661 in 2022 from a staggering 1,566 at the end of 2021. However, this positive trend may be reversed with the ANGEL's sinking and the containers adrift.
The sinking of the ANGEL and the subsequent container crisis off Taiwan's coast are a stark reminder of the challenges and risks associated with maritime transport. This incident's environmental and potential economic repercussions cannot be ignored.