As the size of mega box ships has steadily increased, so has the level of difficulty in handling casualties involving them. A special 32 page edition of the Standard Club bulletin has been published and looks at the different legal, technical and practical considerations.
Ultra large container ships, or mega box ships as they are commonly called, can have a carrying capacity in excess of 20,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) and are frequently in excess of 14,500 TEU. This can have a considerable impact in the event of a casualty. In particular, the global shipping and insurance markets have expressed concern regarding the firefighting capability of these ships, which has not necessarily kept pace with their increasing size. It can be extremely difficult to find suitable ports of refuge to accommodate these ships and which have infrastructure capable of handling the number of containers on board.
There are also concerns about the difficulty and cost involved in carrying out a salvage or wreck removal of a mega box ship due to their size and the lack of suitable heavy-lift cranes/floating sheerlegs.
The Standard Club has had first-hand experience of dealing with mega box ships casualties, having handled the MSC Chitra, the MSC Flaminia and, more recently, the Maersk Honam. On 6 March 2018, the 15,000 TEU Maersk Honam (which was carrying 7,860 containers) caught fire whilst sailing in the Arabian Sea, which tragically resulted in the death of five of its crew. It took five days to bring the fire under control and a further seven weeks before the ship could be towed to a suitable port of refuge – Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. The fire destroyed cargo in almost 2,000 containers in the ship’s first three holds and led to a complex and challenging operation to remove and dispose of the waste, which is still ongoing over a year after the incident.
The articles in this bulletin provide an overview of the various legal, technical and practical issues that may arise in a mega box ship casualty. In the leading article, Standard Club provides an outline of how P&I insurance can respond to the various third-party liabilities that can arise from such a casualty on mega box ships.
Simon Burnay (Waves Group) tackles the technical challenges during the initial response phase of the casualty, highlighting the importance of having an accurate container stowage plan if cargo lightering operations are required to refloat the vessel or tow it to a port of refuge. Nick Barber (Stephenson Harwood) then examines the difficulty of identifying a suitable port of refuge given the size and draft of mega box ships and the number of containers on board. Since General Average (GA) may be declared following such a casualty, Amy O’Neill (RHL) examines the principle of GA and how it will be applied. This is followed by a review of the challenges involved in post-casualty management of the cargo by Gianluca Rolff (TMC). Richard Janssen (SMIT) then provides an insight into handling the casualty from the perspective of a salvor and Nick Haslam (Brookes Bell) describes the role of the Special Casualty Representative (SCR). Daniel Jackson (Burgoynes) goes through investigating the causation of a fire on board a mega box ship and Tim Wadsworth (ITOPF) addresses pollution aspects. John Dolan (The Standard Club) follows this up by providing an insight into the shipboard response to the casualty. Marina Taouxi and Tony Goldsmith (Hill Dickinson) summarise the shipowner’s legal right to limit its liability in respect of cargo claims and other liabilities that can arise, including collision, personal injury and wreck removal. Tom Peter Blankestijn (Sea2Cradle) reflects on the implications when the ship itself or hazardous materials on board need to be disposed of under international waste regulations. Lastly, Mark Clark (MTI Network) provides an insight into the role of the media consultant and how they can assist when shipowners are handling such a casualty, since it is likely to provoke intense media scrutiny.

Download the Mega box ship bolletin in