Accident of the MSC "Zoe" (2019): Hundreds of containers sink in the North Sea



Was it the fire of a battery of an electric car? Or did something else cause the fire on the cargo ship? There is still a fire on the »Fremantle Highway«, the danger of an environmental catastrophe in the Wadden Sea has not been averted: It is still feared that the freighter with around 3800 cars on board will sink or break apart.

Whether due to a storm, material defects – or possibly human error: Cargo ships have repeatedly found themselves in awkward situations in recent years. Some cases have made headlines, others have hardly been registered. Many of these events, on the other hand, were spectacular.

From 2018: A ghost ship drifts 5000 kilometers across the Atlantic

The freighter comes from the Bermuda Triangle: In 2018, the crew of the MV "Alta" abandons the ship about 2000 kilometers southeast of the archipelago. Due to technical problems, it has become unable to maneuver, the U.S. Coast Guard rescues the ten-man crew.

The ship then literally disappears from the radar – until it is spotted by a jogger on the Irish coast in February 2020, 5000 kilometers from the position a year and a half earlier. Even though there are no more people on board, the cargo has gone all the way: 62 full and 33 empty oil barrels are later recovered. How it can be that a ghost ship drifts unnoticed halfway around the world is a mystery to experts.

January 2019: Containers overboard – many containers

There are more and more: First, the shipping company speaks of around 30 containers that have gone overboard, a little later it corrects its information to 291 – and in the investigation report there is even talk of 342. In January 2019, the MSC "Zoe" loses its cargo in stages in heavy seas in the North Sea, 297 containers sink in Dutch waters near the island of Ameland, 45 off the German island of Borkum.

Even though many people on the coasts do not get to see the ship, they still get a lot from the accident: refrigerators, televisions, plastic flowers, all this is washed up on the beaches of the North Sea for weeks - and also a bag of dangerous peroxide. After the incident, the MSC "Zoe" itself managed to enter Bremerhaven at a reduced speed – and set sail a good two weeks later. A team of experts later came to the conclusion: everything was correct, the cargo was secured in accordance with the regulations.

September 2019: Dramatic rescue operation on capsized »Golden Ray«

It starts like the current "Fremantle Highway": fire on board a car freighter. Shortly after the fire broke out on September 8, 2019, the captain of the "Golden Ray" decided to call at the shallow waters off the coast of the US state of Georgia. Probably because of this decision, the 24-man crew can be rescued in a dramatic action – four men only after a hole had been drilled in the hull of the capsized ship.

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Capsized »Golden Ray«: Crew rescued alive

Photo: Stephen B. Morton/AP

Because the wreck, which weighs several thousand tons and is 200 meters long, cannot be moved from the spot, the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies decides to take an unusual step: the "Golden Ray" is cut apart and transported away piece by piece.

March 2021: The »Ever Given« blocks the Suez Canal

The ship crosses the Suez Canal in such an unfortunate way that all shipping traffic is blocked for six days. The accident of the "Ever Given" causes a mega traffic jam of around 400 ships in front of the canal entrance, which is only slowly dissipating. Billions of dollars worth of goods are stuck. Many ships arrive at their destination ports with a significant delay, significantly slowing down supply chains around the world.

Even though the "Ever Given" is maneuverable again after a few days, it is not allowed to sail: Only after months of negotiations do the owners agree with the port authority on a compensation payment. How high this is is not communicated.

A special punch line became public during the blockade: In the waiting time before entering the Suez Canal, the captain of the "Ever Given" had chosen a strange course – and painted a penis into the sea with the container ship. A spokesman for the management told SPIEGEL at the time that it was normal for ships waiting to enter to "meander around" beforehand. The special pattern is probably "pure coincidence". But the navigation data seems quite clear:

February 2022: Luxury cars burn at sea

And again a car freighter is on fire. Porsches, Bentleys and Lamborghinis – the »Felicity Ace« has valuable cargo on board. It is unclear why the ship with its estimated $400 million cargo on board caught fire near the Azores in February 2022 is unclear. Lithium-ion batteries may have caught fire.

The 22 crew members can be quickly disembarked, after which it is a matter of saving the ship: it is to be towed away at the same time and unloaded at sea using state-of-the-art equipment. The attempt fails, and in the end the burnt-out freighter sinks. And with it almost 4000 cars from VW luxury brands that were destined for the US market.

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The burning »Felicity Ace«



March 2022: A sister ship blocks a waterway

A freighter runs aground in a busy waterway and threatens to block shipping traffic: Don't we know this? But it's not just the setting that's comparable, because the "Ever Forward," which will hit a sandbank in the Chesapeake Bay north of Washington in mid-March 2022, is actually the sister ship of the "Ever Given," which blocked the Suez Canal a year earlier. The first reports give the world a "please don't do it again" feeling. But it quickly becomes apparent that the situation for global shipping traffic is much less threatening: "The deadlock does not prevent other ships from entering the port of Baltimore," the port authority says.

Nevertheless, it takes more than a month to get the 334-metre-long ship back on the road. Before the coast guard can tow the freighter free, almost 500 of the 5000 containers on board have to be unloaded to make the ship lighter. Finally, at the highest water level at high tide, the freighter is pulled out of the mud by salvage ships and pushed back into the shipping channel via a dredged hole.

March 2023: A ship sinks in the Danube

It is not only on the seas that ships get into awkward situations, as shown by an incident in the Danube lock in the Upper Palatinate on March 10, 2023: After the freighter "Achim" had previously been loaded with around 1100 tons of iron ore granules in nearby Regensburg, it suddenly fills up in the lock - and sinks, within seconds. The Hungarian captain and his helmsman are able to escape from the water via the emergency ladders of the lock chamber.

The unusual speed at which the ship sinks poses a mystery to accident investigators: How can this be? There are indications that the ship was irregularly loaded, perhaps the ship's wall was also leaking in one place. At first, the authorities are not sure.

However, the salvage of the ship is easier than in the case of accidents in the sea: the water is drained from the lock in the meantime so that the "Achim" can be provisionally repaired. Subsequently, the damaged freighter can be towed by another ship. The accident has hardly any impact on shipping traffic – by a happy coincidence: the day after the accident, the waterway was to be closed anyway. For maintenance work.