APL England’s fixed container securing arrangements on deck were in a poor state of repair when it lost 50 containers overboard in heavy weather in 2020, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report on the incident.

The incident occurred as the 5780-TEU ship was making its way down the east coast of New South Wales, bound for Melbourne. It had 3161 containers onboard (5048 TEU) and had departed Ningbo on 11 May.

In the early morning of the 24 May, the vessel underwent a series of heavy rolls that resulted in the containers overboard, and shutdown of the main engine. The incident occurred about 40 nautical miles east of Sydney.

The final report notes the importance of vessel fixtures being regularly maintained to ensure they are secure and stable. It said the strength of many securing fixtures was severely reduced by corrosion when the incident occurred.

“Our investigators found this condition would have taken several years of poor maintenance to develop,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said.

“This showed the ship had not received the scrutiny from crewmembers, shore management, or other agencies that a ship of its age or condition required.”

Mr Mitchell said with the deck fittings involved in the incident can lose about one millimetre per year in a highly corrosive environment.

“We had evidence that some of them were 10 millimetres corroded. This wasn’t something that came about in a couple of months, this was years in the making, of the state of these particular fittings that were involved here,” he said.

“But that wasn’t the only thing that was at play here too. We certainly uncovered the ship wasn’t set up for the weather it was experiencing.”

The investigation found procedures for adverse weather were not followed.

“Had these procedures and associated assessment tools been used, navigational and operational decisions could have been made, which would have better prepared the ship for the conditions encountered,” Mr Mitchell said.

Since the incident, fixtures on the APL England were repaired, and deck and container fittings on all other vessels in the APL fleet were inspected and repaired as required.

APL also implemented additional safety action regarding planning and navigation in heavy weather.

“This incident should be a reminder to all ship masters and crews of the importance of adhering to the cargo securing manual, and of following specific procedures and guidance material ahead of – and during – adverse weather,” Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Mitchell also welcomed an update in July 2022, from shipping classification society DNV, to include a new section in the relevant Class Guideline providing requirements on the allowable wear and tear of container supporting structures and container securing equipment.