Stricken cargo ship Flaminia still at sea
More than four weeks after the container ship MSC Flaminia, whose last port call was Charleston, was abandoned by its crew in the mid-Atlantic following a fire and explosion, the ship remains at sea as salvage efforts continue.
Smoke was still coming from one of the Flaminia’s cargo holds Tuesday, according to the vessel’s German owner, Reederei NSB. The 984-foot ship was holding a position 400 nautical miles west of the English Channel, and its owner has so far been unable to obtain permission to tow the ship to a port.
“I consider it shocking that in this situation a ship under German flag does not receive a permission from the European countries to call at a port,” said Helmut Ponath, Reederei NSB’s chief executive officer.
The company said intense negotiations have been under way since late last week.
Meanwhile, Reederei NSB declared “general average” Wednesday, a maritime provision that requires the owners of cargo aboard the ship to pay a proportionate share of all the costs related to cargo damage, ship damage and salvage operations.
For example, a company whose cargo accounted for 1 percent of the value of all cargo aboard the ship could have to pay for 1 percent of all the costs related to the disaster. The Flaminia was carrying cargo from multiple ports.
“Everybody in the marine insurance industry is on pins and needles waiting for an estimate,” said Melissa Pyles, vice president for claims with Roanoke Trade Services, which provides maritime insurance. “This one is a pretty extreme case.”
The Flaminia was about 1,000 miles from England when a fire broke out on July 14, followed by an explosion. One crewman was killed and several were seriously injured.
The crew and two passengers abandoned ship and were rescued from lifeboats by an oil tanker that day. Firefighting and salvage operations began when ocean-going tugs arrived on the scene three days later.
The ship was carrying 2,876 shipping containers from multiple ports, and was bound for Antwerp.
Pyles said a surprising number of shippers do not obtain insurance to cover general average claims, and that can prove costly. She said the general average concept goes back to ancient mariner times when some cargo might have to be jettisoned to right a listing ship, a risk all the cargo owners shared.
The Flaminia at one point during salvage operations was listing by 11 degrees, partially due to the weight of water from firefighting efforts.
“During the past days the salvage team was able to stabilize the vessel by pumping water from the cargo holds into the ballast water tanks,” Reederei NSB said in a statement Monday. “By now, MSC Flaminia is listing by just 2.5 degrees. With this list, the vessel is stabilized to the extent that the entry into an emergency port is possible.”
But permission to enter a port has not been forthcoming, and the company warned Wednesday that weather conditions are deteriorating.
“A significant impairment of the stability of MSC Flaminia due the expected wave height cannot be excluded and is observed apprehensively,” the company said.
The cause of the fatal fire and explosion aboard the ship has not been determined.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.