Knowledge that ‘accidents will happen’ should stimulate positive action

… not inaction!

Given the high volume of marine traffic criss-crossing the world’s oceans, accidents in the maritime sphere are hardly unusual occurrences. But, against the background of global statistics now showing well over 2,000 reported maritime mishaps in 2022, recent events, individually and collectively, suggest that owners and operators of seaports port and terminal operators need to review and reappraise strategies and systems to protect against mishaps within the port.

As recent events revealed, a major disaster caused by circumstances outside of the control of the port, could severely hamper – if not shut down – port operations for weeks and months. In smaller countries, particularly those with one major seaport, such an eventuality could be economically and socially disastrous.

Baltimore tragedy

On May 20, 2024 the Singapore-registered mv Dali container ship and its crew of 21 were finally freed from the tangle of twisted metal from Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. The Dali hit the bridge in the early hours of March 26, 2024 bringing down a large section of the structure onto itself and into the Patapsco River.

The Dali, with about 4,700 containers, was about to begin its scheduled voyage from Baltimore to Sri Lanka when the accident occurred. The collision killed a local work crew of six men who were doing scheduled road maintenance on the structure. This incident immobilised the 289m (948 ft.) container ship for almost eight weeks.

The ship’s crew had to remain on board, unable to disembark because of immigration restrictions, among other issues and to facilitate investigations of the accident by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

Newark tragedy

Less than eight months prior to the Dali slamming into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, firefighters in Newark, New Jersey were fiercely battling a fire on board an Italian cargo ship, the mv Grande Costa d’Avorio.

The ship was loaded with 1,200 automobiles, cargo destined for West African ports. The fire, discovered on July 5, held firefighters in an epic battle for almost a week before being brought under control. As reported, two firefighters were trapped on board the ship and lost their lives. That fierce battle to prevent the fire spreading across and beyond the port was made more difficult by the reality that the standard 2.5-inch hoses brought by the local firefighters could not be connected to the equipment on the European-built ship, and so they were forced to use the vessel’s one-inch firefighting hoses.

Tobago tragedy

In February 2024, the people of Trinidad and Tobago woke up to a catastrophe. Overnight, a barge loaded with hydrocarbon cargo struck a coral reef close to the coast of Tobago, spilling the equivalent of 35,000 barrels of thick black stuff into the sea and onto local roadways and beaches.

Other territories, including Grenada and those in the Dutch Caribbean were similarly affected as the oil slick entered Caribbean waters.

According to RightShip data (, there were 2,400 incidents in 2022 (averaging more than six every day) where the location was recorded. About 50% of this total happened within port and terminal boundaries (i.e., at berth, using port facilities, at anchorage, during harbour transit). The majority (813 incidents) took place in ports and harbours while docked. As the data point out, such incidents can result in property damage, environmental pollution, delay and dislocations or a combination of two or more of these mishaps.

Proactive stance

Given a country’s dependence on efficient and reliable seaport operations, a passive attitude to the probabilities of a disaster is dereliction of duty in incubation.

The notion that “accidents will happen” should not inspire passivity and inaction. To the contrary, knowledge that accidents will likely happen should inspire, energise and hasten plans and management strategies to prevent such eventualities. A proactive stance in protecting the port against man-made misadventure requires the formulation, implementation and rigid supervision of high standards to protect against all possible risks.

Such a proactive stance is now necessary.[]

#seaports #Caribbeanports #portdisasters #portsafety



Mike Jarrett   * Editor-in-Chief, Portside Caribbean