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Elbe grounding of giant boxship draws ire

With two attempts to dislodge it, the giant CSCL Indian Ocean is likely to remain stuck on the bed of the river Elbe outside Hamburg until Tuesday next week, much to the frustration of many local politicians.

The 400-m long, 19,000 teu China Shipping suffered a steering malfunction while nearing Hamburg on the night of February 3. Tugs were deployed, but thus far have failed to shift the ship, one of the largest containerships afloat.

The next full moon high tide is not until February 9, when another attempt will be made to free the green-hulled ship.

Yesterday, much of the bunker fuel was syphoned off the three-month-old ship to a barge. Authorities will now mull bringing a floating crane alongside to take off some of the boxes to lighten the load of the 184,320 dwt ship.

Possible dredging along the side of the ship is also under consideration. No leaks have been reported so far.

Local politicians and environmentalists have warned for some time that the Elbe is not ideal navigational territory in the era of the ultra large container vessel.

“Such accidents were feared for some time and are more incidents of this nature in the future cannot be excluded”, the Lower Saxony economics minister Olaf Lies told local media yesterday. “This accident caused considerable economic damage, because it has disturbed operations at the port of Hamburg,” the politician added.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have urged politicians to force the largest boxships to avoid Hamburg and call at Wilhelmshaven instead.



Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Writing as an student of physics (albeit a long time ago), I would have thought that attempting to pull a ship which is the same size as a block of flats off of a sand bank with towing lines which are angled downwards was always going to be doomed to failure. The tugs are attempting to defeat the laws of physics, as well as of ship-handling.

    1. You are quite right. I have previously suggested to one of the more prestigious classification societies that these mega ships carrying bulk, oil and now containers shall be designed with strong in hull recessed bollards or similar placed at various waterlines at the ship’s ends. The purpose would be to apply more or less horizontal and effective pulling by attending tugs as well as points for connecting tow lines from assisting tugs without the assistance of attending ship’s crew in case of lost on-board power or when a vessel is abandoned. Perhaps the recently drifting/salvaged car carrier in the Bay of Biscay could have been under tow at an earlier stage of the mishap had some emergency towing connection points been available and easily accessed for hook-up arranged from attending tug/s – as an example.

  2. The critics of local politicians and environmental nerds are of the same nature as those of farmers when the first trains where crossing the fields and sailing vessels where replaced by steamers. A wide range of experts have evaluated the accessibility of the Elbe for ULCC’s and found it safe. Let the salvage experst such as Bugsier do their job and have confidence. When she is even keel there is little risk.

  3. … and lightering 500 MT of bunker fuel off a 180k dwt vessel: what is that going to accomplish?!?? Why in the world would these ULCC’s go to Hamburg in the first place instead of Wilhelmshaven and pay for the extra time and fuel burned going up and down the Elbe?!??? “Prestige”?

  4. Everybody is talking about ULCCs. That only referrs to tankers (Ultra Large Crude Carriers). Those container vessels like the grounded one are ULCVs or ULCSs (Ultra Large Container Vessels / Ships).

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