Sea captain tells why there is no safe port in a storm for box ships
HAPAG-LLOYD sea captain Henri Scheer recently told of his times in foul weather and revealed that there is no there no safe port in a storm for today's big ships.
"For very big ships, there is no safe harbour. In a harbour, ships are at the mercy of the forces of nature without being able to manoeuvre," said Capt Scheer.
The risk of damaging or destroying the ship as well as the valuable port facilities is high. That's why some ports with important infrastructure ask that ships leave port before a storm arrives.
"During a storm, the safest place for a containership is out at sea. It can avoid the worst weather there and position itself in a way that minimises exposure to wind and waves," he said.
Under these circumstances, the crew sees to it that the cargo is safely lashed. But things are sometimes different in the crew's common areas," he said.
"On the very big ships, which generally don't move much, this is sometimes forgotten. That's why I always post a 'bad weather notice' at the entrance to the mess room if bad weather is brewing.
"This raises awareness among the crew, and they check to make sure that everything is well-secured in their cabins and their work area again so that there aren't any laptops or chairs flying around.
"Sometimes it's also about the little things that used to be givens on the smaller ships. For example, we would dampen the tablecloth so the plates and cutlery wouldn't slip out of place in rough seas.
"If the ship starts rolling, the mood on board really changes. It's exhausting for both mind and body. Even people who don't get seasick suffer.
"The most strenuous thing is that you can hardly ever have relaxed sleep. You lie there like a beetle in your bunk, trying to wedge yourself in somehow. If you have to go through a 10-day stretch of that, anyone can imagine that's stressful.
"Once it's all over, you're really wrecked and just happy that the ship is lying in port and not moving anymore.
Recent hurricanes have left many dead, destroyed countless homes and severely damaged the infrastructure of entire regions, Capt Scheer recalls.
"However, we haven't heard anything about containerships being damaged or in distress at sea in these areas.
"That's because our ships have been able to avoid these storms. These hurricanes form over a longer period of time, and their paths can be projected quite reliably.
Our captains sail faster to pass well before the hurricane or they sail slower and let the storm pass.
Our ships should stay 250 nautical miles away from severe tropical cyclones. Even here, wind force can still be at eight. We're primarily trying to avoid encountering swell that is too high.
"Waves should ideally be no higher than six metres. At that point, containerships are relatively vulnerable due to their special hull shape, but mainly due to their exposed cargo," he said.
"If a big wave goes over the forecastle of a tanker or a bulker, it usually doesn't result in damage. But this risk is a lot higher with a containership because the cargo is exposed.
"So that's a scenario you absolutely want to avoid. And that's why we prefer to sail a bit more carefully if we have any doubts," said Capt Scheer.