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"Sea (To) Land Express"

On The Scene In South Africa

Feature Date: May, 2004

Event Date: 19 Aug. 2003

Countryman & McDaniel

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On The Scene -- in South Africa !

 A 2004 Countryman & McDaniel

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"Sea (To) Land Express"

On The Scene In South Africa

M/V Sealand Express

Cannon Balls & Radioactivity


19 August 2003

A Cargo Nightmare Prize 2nd Place Winner

The Time: 6:55 a.m.

The Date: Tuesday 19 August 2003

The Place: Off Table Mountain, South Africa

M/V Sealand Express In Better Days

D-9 Class

Built - 1980

Overall Length - 846 feet

Beam - 106 feet

Draught - 36 feet

Gross Tonnage - 32,600t

Registered Deadweight - 33,000 t

Loading Capacity - 25,500t

Accommodation - for 50 persons.

Main Power - 4 stroke engine 7,300 kW Output

Service Speed - 22 Knots

Shaft Horsepower - 22,200

Container Capacity - 1,801 TEU

D-9J Class Varient

Service Speed - 21 Knots

Container Capacity - 2,472 TEU

The D-9 Class


Sea-Land Defender - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Developer - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Endurance - Korea 1981

Sea-Land Explorer - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Express - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Freedom

Sea-Land Independence - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Innovator - Korea 1980

Sea-Land Liberator - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Mariner

Sea-Land Patriot - Japan 1980

Sea-Land Voyager - Japan 1980

The D-9 Class -- Cutting Edge Technology For 1980
Launched in 1980, M/V Sealand Defender was the first of the D-9 class -- signaling the large-scale conversion to diesel power as the first newly constructed diesel-powered container ships to fly the U.S. flag. The class became D-9J when in 1985 it underwent jumboization to improve capacity and reduce operating costs.

The orginal D-9J container ship mission was transporting containers to/from the West Coast of the U.S. and Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. This route was from Long Beach, California to Oakland, California to Tacoma, Washington to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Tokyo, Japan to Kobe, Japan to Hong Kong to Naha, Japan and then back to Hong Kong and to Kaohsiung, Taiwan and returning to Long Beach. The crew consisted of 21 persons. One half of the crew was permanently assigned to the vessel. During their vacation periods, relief crew members filled so there was a constant turnover. Each crew member worked an 8 hour day and frequently more. Meals were 0730-0830, 1130-1230 & 1700-1800. Most common recreation was watching videos. Port time was much reduced from previous eras and the quick turnaround meant many in the crew did not even get ashore during their time in port.

President Reagan signed the Export Trading Company Act of 1982 on Oct. 8, 1982. The President spoke at the former Sea-Land Service, Inc., in Long Beach Harbor, Long Beach, Calif. The site of the signing ceremony was adjacent to M/V Sea-Land Explorer, a D-9 vessel container ship and the most modern in the American merchant marine as of that time.

Export Development Canada [EDC] first ship repair financing transaction was a joint financing arrangement between EDC and Seaspan. This arrangement was developed to meet the needs of the former U.S.-based Sea-Land Services, whose container ship M/V Sea-Land Innovator required emergency drydock repairs in May 1999, valued at over US$1.3M.

In July 2000 Maersk Sealand announced an increase in the number of container ships operating in the Mediterranean-Gulf shipment line by making use of the Malta Freeport. The service links the U.S. and Gulf coasts with the Mediterranean. The ships provide an important capacity for U.S. military and cargo-preference shipments such as food aid. U.S. law dictates that government-owned or financed cargo shipped internationally must move on U.S.-flagged vessels. Such cargo commands premium rates. The ships include the D-9J class members, M/V Sealand Innovator, M/V Sealand Express and M/V Sealand Patriot. U.S. Ship Management, Inc. ("USSM") manages the vessels since Maersk acquired Sea-Land's international liner operations. USSM, a U.S. citizen corporation, time charters the vessels to Maersk. The presence of U.S.-flag vessels on the route is important because they give Maersk Sealand access to valuable U.S. military & aid shipments. Cargo-preference laws require such shipments to move on U.S.-flag vessels.

PROLOG TO DISASTER >> It is 19 Aug. 2003, early morning, in stormy seas off the coast of South Africa -- near Dolphin Beach near Milnerton, Cape Town.
The 32,926 DWT D-9 Class U.S. Registeed container M/V Sealand Express, Durban & Port Elizabeth For Cape Town is fighting heavy swells & high winds off the approach to Capetown.
Disaster Struck at 6:55 a.m.
On Tues. Aug. 19 2003, Lloyd's Register broadcast the following news story:
Lloyd's Register>> US-flagged Maersk container ship Sealand Express (32,926 DWT), carrying 1,037 containers, went aground at Dolphin Beach, Cape Town at about 0730 local time this morning after dragging its anchor in heavy seas. Two harbour tugs and a salvage tug on contract to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) responded to the initial call, but by the time they had reached the scene 20 minutes later the ship's bows were aground on sand. The ship is now grounded firmly onto sand, where a heavy swell has begun pounding it, and lying parallel with the beach a short distance away. A Smit Pentow salvage team, under contract to Maersk Sealand, boarded the vessel to secure the safety of the crew and to attempt salvage. According to SAMSA a further attempt to tow the vessel clear will be made at high tide later today. Meanwhile the National Ports Authority in Cape Town reports there is no evidence of pollution. (August 19, 2003)

On Tues. Aug. 19 2003, The Cargo Letter broadcast the following news story:

The Cargo Letter>> 246m U.S. registered M/V Sealand Express, aground off Dolphin Beach near Milnerton -- container vessel driven ashore in high winds & heavy sea conditions. National Ports Authority (NPA) at the Port of Cape Town, said NPA assisted in an earlier attempt to tow ship off beach, but had been unsuccessful. (Tues. Aug. 19 2003)

Not so safe ashore: The M/V Sealand Express aground in the shallow waters of Sunset Beach, on Table Bay

Late Tues Aug. 19 2003, The Cargo Letter broadcast the following news story:
UPDATE>> M/V Sealand Express dragged her anchor & touched beach due to bad weather conditions. Another mess. (Tues. Aug. 19 2003PM)

But this would not be just another incident!

Before it was over M/V Sealand Express would gound twice, collide with a shipwreck, be feared as radioactive -- and suffer damage from cannon balls fired by the British Royal Navy - it was a 25-day battle!

On Sat. 23 Aug. 2003, The Cargo Letter broadcast the following news story:

UPDATE>> M/V Sealand Express also carrying containers of industrial chemicals, including leaking propyl acetate, & 59 sealed drums of uranium oxide, a byproduct of gold mining & raw material for nuclear fuel rods. (Sat. Aug. 23 2003) (Note: Color enhancements are from original The Cargo Letter Online bulletin)

Great news for Table Bay -- not only is M/V Sealand Express on the beach -- but she's potentially toxic & radioactive!

Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard arrived August 21.

Taking a walk with M/V Sealand Express. 

M/V Sealand Express has more than 1,037 containers aboard, including 33 filled with hazardous materials such as flammable compressed gas, alcohol, fireworks & industrial chemicals. Environmentalists expressed alarm at the news that the vessel was also carrying 50 tons of uranium ore concentrate, destined to be turned into nuclear fuel in the United States. But a nuclear engineer said the material was only mildly radioactive and that the oil posed a much bigger danger. By Aug. 22, an estimated 70 tons of oil had been pumped to one of the anchor handler tugs. Oil is being pumped along a 20mm floating pipe about 350m seaward to one of the anchor handler tugs.

 More indignity! M/V Sealand Express was ticketed for 25 days in a No Parking Zone. At least the crew had a bathroom.

 Time grows short as pounding waves threaten M/V Sealand Express.

All salvage attempts to Sept. 7 have failed. Dredging efforts continue.

A powerful AN-32 MI8 helicopter is used to take towing lines to & containers from M/V Sealand Express.

The State of M/V Sealand Express -- Monday 8 September, 2003
Preparations continue for the salvage team's next refloating attempt M/V Sealand Express, which will take place on the 11th/12th Sept. during spring tide. The dredging operation will continue for as long as is possible so as to maximise the efforts of the dredger "HAM 316" in increasing the water depth in the vicinity of the casualty, where it has made significant progress over the course of the past 10 days. The dredger will continue her efforts until just prior to M/V Sealand Express being deballasted in preparation for the attempt, when it will become necessary for a tug to be connected up to hold her in place as she becomes lighter. The salvage tug M/V John Ross" and the tugs M/V Pacific Worker & M/V Pacific Brigand will be used during the next attempt.

A total of 33 containers containing cargo classed as hazardous were on board the M/V Sealand Express when she ran aground. 10 of them have been unpacked and their contents safely airlifted to the secure reception facility in the port by the powerful AN-32 Mi8 Russian-made helicopter. The hazardous cargo removal operation will continue this week, weather permitting, until such time as the casualty is deballasted and consequently becomes more "lively".

A full Hazmat team, comprised of technician, chemist and paramedic, is flown to the casualty daily to co-ordinate hazardous cargo removal in conjunction with the salvage team. All of the pumpable heavy fuel oil (3,518 tons) has been removed by the salvage team. 235 tons of diesel (gasoil) remains on board for use by the ship's generators & main engines. Further consolidation of the unpumpables has taken place (143 tons) and only residues remain in the exposed portside wing tanks.

Stress monitors fitted to the M/V Sea-Land Express's hull indicate that her overall condition is still sound. Stresses being experienced by the ship are above normal but within the acceptable range, given the grounding forces that the fully laden container ship is experiencing. In the last 3 days the casualty has moved 180 meters forward & pivoted 27 degrees seaward.

 Salvage tug M/V AHTS Verginia Star Z -- powerful, but not powerful enough.

Actual message confirming participation of M/V AHTS Verginia Star Z in the effort.
"CNTR VSL '' SEALAND EXPRESS '' (29/8/2003)


Maritome Consortium of Thessaloniki "
Two of the 4 tugs trying to refloat M/V Sealand Express stranded in Table Bay had cables attached to her. The refloating attempt was proceeding, but there was no certainty whether the attempt would succeed. Earlier, Smit Marine salvage tug M/V John Ross joined three other tugs, including Russian vessel Verginia Star Z, off Sunset Beach, Milnerton.

M/V Sealand Express, which was carrying hazardous cargo and has several thousand tons of fuel on board, was pulled from a sandbank by tugboats on Sept. 13 during the spring high tide. Ships waiting to enter the harbor had been cleared from the area in case M/V Sealand Express "popped like a champagne cork" from the sand, said Evelyn Holtzhausen, spokesman for United States Ship Management (USSM), which owns the vessel. Instead she had come away "like a knife through butter", she added.

M/V Sealand Express was freed from the sandbank. She was originally freed on Sept. 12 night -- but M/V Sealand Express soon hit another sandbank -- and the tow line between her and the tug John Ross snapped.

High tide was expected at 4pm on Sept. 13, but the ship was unexpectedly freed half an hour beforehand by two other tugs while they were waiting for the John Ross, which had been called away earlier.

Peter Lukey, deputy director-general of environment quality in the Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, was quoted as saying that the hazardous cargo included fairly innocuous substances like paint as well as "real nasties" like (Class 1) Explosives, fungicides, antimony and chromium trioxide, which are lethal to human and marine life.

Twelve containers of hazardous materials were airlifted from the ship by helicopter while she was still stuck. The remaining containers were all lifted off Sept. 15. Some contained items - including household goods - which would be loaded onto other vessels soon, as they will have to be shipped away urgently.

Thousands of tons of fuel were pumped from the ship during August in a move to avert massive oil pollution, which could have occurred if the ship had broken up, and to make her lighter to help refloat her.

It was "virtually impossible" to estimate the costs of the rescue and repairs to the ship at this stage, Evelyn Holtzhausen, spokesman for United States Ship Management said.

M/V Sealand Express lies in Sturrock drydock, Capetown -- with cannon ball damage!

M/V Sealand Express Came To Rest On Or Against An Old Shipwreck. - Damage Resulted
According to SA Heritage Resources Agency maritime archaeologist John Gribble, the wreck is likely that of a wooden sailing ship, dating from the 1st half of the 19th century. The 1st hint there might be a wreck near M/V Sealand Express came on the morning of August 19, when the same Cape storm that swept it onto a sandbank also tossed ashore several pieces of old timber. Some of these were picked up at the time by Gribble, who had gone to the beach to see the M/V Sealand Express.

Other pieces of timber from the wreck were found by the salvage company Smit Marine, which waged a 25-day battle to refloat the 33,000-ton vessel before a brace of tugs dragged it to safety on Sept. 13.

Cause of Damage Uncovered - Cannon Balls !

However, the wreck's existence was confirmed when M/V Sealand Express was taken into Cape Town harbor's Sturrock drydock for inspection. There it was discovered she had damaged her starboard bilge keel, a triangular channel that runs below the waterline along the length of the ship and acts as a stabilizer. This was surprising because the sea floor in the area she was stranded is supposed to be sandy, with no rocks. However, a closer inspection soon showed the cause of the damage.

Smit Marine salvage director Dave Main confirmed that lodged in the channel were what appeared to be two broken cannon balls, some pieces of pig iron, used as ballast in old sailing ships, and a piece of old wooden hull planking. It appeared that M/V Sealand Express has been "rolling against a wreck", which caused the damage to the bilge keel, he said.

Gribble said he suspected the wreck was that of a merchant vessel, although the presence of the "cannon balls" was strange.

"Due to the presence of the Royal Navy, few merchantmen at the time carried cannons to defend themselves." Gribble said relatively fewer shipwrecks lay off the Sunset Beach area than further south in Table Bay closer to the harbor.This will hopefully make identifying the wreck somewhat easier.

The hull timber collected so far - some was also found by the salvors - had tiny holes in it, suggesting the ship was "sheathed" with copper sheets. "Copper sheet was used below the waterline from 1780 onwards as an anti-fouling device," Gribble said.

Together with other evidence, this suggested the wreck was from the 1850s or 1860s, possibly earlier. Gribble is keen to identify the wreck, which meant waiting for a period of calm weather and diving on the site.

Wrecks along the South African coast older than 60 years are protected by of the National Heritage Resources Act. Anyone found recovering or taking items from such a wreck site without a permit faces a fine of R10,000 or more.

So a true seafarers tale can now be told by the crew of the U.S. registered M/V Sealand Express ......

She came ashore at Table Bay, South Africa .....

..... and suffered battle damage from 19th Century black powder guns under sail of the British Royal Navy !

Indeed, this was a classic 25-day sea battle, after a very eventful "Sea (to) Land Express."

A Message From
Maersk -- Cape Town, September 15, 2003
"M/V Sea-Land Express, now safely berthed in Cape Town's container terminal, is being off-loaded on a priority basis to ensure that the cargo belonging to the customers of Maersk Sealand are expeditiously handled.

We are very pleased that the vessel has been re-floated, said Lars Reno Jakobsen, Chief Executive of Maersk Sub-Saharan Africa, based in Cape Town. Now we are ready to carryout our customers wishes about how they want their cargos to be handled.

The entire A.P. Møller - Maersk Group wishes to thank all of the South African government agencies and Smit Marine for their professionalism and expertise during the salvage operation, Mr. Jakobsen said. "In particular, I deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of the residents of Sunset Beach indeed, all Captonians - during the past three weeks." Three powerful tugs successfully pulled the Sea-Land Express from the sand in front of Sunset Beach, in Milnerton on Saturday at 15:23 after a well-coordinated salvage operation.

U.S. Ship Management, Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina, is the disponent owner of the vessel, which chartered to Maersk Line Ltd. and placed in a pool of ships that provides a global maritime transportation service for customers of Maersk Sealand. The vessel, with 1038 containers on board, ran aground at 06:55 hours on Aug. 19. Since then, Maersk Sealand and Safmarine proactively kept their customers informed about the progress of the salvage effort in order to help them plan next steps for their cargos.

In our capacity as charterers, Maersk Sealand gave all appropriate support to the salvage operation, which included the safe removal of hazardous cargo while the vessel was grounded, said spokesperson Jesse Lewis. Now we are working closely with our customers to ensure that their cargos are handled according to their wishes.

Maersk Sealand has selected another vessel, M/V Northstar, to transport the designated cargo from Cape Town to the U.S. East Coast. It is expected to arrive in Cape Town on Sept. 20."

The Dedication of This Feature Is Simple: To The Crew of M/V Sealand Express and their families.

U.S. authorities may bring charges against the master of M/V Sea-Land Express, plus two other crew for hazarding the vessel.

SPECIAL NOTE: The historic dangers of carriage by sea continue to be quite real. Shippers must be encouraged to purchase high quality marine cargo insurance from their freight forwarder or customs brokerIt's dangerous out there.


Maersk Sealand

M/V John Ross - now the M/V Smit Armandla

M/V AHTS Verginia Star Z

Maritome Consortium ofThessaloniki


Milnerton Map

National Ports Authority, Capetown

Smit Marine Salvage

Stone Marine, SA Pte Ltd - Sturrock Drydock

Swire Pacific Offshore Services Pte Ltd - assisted in effort.

SPECIAL NOTE: The historic dangers of carriage by sea continue to be quite real. Shippers must be encouraged to purchase high quality marine cargo insurance from their freight forwarder or customs broker.  It's dangerous out there.
Thanks To Our Contributors For The
"Sea (To) Land Express" Feature

Our Contributors for this feature are:
* Anonymous contributors who wish to be anonymous

Geoff Burgess, NT System Admin, New Breed Corp. - USA

Chris Grimmett - Mexico

Niels Aage Jensen - Denmark

Geoff Burgess, NT System Admin, New Breed Corp. - USA

Jim Page - USA

NOTE: Please Provide Us With Your Additional Information For This Loss.

EDITOR'S NOTE FOR SURVEYORS, ATTORNEYS & MARINE ADJUSTERS: The Internet edition effort of The Cargo Letter now celebrates it's 8th Year of Service -- making us quite senior in this segment of the industry. We once estimated container underway losses at about 1,500 per year. Lloyd's put that figure at about 10,000 earlier this year. Quite obviously, the reporting mechanism for these massive losses is not supported by the lines. News of these events is not posted to the maritime community. Our new project is to call upon you -- those handling the claims -- to let us know of each container loss at sea-- in confidentiality. Many of you survey on behalf of cargo interests with no need for confidentiality. Others work for the lines & need to be protected. As a respected Int'l publication, The Cargo Letter enjoys full press privileges & cannot be forced to disclose our sources of information. No successful attempt has ever been made. If a personal notation for your report is desired -- each contributor will be given a "hot link" to your company Website in each & every report. Please take moment & report your "overside" containers to us. If you do not wish attribution, your entry will be "anonymous." This will will benefit our industry -- for obvious reasons! McD

* NOTE: The Cargo Letter wants you to know that by keeping the identity of our contributors 100% Confidential, you are able to view our continuing series of "Cargo Disasters." Our friends send us materials which benefit the industry. The materials are provided to our news publication with complete and enforceable confidentiality for the sender. In turn, we provide these materials to you.  

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