Freight Shipping Edition: What to Do When Disaster Hits at Sea

freigh ship berthing port


Freight shipping by sea is responsible for 90% of everything we buy today. This form of transportation also makes the freight shipping industry one of the biggest industries in the world.

Working in the freight shipping industry can be a great way to make a living. However, the work can be hazardous during the long voyages between the shipping and receiving ports.

Here are some possible disaster scenarios that can occur, what you can do to avoid them, and how to respond if, despite all precautions, you experience a disaster.

Losing Shipping Containers

It is estimated that 675 shipping containers are lost at sea every year. A loss of a container means a loss of profits, as well as unhappy customers whose goods were lost.

Luckily, the loss of shipping containers can usually be prevented by making sure all containers are secured before the ship sets sail. The CSS Code provides detailed information on topics such as how to secure drums in storage racks, arrange and secure containers on deck and how to provide safe arrangements for special cargo such as cars.

Following these procedures will severely limit losses at sea no matter what the weather.

Dealing with Technical Problems

Technical problems include anything that can go wrong with the ship or the ship equipment. For example, ships may experience structural problems, engine failure, and navigational equipment failures while at sea.

All equipment must be inspected before the ship sets sail. Ensure everything meets federal regulations and all safety standards are met.

Keeping equipment up to date is another way to avoid having unexpected technical problems while at sea.

Replace any damaged equipment and make sure you have the latest updated software installed on your ship’s electronic systems.

Weathering Storms

Hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones are some of the most dangerous threats for freight ships. They are marked by violent wind and heavy rain causing large surging waves.

Unfortunately, encountering major storms is an unavoidable part of sea life. It is also a difficult decision for ship captains to sail around storms, as freight ships are usually on a tight schedule. Cost is another factor, as the fuels used on large freight ships can go up to tens of thousands of dollars a day. This price means even a delay of just three days can cost a lot of money, giving captains more incentives to minimize delays.

However, modern freight ships are designed to withstand all but the most extreme storms. Ships that are larger in size can also withstand intense waves better than smaller ships during a storm. This does not mean major storms should be taken lightly. Following weather reports will help you determine your course.

Checking Weather Reports

Hurricanes are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, with categories greater than 3 being major storms with wind speeds going over 111 mph. Freight ships should be aware of any storms that can potentially develop into a major storm and cross path with the route of the ship.

young chinese navigator surveying navigation devices

All U.S. freight ships are required to carry a Navigational Telex (NAVTEX) machine. This machine is a radio receiver that picks up medium frequency radio signals and converts them into a text printout of the current weather updates. Today, most ships can also receive weather maps and satellite images via email.

Onboard computer systems can also be found on modern freight ships that can even plan routes based on updated weather forecasts.

Safety and Storms: What Choices Exist?

Even though it is advisable always to avoid a storm, sometimes freight ships have no choice but to sail through one.

When your freight ship is stuck in the face of a severe hurricane, the best way to minimize the storm’s impacts is to steer toward areas of the ocean with the shallowest waves and the lowest wind speeds. This area is known as the low or clean side of the storm, and it is usually found on the side counterclockwise from the storm’s leading edge.

If you cannot find the clean side of the storm, your ship’s survival will depend on the two factors called sea room and steering-way. The sea room refers to the ship being at a safe distance from anything it may crash into, such as shallow grounds or an iceberg. You must steer clear of the shore during a storm.

Steering-way refers to the ship having enough power to move forward and follow steering commands, as opposed to being pushed around by the storm. To ensure you keep some control of your ship’s movements, the bow or front end of the ship must be pointed toward the waves so the rest of the ship can plow through them safely. The ship’s bow should be cutting through incoming waves instead of having the waves strike the side of the ship. Any massive waves striking the sides of the ship can cause the ship to roll and fill with ocean water.

view of ship deck from window

Dealing with Delays

Working in the shipping industry means trying your best to make every delivery on time. However, safety should always be paramount, as the lives of the crew are more important than maintaining a schedule. Customers also understand that weather plays a role in the delivery time of their goods.

Final Thoughts

Freight shipping by sea is one of the best ways to trade goods at a reasonably low price. However, there are many things that can go wrong when a freight ship is sailing across the ocean. Some of these problems include technical failures, loss of shipping containers, and bad weather. These factors can cause delays or even a loss of shipment, but their impact can be minimized if the right preventative actions are taken.


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