The most often quoted reason for a mishap in the shipping industry is ‘human error’, followed closely by rough seas or bad weather. However, researchers have assessed that a combination of both have led to disasters, and more often, it is the rough sea, which tends to bring out flaws – human and material, in other words, induces a human error.
Heavy weather should not be taken lightly, you need to be prepared should you lack the foreknowledge to avoid impending disastrous sailing conditions. Here is an analysis of the toughest waters on the globe which have continued to threaten maritime trade.
While the casualty toll of modern-day commercial shipping as a result of bad weather may not be as alarming as it was in the days of sail ships, weather conditions still account for numerous shipping accidents every year.
The non-descript, open ocean waters of the world are a constant source of tough tides, which is partly why round-the-world cruises can be such a bad idea for the easily seasick. When it comes to hurricane season, the most dangerous time for oceangoing ships is June 1 to November 30 in the Atlantic and nearly from April to December in the North Indian Basin.
But with the Pacific there are different dates for different areas: Northeast Pacific (May 15 to November 30), Australian/Southwest Pacific basin (October/November to February/March) and the Northwest Pacific (which has tropical cyclones occurring all year round).
Two large ships sink every week on an average, worldwide, according to Dr Wolfgang Rosenthal. The author, Susan Carson, suggests that every year, on average, more than two dozen large ships sink, or otherwise go missing, taking their crews along with them.
One of the most infamous stormy seas, the ‘Sea of Hoces’ as it’s also known is located in the southern tip of South America, covering Cape Horn, Chile and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. This 800 km wide passage is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to the rest of the world.
But with no large landmass anywhere at the latitudes of the Drake Passage, there is an unimpeded flow of current carrying a huge volume of water through it. It’s in a region of naturally high wind speeds and rough waters that easily secure it a stormy reputation.
Staying in the region, the Southern Ocean circles around Antarctica, and comprises the southern-most parts of the World Ocean. Frequent huge swells and many rough seas with similar magnitudes as the Drake Passage, are what make the Southern Ocean arguably more dangerous.
To this day, the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) has not fully identified and defined the ocean, leaving its strong up welling, westerly winds, cyclonic storms and frequently occurring threat of icebergs a problem for all would-be Arctic explorers.
According to an annual analysis from insurer Allianz, 94 ships (over 100 gross tonnes) were completely lost in 2013. There are many reasons for a complete loss. ‘Foundering’ (which means sinking or submerging) caused the vast majority of the big losses.
Considered to be as dangerous and it is unpredictable, this connecting strait between the North and South islands of New Zealand is subject to belts of wind that circle the globe around 40° south. Strong winds produce strong waves, and the Cook Strait’s ‘wind tunnel’ effect, with the tide elevation at the ends of the strait being almost exactly out of phase with one another, means your boat will be pelted by high water on one side, and low water on the other.
Bay of Biscay:
High winds on the ocean can cause severe problems for commercial shipping, pushing the ships into shallower waters where the possibility of grounding is significantly increased. The grounding of the Zhen Hua 10, which was carrying five massive gantry cranes and grounded in high winds just outside Rotterdam in February 2008, is a good example of how heavy wind can wreak havoc with ships.
A gulf tucked in between the French and Spanish borders, its unfortunate location means that it’s a must-cross for those cruising from Southampton or Dover to the Mediterranean or the Canaries, despite being home to the Atlantic’s fiercest weather.
The unique position attracts powerful winds and the shallow seabed of the bay produces significantly heavy wave motion. It’s unpredictable, and up until recent years it was quite expected to hear news of merchant vessels foundering in its storms.
South China Sea:
This part of the Pacific Ocean sees the strongest typhoons, particularly from July to November. Worse however, is ‘The Dangerous Ground’; a large area of the South China Sea made dangerous by its many low islands, sunken reefs, and atolls awash; with reefs often rising abruptly from ocean depths.
The definitions of The Dangerous Ground are hardly precise, it is poorly charted with considerable amounts of inaccuracy in the survey work done, and to top it off, it lies in the middle of territorial disputes that characterise the South China Sea. This is perhaps the only one of these waters that is best avoided at all costs.
The causes of modern-day shipping disasters are numerous. Despite being packed with state-of-the-art navigation systems and built to ever-increasing specifications to withstand all that the world’s oceans can throw at them, the vessels continue to float at the mercy of the engrossing spread of water.
Author: Baibhav Mishra seanews.co.uk