Saturday, May 27, 2006

Old Ship Sinking Accidents May Raise Age Concerns

A string of ship sinking accidents involving old bulk carriers in the past several months may attract attention from the International Maritime Organization, shipowners and brokers said. A 30-year-old cement carrier, Portland, sank on Thursday between Canary Island and Tenerife off the coast of Spain, with two of the 11 crew members still missing as of late Friday, said an official from Tenerife maritime rescue group. This follows the sinking of 17-year-old Alexandros T off the coast of South Africa in early May. The ship was transporting 155,000 tonnes of iron ore when it sank.
Alexandros T
A cement carrier Margaret sank off the coast of Italy last December during a storm. Apart from crew safety and potential oil spills, the sinking of older ships could have a bearish impact on freight rates for veteran ships, brokers said. "Cement carriers may be more susceptible to sinking because of the vessel age," a shipowner in Brazil said, adding that there was a strong vessel traffic flow of cement carriers from Spain to the United States. Spain is the largest cement producer in Europe. "They are usually older ships of more than 20-25 years, and they are converted from bulk carriers," he said. Unlike the oil tanker market, dry bulk carrier owners do not face strict phase-out dates for old ships and single-hulled vessels, ship brokers said. The newer ships tend to ply the U.S. and Canadian routes due to the stricter regulations, and the older ships are in the India, China and Southeast Asia, they said. "When the freight rates are strong, shipowners prefer to leave their ships in the market longer than sending them to the scrap yards," a broker said. However, some industry experts believed old ships could stay seaworthy if properly maintained, he said. Intertanko, an association for oil and chemical tanker owners, has maintained that a single-hulled ship, properly maintained, gives as much protection against oil spills as a double-hulled ship. IMO officials in London were unavailable for comment.

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