Leaking ship raises questions about structural strength of large vessels

Cracks in ballast tanks forces emergency repair on bulk carrier, Vale Beijing

One of the world’s biggest ships has sprung a leak less than three months after entering service. The 404,000-tonne bulk carrier Vale Beijing was loading iron ore at a terminal in Brazil when multiple cracks appeared in its ballast tanks.

Loading was immediately suspended as water flooded in to one of the vessel’s holds, and, fearing it could sink and block the berth, the harbour authority ordered tugs to move the vessel to a nearby anchorage. Surveyors are assessing the damage and making plans to have the giant vessel repaired.

Vale Beijing was built by STX Offshore & Shipbuilding’s Jinhae Shipyard in South Korea and was delivered on 27 September. The giant ship is 361m long (that’s 37m more than the height of the Eiffel Tower), 65m wide, and 30.5m high, and it has a deck area greater in size than three football fields.

This latest incident raises the question about whether the design of some of these new super bulk carriers – some of which are twice the size of some of the existing fleet – is being pushed too far in order to meet demands by reducing the cost of transporting goods around the globe.

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