No sooner had we gone to press on the last hardly believable collision, between the little bunkering tanker Erin Wood and the container shuttler Daroja in broad daylight off Peterhead, than the next bizarre near calamity rolled in.
This time in the busy shipping lanes off Zeebrugge where traffic to Antwerp and the Scheldt crosses the Zeebrugge approaches. That this collision happened in darkness can hardly provide an explanation given these were two modern ships operated by large respected companies. Flinterstar 6,577,’02 was outbound Antwerp for Bilbao and Al-Oraiq 136,685,’07 for the Zeebrugge LNG terminal from Qatar.
The near bow-on collision was clearly recorded in the radar track images which subsequently received widespread publicity. But the most scary aspect of the event was the laden Marshall Islands registered gas (LNG) tanker Al-Oraiq carried perhaps the most dangerous freight on the planet, at least when it is so close to an unsuspecting coastal population. The fact the impact was bow-on probably saved the Al-Oraiq from a breach in her tanks, but didn’t save the smaller Flinterstar with a ruptured port side aft which caused her to sink stern first to rest, her forward hold still buoyant, on a sandbank.
To paraphrase Admiral Beatty at Jutland in 1916 : “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships…”.
We await another fascinating, but inevitably worrying and dispiriting report from the Belgian investigating team. Flinterstar, now declared a total loss, is one of around 50 modern vessels in the Flinter managed and owned fleet trading in near waters and the North and South Atlantic. The Daewoo built Al-Oraiq is one of a fleet of 30 planned vessels of this design for ‘Nakilat’, the “Qatar Gas Transport Company”. She is now under repair at the Harland and Wolff yard Belfast and expected to be there six weeks (see ‘From The Lookout’ in the print issue). She is the largest vessel seen there in 30 years.