The Tolten, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, lost about 20 containers when it collided with another vessel in Karachi enroute to Britain
Cargo vessel crash leaves expats anxiously awaiting news on shipped possessions
Expat families who fear they’ve lost most of their possessions in a shipping vessel crash near Karachi face an anxious wait to discover if anything can be recovered.
The 300-metre-long Tolten vessel operated by German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd was enroute from Dubai to Felixstowe in the UK when it collided with another cargo ship at the South Asia Pakistan Terminals (SAPT), Keamari.
An inquiry is underway to determine the cause of a collision that resulted in about 20 shipping containers being lost overboard to determine liability for the losses.
More than 10 hired by UAE families who were moving their household goods back home are thought to have been caught up in the incident.
Several Dubai-based relocation companies and shipping agents are now trying to determine if goods in transit under their responsibility were also on board.
Dubai-based radio presenter, Stef Burgon, is one of those likely affected after she and her husband Simon sent a partial container of goods home to their property in Scotland.
“We were notified on email by our shipping company, DASA,” she said.
“It's the kind of email you have to read twice to really take in. Once you do, items you've spent weeks putting in the ‘keep' pile start flashing through your mind – the antique plates I bought at a market in Nice, the RM Williams boots my husband wore for our wedding that his dad bought for his wedding in the 1970s, his grandfather’s diary and his camera that still has a film inside.
“We’re insured, but that won’t cover those losses. I’m hoping we're lucky.”
Hapag-Lloyd’s Tolten set sail from Dubai’s Jebel Ali port on March 13 and was making a stop in Karachi before journeying on to the UK.
Thousands of commercial and individual customers are awaiting news on the fate of their possessions.
It is expected to take at least 10 days for investigators to determine exactly what has been lost, and who is affected.
Others facing an anxious wait are Ala and Alison Ghanem who used a Dubai-based relocation firm to ship a 40-foot container to the UK.
They are repatriating after 27 years in Dubai and received an email the day after the incident, informing them their goods were on board.
“It’s our worst nightmare. It looks like absolute chaos, devastation,” said Mrs Ghanem.
“After such a horrific accident, a delayed shipment rather than a lost one would be welcomed with open arms.
“It’s still a big problem. We have planned our relocation dates around the arrival of our container.
“We have no clear information to work with and a longer time in a serviced apartment comes with a lot of unexpected and unplanned expenses.”
If the Hapag-Lloyd vessel is damaged, the company could choose to institute general average, a shipping procedure that would see all clients with goods on board held liable for a proportion of the repair costs.
While many insurance policies cover clients for general average, it could lead to delays in the shipment of items on board for around six to eight months.
One of the Dubai international moving firms thought to be affected is DASA.
“We are operating under a policy of full transparency with our customers, but Hapag-Lloyd aren’t telling us anything at this stage,” said Simone Percy, marketing manager for DASA.
“We don’t anticipate hearing anything from them for 10 days, and we can understand how frustrating and upsetting this is.
“As our customer’s goods were going on to the final stop in Felixstowe, we are hopeful that our containers would have been loaded into the middle of the ship so it’s unlikely that they are among those that have gone overboard.
“General average would be a worst case scenario for everyone involved.
“All our customers are fully covered by insurance, but if that were declared, nothing would move forward until all payments are received, which can take months.”
The incident took place between 2.30pm and 3pm on Monday, March 19, when the ship was being mastered by a Karachi Port Trust (KPT) pilot.
International guidelines state a ship moving in and out of a port area must be handled by a port pilot until the ship is either safely berthed or sailed out.
Once a full evaluation and report has been made by the port authority, the Tolten should be allowed to continue its journey.
A Hapag-Lloyd statement said: “Our ship, the Tolten, rammed another ship while berthing in Karachi. We deeply regret that this incident occurred. There is yet to be a definitive explanation for this incident.
“We will conduct an in-depth investigation of the incident, and are working as hard as we can to get the vessel back on its way as quickly as possible.”
British expat Gail Thompson, who lives in Dubai, has helped scores of families who lost possessions when rogue moving companies failed to deliver their containers after leaving the UAE in 2016.
“Insurance is so important,” she said.
“There is a good chance that unless the people who have lost their items have been moved by their new employer, they won’t have taken out the most comprehensive policy that would cover them for this kind of eventuality.
“These kind of pitfalls are unusual when moving to another country, but they do happen and people should be prepared for every eventuality when relocating back to their country of origin, or another posting elsewhere.”