What Goes Wrong?
Accidents at sea rarely have just one cause. Here you can find out how individual elements can add up to a disaster. Heavy weather can overwhelm a ship. Human error, such as poor maintenance of the vessel, can threaten safety. Engine breakdown and other forms of mechanical failure can lead to loss of control. Cargoes can cause problems; some coal will spontaneously combust or set light to itself for instance and hostile acts, from war to piracy, are still a threat to shipping and crew.
Bad weather is a constant hazard at sea. Ships are built to withstand it, and sailors know to expect it, especially in winter. The reason that shipping forecasts are broadcast on the radio is to warn seafarers what conditions they might expect.
Just occasionally, there are freak storms that exceed all expectations for a particular part of the world at a given season. These could cause havoc, especially in the days when ships were built of wood and relied on sails. Even in modern times, the unexpected can happen. In the 1970s, a large, well-built ship called the Benledi was hit by such an enormous wave in the South Atlantic that it actually bent her hull. There is nothing those on board can do to prevent such acts of nature, which over the years have contributed to many ships being lost.
Ice is also a hazard - the most famous case being what happened when the Titanic hit an iceberg, but ice can cause other problems. Floating ice that has been driven together into a single mass is called `pack ice` and ships trapped in it can be crushed. Ice forming on the upper parts of a ship can become so heavy that the ship capsizes - the fate of some fishing vessels working in the Arctic.
These are extreme examples. Weather is usually just one of the causes of an accident. For instance, if a ship`s engines break down completely, it could be blown ashore and wrecked. Fog can suddenly descend so that those navigating the ship do not know exactly where they are, and may be in danger of running ashore or colliding with another ship.