A nautical problem

10th July, 2013

Here’s a little probability exercise. My wife and I are having some things shipped to UK from Japan, on board the container ship MOL Comfort. On 17th June, the ship broke clean in half. (Click on the pictures for more details.)

Breaking in Half


The crew escaped, and for the next 10 days, the two halves of the ship drifted apart in the Arabian Ocean, each laden with containers.

Broken in Half


On 27th June, the rear half sank with all its cargo, in 4km of water.

The aft sinks


Meanwhile the front half began to be towed (backwards) towards Oman.

The fore under tow


Since 6th July, the front section has been on fire.

The fore on fire


The salvage company/coastguard estimate that approximately 90% of the front half’s cargo has already been burnt. Further, because of the possible presence of dangerous chemicals among the cargo, along with large quantities of oil within the hull, they fear the risk of explosion.


Estimate the probability that our stuff is:

  1. at the bottom of the ocean
  2. on fire
  3. unharmed


Assuming that our stuff has survived so far, estimate the probability that it is:

  1. going to blow up
  2. going to sink
  3. going to reach us safe and sound


Update: did you guess right?

The fore half continued burning until its balance was so out of kilter that it sank. It didn’t explode.

The End of the MOL Comfort, 10th July 2013


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