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


Categories: Nonsense, probability | Permalink

8 Responses to “A nautical problem”

  1. From Shecky R:

    July 10th, 2013 at 11:00 am

    truly you’re viewing this whole episode as only a mathematician would! ;-)

  2. From Banjo:

    July 10th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Just sum up the following four potential scenarios:

    Probability of Fire (“F”)
    Probability that cargo is Unharmed (“U”)
    Probability of Chemical damage (“C”)
    Probability of sinking (“K”)

    Call the sum of all four, representing 100% probability “You”. I’ll let you do the workings out.

    Cheers Larry. Sorry about the highly likely loss of goods.

  3. From Fawn Nguyen:

    July 10th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    The exercise made me smile, the extension made me spit up tea. Hoping for the the very slim chance that your stuff arrived safe and sound.

  4. From john b:

    July 10th, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Banjo has a good starting point here.

    We also need R (“an external factor which means the other risk factors are correlated”), E (“the likelyhood that you will get compo”), and D (“the dollars you will get in compo”).

    So we have (U*R*F*U*C*K*E*D)/(U)

  5. From Richard:

    July 10th, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks fellas – very helpful. Can’t disagree with your conclusion though…

  6. From James De Vile:

    July 23rd, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I just got an email to tell me some rare, only-available-in-Japan motorbike parts I ordered were also on that ship. It’s kind of weird to think just how much gets lost when this sort of thing happens – how many containers were carrying luxury cars and so on.

  7. From Is This The Most Disastrous Tracking Email Ever? - TRAIKA:

    July 23rd, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    [...] one was injured in the accident, and all of the crew were taken safely off the ship before it sank. Richard Elwes, who also had goods on board the ship, has collected a dramatic set of photos of the incident [...]

  8. From Richard:

    July 28th, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    @James – yes indeed. I ran into my cousin the other day, who is an engineer, and it turned out that he – or rather his company – also lost things on the boat, specifically one of these high precision lathes: http://www.citizenmachinery.co.uk/gn3200.asp

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