OOCL stands for Orient Overseas Container Line and is a name applied to two subsidiaries of Orient Overseas (International) Limited: OOCL Limited and OOCL (Europe) Limited. Together these two represent one of the largest international companies for container shipping, terminal services, and integrated logistics. OOCL was founded in and is still headquartered in Hong Kong.
Like other large shipping companies, OOCL transports goods around the world. It links Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Australia and New Zealand. Engaging in worldwide shipping is a difficult business. It is dangerous and full of hazards that can lead to accidents that damage ships, cargo, the environment, and even workers. Companies like OOCL have a responsibility to ensure their ships are safe and seaworthy, and when they do not, people can get hurt.
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Founder C. Y. Tung began OOCL in 1947. The initial name of the company was the Orient Overseas Line. In 1969, the word Container was added as the company went through the process of containerization. Tung’s new company achieved his dream of creating the first Chinese merchant fleet to operate internationally. When the company’s first ship, with a crew made up only of Chinese workers, reached the U.S., the dream was realized.
By 1969 the company added container shipping to its list of services with small ships compared to today’s behemoths. The early OOCL container ships carried about 300 TEU of cargo. OOCL was not content to remain small and added larger and larger ships. In 2003, for a short time, the company had the world’s largest container ship in its Shenzhen with a TEU capacity of over 8,000.
OOCL has also engaged in some less obvious activities for a shipping company. In 1970 the company bought the RMS Queen Elizabeth ocean liner and converted it into a seafaring university, known as Seawise. Unfortunately the ship caught fire in 1972 and the plan for a floating university had to be scrapped. Today OOCL is a large and successful company and in 2015 ordered what would be six of the world’s largest container ships with capacities of 20,000 TEU.
Shipping cargo is OOCL’s main type of business, acting as one of the most important and active shipping operators in and around China. It also has routes that cross the globe, with 320 offices in 70 countries, as well as terminals in multiple locations. In addition to standard container shipping the company offers reefer services for refrigerated containers, dangerous goods shipping, oversized cargo shipping, yacht shipping, intermodal services, and e-services. The company owns and operates container terminals in Long Beach, California, and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
OOCL states that it is highly committed to safety aboard its ships and at its terminals and all other workplaces. The company puts a strong emphasis on training of employees, strict onboard procedures, and an engaged culture of safety onboard all vessels. All employees must undergo safety training, with additional training offered to those workers who go out to sea. The company also offers an onboard mentoring program to help new hires learn how to be a part of the safety culture.
Maritime work will always be dangerous, no matter how seriously maritime companies take safety. Workers are at risk on the job, and that risk is not limited to lower level employees. One of the most infamous safety incidents in OOCL’s history occurred in 2003 when a high level executive in the company died from a fall on board the OOCL Montreal.
The man who died, Courtenay Allan, was the director of transatlantic services. He and other executives were touring the vessel, docked at Le Havre in France, when he fell 20 meters down an elevator shaft. He died the next day from injuries caused by the fall. Ultimately investigations could not figure out how this accident happened, but it should have been prevented and Allan’s family received a settlement from OOCL as a result.
OOCL has also faced accidents with its vessels out at sea, including collisions. In 2005 the company’s ship Malaysia experienced a collision in the Port of Southampton in England. The ship was leaving the port when it collided with a yacht, the Ibis. The yacht was entering prohibited space and the ship sent out a launch to warn the captain of that boat. It was too late and the captain made a poor choice. Seeing his boat would collide with the large ship, he jumped overboard and was picked up by the Malaysia crew. The Ibis sank and was lost, but no one was hurt.
In another collision involving an OOCL ship, the results were not as positive. The OOCL Finland collided with a freighter in the Kiel Canal in Germany in 2011. The collision caused two seamen to be knocked overboard and both drowned. Two crew members from the other ship were injured in the incident which occurred in thick fog. Both ships were seriously damaged, but the loss of life was the biggest tragedy in this accident.
Worker’s Rights and Maritime Companies
It is the tragedy of that collision that demonstrates so well just how dangerous maritime work can be, especially on large container and cargo ships. These huge vessels were designed to move a lot of cargo long distances, but workers on board face the risks of bad weather, collisions in shipping channels and ports, and even the possibility of sinking out at sea. Any of these incidents, and other accidents that seem much less severe, can cause injuries and deaths.
A maritime company like OOCL has a responsibility to keep workers safe and to prevent such accidents. In the event that this fails, they also have a responsibility to compensate injured workers or the dependents of those workers that died. Maritime laws provide for some of these responsibilities by enforcing them as rights for maritime workers. If you work in this industry or for a maritime company, know what your rights are. Be sure that you can get the best advice from a maritime lawyer in the event you are injured on the job.