In Indian Ocean Mitsui Line starts probe of ship that split in two

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., the world's largest merchant ship operator, started an investigation with the builder of a container ship that broke into two parts after its hull cracked amid a storm in the Indian Ocean.

The Tokyo-based shipping line is working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to find out what caused the MOL Comfort's hull to crack during "inclement weather" at about 7 a.m. local time on June 17, the company said on its website today. Mitsui O.S.K. sent a patrol boat to prepare for tugboats to tow the container ship, which has split into the front and back sections that are drifting in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The ship, which was carrying letters among its cargo, was sailing to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from Singapore when it encountered trouble, the ship operator said. The vessel was sinking and the back ablaze, the US Navy in Bahrain said yesterday. Mitsui O.S.K. said it couldn't confirm a fire.

There are "considerable amounts of oil on the water with containers scattered in the area," the US Navy said. Mitsui O.S.K. has said it can't confirm whether a large volume of oil has leaked.

The ship was built five years ago and can carry about 7,000 standard 20-foot containers. It was carrying a crew of 26, comprising one Ukrainian, 11 Russians and 14 Filipinos, the company said. All were rescued.

Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, a ship classifier, conducted a special survey on the ship last month, according to its website. The vessel is insured by Japan Ship Owners' Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association, according to its website.

Prior to Singapore, the ship went to Vietnam, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Before that it sailed to China and Japan.

In 2006, a Mitsui O.S.K. vessel carrying 4,700 Mazda Motor Corp. cars was damaged in rough seas and took on water. Mazda decided to junk the vehicles after a two-month assessment to determine whether any could be salvaged, the Hiroshima, Japan- based company said at the time.