So how many shipping containers are lost at sea every year? The answer is around 1,382 – which is a lot higher than many people would expect. Some sources put the number as low as 546. Others, however, put it as high as 1,382. But how can you know for sure? Here’s a quick look at the numbers. The WSC’s study is based on the results of two surveys, which span a six-year period…
1,382 lost at sea every year
According to a report by the World Shipping Council, as many as 1,382 shipping containers are lost at sea every year. This figure is based on data from twelve years and is based on three-year averages. The first three years showed that losses averaged 675 containers per year, but by the fourth year, those numbers had quadrupled, reaching 2,683 per annum.
The number of lost containers is even more alarming when you consider that a single container can weigh as much as seven tons. But, this does not mean those container losses are uncontrollable. According to the World Shipping Council, a report released last month estimated that roughly 1,382 shipping containers are lost every year at sea. And while there is no definitive number of container losses, this figure does indicate that the maritime industry is dealing with an epidemic that is likely to grow worse in the years to come.
According to an estimate by a marine biologist, there are about 12,000 shipping containers floating in the world’s oceans. This poses a serious risk to smaller ocean-going vessels as the radars only pick up large objects above the water’s surface. Consequently, sailors are often unable to recognize the boxes until the last moment, putting their lives in jeopardy. As a result, if a container lands near an ocean-going vessel, it must be salvaged. Otherwise, it will sink.
Despite these risks, shipping companies are working to reduce the number of lost shipping containers. In January 2020, the Israeli carrier ZIM lost 76 shipping containers aboard a chartered ship called the E.R. Tianping in the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. Despite these factors, human error is a key factor in several cases, including improper declaration of container weight and shortcuts to save costs. Poor packing inside the container and improper stowage planning can also cause containers to be lost at sea.
Climate change can cause containers to get lost
Another factor in container losses is climate change.
Climate change is affecting the Pacific Ocean, which is home to the most shipping containers and some of the most severe weather in the world. In fact, the rise in China-U.S. container traffic coincided with the strongest winds over the Northern Pacific since 1948. These factors make containers more susceptible to damage from storms. So, if climate change is the primary cause, we must adapt.
Ship groundings and structural failures
The main cause however, is ship groundings and failures structurally when stacking containers.
More than half of all lost containers are caused by structural failures or ship groundings. Each of these losses is devastating for marine life, as lost containers can destroy aquatic habitats or even help spread invasive species. Additionally, lost containers can release some dangerous cargo into the ocean. In one recent incident, a container ship carrying sulfuric acid broke up at sea and sank, releasing 6,000 pounds of sulfuric acid into the sea.
The World Shipping Council has been tracking container losses for several years, and they have found a decrease. In July 2017, the World Shipping Council conducted a voluntary survey to determine how many containers are lost at sea every year. The World Shipping Council has published its 2020 update to the survey. It found that a single catastrophic event accounts for about 60% of all container losses. This is a significant decline when compared to the five-year average.
While the number of container losses increased by 5% when the MOL Comfort and Rena were included, the rate per year remained relatively unchanged. The MOL Comfort broke apart in June 2013 during an attempt to recover its stern, causing 4,293 containers to spill over the side. In late 2011, the MV Rena grounded on a reef off the New Zealand coast and spilled 900 containers over the side.
Although it’s not an easy task to prevent such calamities, there are some steps that can be taken to make the industry safer. One important step is to increase container security. Ships cannot stop for bad weather, and the last thing they want is for their containers to be lost at sea. A new ship’s cargo can become lost within days or months. Fortunately, modern technology is being developed to improve container security.
The 2016 data
In 2016, the World Shipping Council estimated that around 1,100 shipping containers were lost at sea. However, this number has been steadily decreasing, and the number of lost containers may even be going down. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of lost containers averaged nearly two thousand, while in 2017 and 2018 the average was 779. But there is still an alarming trend: each year, at least 1,100 shipping containers are lost at sea.
These accidents disrupt the supply chains of hundreds of U.S. manufacturers and retailers. Fortunately, the average number of containers lost at sea is not as high as once thought. In 2017, there were more than 1,100 lost at sea. However, the number of lost shipping containers doubled over two months. The World Shipping Council says that this is a serious problem and calls for greater attention to be given to shipping container safety.
While this is a relatively small number, the impact of each incident can be devastating for the marine environment and local coastal communities. While shipping container safety should improve, it is a difficult task to salvage these containers. The lack of international regulations and different jurisdictions makes the salvage process confusing. But there are some steps that shipping companies can take to make sure that their containers stay safe. If you have lost a container at sea, take action right away to prevent further damage to the environment.
Last week, the MSC Aries, a vessel that moves empty containers back to China, reported the loss of 41 containers. The ship is part of the MSC Sequoia service and is based in the Port of Long Beach in California. The ship can carry about 14,300 twenty-foot-equivalent containers, and it encountered heavy weather on the voyage. It is unclear whether any cargo was lost, but the preliminary report indicates that no cargo fell overboard.
Despite the alarming statistics, a number of international initiatives are being put in place to reduce the risks of lost containers. The new SOLAS rules, which came into effect on 1 July 2016, require shipowners to verify the weight of each container before loading it onto the vessel. Despite the increase in shipping container loss, it remains a small number compared to the TEUS (twenty thousand tons) that pass through the oceans every day.