There has been a 400% rise in the volume of shipping containers lost at sea, according to the latest data release from the World Shipping Council (WSC). The Lodestar reports that amounts to 3,133 containers for the period between 2020 and 2021, compared to 779 for the previous year.
The sharp increase has been blamed on more frequent severe weather events, such as storms, which have caused shipping containers to be washed overboard. Despite the huge increase, it still amounts to only 0.001% of the 241 million freight containers that make the journey across oceans and shipping canals each year.
One single incident in 2020 led to the loss of 1,818 containers 1,600 nautical miles off the coast of Hawaii. The ONE Apus was on its way to Japan when it was caught in a storm, resulting in what is thought to be the largest ever weather-related loss of containers. Some of the containers were carrying dangerous goods, such as fireworks and chemicals.
Even those containers which contain non-toxic ingredients endanger wildlife, pollute the sea with detritus which gets washed up on beaches, and are a hazard to smaller ships, such as fishing vessels. They also result in costly insurance claims and damaged customer relations.
There is a concern that the increased size of shipping vessels, which are now as long as 400ft, are causing the ships to be more prone to losses. Although the ships are wider and right themselves more quickly from rolls, the height of the container stacks means that more pressure is applied, making containers more prone to falling over board.
The WSC commented: “The responsibility for container safety is shared across the supply chain and every day carriers work with shippers, packers, freight forwarders, terminal operators, and importers to enhance safety.
It continued: “To prevent container losses, it is crucial that cargo is safely and securely packed, declared and placarded in line with applicable rules and regulations (the IMDG Code) and the guidance set out in the CTU Code.”
Following the alarming rise in cargo overboard incidents, the WSC have pledged to increase their carrier surveys, which tracks the volume of containers lost at sea, form tri-annual reports to an annual event.
John Butler, President & CEO of WSC, commented: “Container vessels are designed to transport containers safely and carriers operate with tight safety procedures, but when we see numbers going the wrong way, we need to make every effort to find out why and further increase safety.”
He added: “The liner shipping industry’s goal remains to keep the loss of containers as close to zero as possible. We will continue to explore and implement measures to make that happen and welcome continued cooperation from governments and other stakeholders to accomplish this goal.”
In order to address the issue further and create a joined-up response, the Cargo Integrity Group have issued updated guides and checklists to encourage freight companies and crew to adopt safe practices.
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