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Sea Container Losses Decrease

Sea Container Losses Decrease

The number of shipping containers lost at sea is decreasing, according to new data from the Worldwide Shipping Council (WSC).

The WSC has announced that some 1,390 containers were reported lost between 2014 and 2016 – a significant drop from the 2,683 that were lost during the preceding three year period of 2011 to 2013. On average, this meant a loss of 612 containers per year. However, that figure spiked in 2016 due to a spike in the number of sea container lost in 'catastrophic' events – where at least 50 containers are lost in one incident. This meant that there was actually a rise in these two years, when compared with 2011 to 2013.

The WSC study gathered data from the past three years from international shipping companies, which account for more than 80% of global carrier capacity. These respondents included many of the world’s largest shipping and haulage companies. However, despite the large sample size of the study, the actual number of sea container losses is argued by many experts to be much higher than those reported to the WSC.

The overall decrease in sea container losses has been attributed to a decline in major cargo loss incidents – an almost two-fold decrease on the previous three year period.

The WSC has been conducting the same research for the past nine years in a bid to alert the worldwide shipping industry of magnitude of sea container losses – and their detrimental impact to business and the environment. In the nine year period that the research has been carried out, the average number of containers lost per year has been 568 on average.

2013 still remains the worst year for the loss of sea containers; 77% of losses for the year were as a direct consequence of the MOL Comfort disaster, where the vessel sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Impact of losses

The cost to shipping companies when a sea container becomes lost is significant. Costs stretch far further than just replacing the container shell and its cargo; there is also the recovery cost, and the cost of clearing up scattered debris, which can spread to the sea bed or become washed up on shore.

Occasionally, lost sea containers are full of substances that are also harmful to the environment, so clean-up costs for companies can become eye-watering. In 2011, a major RENA incident at sea resulted in 70 containers going missing. An area of 700km of seabed had to be searched for the missing containers and their contents, but only 35 of these containers were eventually recovered – at a cost of more than $20 million (US dollars).

Of course, the environmental impact of sea container losses can also be catastrophic in itself. Most containers are made from a material that enables them to float for months. However, if not recovered, these containers will eventually sink. Scientists still cannot be sure of what then happens to these containers once they reach the bottom of the ocean, but the biological impact is thought to be significant.