Shipping containers traverse the sea everyday, transporting goods from continent to continent. The sea is a formidable danger however. Things such as sea storms or large waves lead to shipping containers becoming lost at sea. In this article we will be examining this, the facts and figures behind the loss of containers as well as the consequences.
The Facts and Figures
Several different figures float the internet quoting the exact number of cargo containers lost at sea each year. These depend on the exact year, range of years taken and the nature of the losses. Between the years of 2008 and 2013, the world shipping council stated 546 containers lost on average per year. This is without taking into account catastrophic events (such as storms). Including catastrophic events, that number rises to 1,679 containers lost per year.
This is a fairly large amount. However, it is incredibly small when compared to the 120 million containers estimated to be shipped each year. Even taking the larger value of 1,679 containers lost per year, that is only 0.00001% of shipped containers lost per year on average.
The Consequence of Containers Lost at Sea
Although the actual percentage of containers lost at sea is minute, it does still pose a significant loss. Each shipping container on average carries several thousands of dollars worth of goods. Assuming each container has a value of $2,000, with the 1,679 containers lost per year leads to a cost of around $3.5 million in goods lost each year. That is significant by any margin.
This is only taking in the economic cost. The environmental consequences of lost shipping containers can be much worse. Sunken shipping containers greatly affect the species growing in the area they land. Toxicity from paint chips falling off containers can harm marine life. The effect is not short term either. Containers lost at sea aren’t recovered or even discovered. Lost containers might lie dormant for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
Although the proportion of containers lost is small, the economic and environmental consequences are significant enough that minimising future losses is still a massive priority for the shipping industry. Solutions such as standardising techniques for lashing down containers, verification of container weight and vessel loading conditions are being explored by plenty of different teams and institutions.