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Transportation Science

10,000 Shipping Containers Lost At Sea Each Year 163

Posted by timothy
from the shades-of-spook-country dept.
kkleiner writes "Right now, as you read this, there are five or six million shipping containers on enormous cargo ships sailing across the world's oceans. And about every hour, on average, one is falling overboard never to be seen again. It's estimated that 10,000 of these large containers are lost at sea each year. This month the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) sent a robotic sub to investigate a shipping container that was lost in the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2004. What's happened to the sunken shipment in the past seven years? It's become a warren for a variety of aquatic life on the ocean floor, providing a new habitat for species that might otherwise not be attracted to the area."
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10,000 Shipping Containers Lost At Sea Each Year

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  • "Lost" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Warbane (2034760) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @11:53PM (#35729496)
    I wonder how many of those 10,000 are really lost and how many are "lost."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by e9th (652576)
      If I were the captain of this ship, [setsail.com] I'd just dump the whole lot overboard and blame pirates.
      • Looks like one of the lower containers buckled. I would think they would load one layer of containers sideways every once in a while instead of loading everything parallel to the keel. It would help to lock the stack together and spread the load in case a container buckled.
        • Re:"Lost" (Score:4, Informative)

          by snspdaarf (1314399) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:49AM (#35732360)
          I work in the freight business. Containers are designed to have external devices lock them together. Putting them in/on a ship is a complex process that is designed to limit the amount of shuffling of containers at each port. Interlocking containers like hay bales would slow the process down, costing the shipping line money.
          • I thought it might be that containers only have a few load bearing points and couldn't take the weight of containers stacked on them anywhere else.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Ja^H^H the companys through with you! He has no use for smu^H^H^H Captains who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imper^H^H^H^H Cargo Container collapse.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        If I were the captain of this ship, I'd just dump the whole lot overboard and blame pirates.

        How would you do that? It's not like the ship has a crane capable of lifting them. And even if it had, who's going to climb on that half-collapsed pile over and over again to attach it to one container at a time, then unlocking the container from it's neighbours, possibly triggering another collapse (which might sink the ship, BTW).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They overload container vessels on purpose, raising the center of gravity of the ship. If there is smooth sailing, you make millions extra a year. If you hit rough seas, you cut loose your entire top layer of containers, lower your COG, and still come out ahead in the grand scheme of it all.

      1 an hour...as an average. Reality would be more like every 100 hours 100 containers get cut loose.

      • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @05:28AM (#35730944)
        I have been told you can get quite cheap rates for the top layers. Also some have shear pins even, so that once the roll is at a particular level, they pop off automatic like (so i am told).

        Also you should never, ever, ever ship something without insurance if you can't afford the loss.
        • The top layers can only take really light containers, so I bet that those would be cheap.. especially if there has been a lot of heavy containers booked, and cell space is going to waste.

      • Hmm so it's like those truck-delivery missions in Just Cause 2 (IIRC the GTA series has similar missions too). Better to drive like a nut and go for the big rewards than to go slow and end up wasting your time.

        I'll keep that in mind next time I ship something by sea.

    • I wonder how many of those 10,000 are really lost and how many are "lost."

      I got this container of LCD televisions hea', great price, just for you. Where'd it come from? It fell of the back of a boat, that's all I'm sayin'.

    • Re:"Lost" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nikker (749551) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:57AM (#35730138)
      As someone who has worked unloading containers from overseas I have to say cooking books is fun. I've unloaded quite a few containers that came from Asia (China) that were not on skids but seemed to have made it the entire trip with boxes up to the top on both side but somehow empty in the middle, interesting to say the least.
    • Do they 'fall' or are they pushed?
    • by jbengt (874751)
      It's the new "fell off the back of the truck"
  • But on land too!

    http://containerhouse.info/ [containerhouse.info]

  • So, are there 100,000 sneakers in that container? What happens if we open it?

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:00AM (#35729554)

    I watched a documentary that suggested that artificial "floating reefs" be set out on the open ocean where biological deserts have formed to establish this type of habitat. The idea came from all the sea life attracted to the shelter of flotsom.

    I'm not a biologist, but I am curious if these open ocean deserts are man made or just nature. Hard to imagine the latter from what I've read in historical accounts of the oceans.

    • by willy_me (212994) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:30AM (#35729728)

      I'm not a biologist, but I am curious if these open ocean deserts are man made or just nature.

      They will most likely be naturally occurring "deserts". I know that some sea cucumbers are protandric - they can change gender if required. I guess when traversing the sea floor it can take a long time to come across another sea cucumber. So when this happens, and they are both of the same gender, one changes gender allowing them to procreate. This quality would not have evolved without large desert like expanses in the ocean.

      Current human activities do not appear to be effecting the deserts so much as they are effecting the ocean's oases - the coral reefs. Higher temperatures, increased CO2 levels, and fishing are all destroying these ecological hotspots.

      • In fact it has been speculated that the much smaller numbers of fish (that we have eaten/killed) above these ocean deserts does have a large impact. The majority of food is things dying up the top and sinking down, less to die, less to sink, less food......
    • by Afty0r (263037)

      I am curious if these open ocean deserts are man made or just nature.

      Not necessarily a direct answer, but this academic presentation is incredibly eye-opening and well worth a watch:
      http://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_jackson.html [ted.com]

    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @08:48AM (#35732350) Homepage Journal

      Yes they are natural and have been for a long time. They are not lifeless just have a lower density of life. Almost all life starts with plant life. plant life needs sun light and nutrients So in the deep mid ocean what plants you have near the surface when they die sink to the bottom. When fish eat the waste sinks. When the the fish that dies eats them they sink. So you have have the energy source and the nutrients separated by miles of water column. Unless you have vertical currents there is not much mixing. BTW the richest locations in the sea are where deep water raises to the surface. So yes they are natural because they are caused by the laws of physics. Kind of like how there really isn't much life above 1700 meters in the atmosphere unless there is some kind of land sticking up.

    • by Chemisor (97276)

      Ocean deserts are natural. They exist because wherever there are nutrients in seawater, you get plankton growth. It grows and grows and grows until all that can be eaten is eaten. Then they die and sink to the bottom. The result is that a desert forms unless the nutrients are continually replenished. The replenishment happens naturally from rivers or coastal upwellings of deep seawater, but most of the open ocean is completely dead.

      One benefit of building OTEC plants is that they circulate deep water back t

  • One more thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:00AM (#35729556)

    To add: If the Captain of any vessel orders it, (in an emergency) any containers they are carrying can be jettisoned to ensure the ship's safety.
    Having worked helping customers move their personal possessions overseas, (mainly for oil & telecommunications companies) I can tell you we very rarely mention it. I have had many people as me if they can pack their kids in with their sofas though.

    • nope, still pronouncing 'vessel' in my head as 'wessel'. Damn them and their multicultural crew.

    • Re:One more thing (Score:5, Informative)

      by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @06:54AM (#35731376) Journal

      Here's an even more unpleasant truth about international ocean shipping: essentially the shipping company is not liable for the 'disposed' containers, either. If the shipping company has enough losses on a vessel to declare a "General Average", then the compensation for the losses (including vessel damage, if any) are assessed against the other *customers* with cargo on that vessel.

      Basically, the vessel is carrying the cargo as a courtesy; any risk of loss belongs to the owners of the cargo(es) collectively, NOT to the carrier.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_average [wikipedia.org]

      So as a forwarding agent, not only do you get the pleasure of telling someone that their container of goods has been lost, you get to tell them that
      a) they still have to pay freight shipping costs, AND
      b) they're going to be legally liable for their 'share' of whatever the general average costs work out to be

      Oh it's great fun.

      • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic@gm a i l . c om> on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @07:19AM (#35731484)

        And that is why these guys [cargolaw.com] recommend shipping insurance (there are many others in their business, I'm sure). They also maintain the Gallery of Transport Loss [cargolaw.com], with photos of the disasters that have occurred to various ships and freight airplanes, which for some reason I find terrifically amusing.

        It's also an example of terrible web design (on every page you have to scroll down a long way to get to the actual content). Nevertheless it's worth navigating in any case for a couple of hours of pictures of ships on the beach, ships sinking, ships struck by hurricanes, ships losing containers, etc.

        A couple of examples:

        towboat pulled under a bridge, rolled upside down, and comes up on the other side [cargolaw.com]

        M/V APL China [cargolaw.com] struck by hurricane, limps into port with containers hanging over the side.

        Last but not least, a day at the beach [cargolaw.com] turns into four months. Truly amazing pictures of people walking up the beach next to a huge container carrier

      • The wikipedia article states that "merchants whose cargo landed safely would be called on to contribute a portion, based upon a share or percentage, to the merchant or merchants whose goods had been tossed overboard". The ones who lost cargo would be on the receiving end, not on the liable end.

        I imagine that container "berths" towards the center of the ship would demand a higher price because there's less chance of them being tossed (or accidentally falling overboard) than those at the sides and top of
  • by Leuf (918654) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:04AM (#35729572)
    You do not want to be the guy that has to explain to the shark that water damage isn't covered.
  • The number of people that are lost out of that 10,000 would be an interesting question as well. But then again, how would anyone ever know?
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:08AM (#35729592)

    I knew all that global warming stuff was nonsense. Now we know the REAL reason sea levels are rising - it's simply displacement of 10,000 cargo containers' worth of water every year!

    After all, all that water has to go SOMEWHERE...

  • The Big Mac containers lost in my apartment have attracted new life, as well!
    • The Big Mac containers lost in my apartment have attracted new life, as well!

      I find your claim insightful - "Big Mac" containers are the only life-attracting aspect of the product

  • 29,000 rubber ducks (Score:5, Informative)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:28AM (#35729708) Homepage

    Reminds me of this story. Basically, 29,000 toy yellow ducks fell overboard as it was leaving China back in 1992.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-464768/Thousands-rubber-ducks-land-British-shores-15-year-journey.html [dailymail.co.uk]

  • by waimate (147056) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @12:48AM (#35729812) Homepage

    Many of these tend to float pretty much at surface level for days or even weeks. With surface waves, they are impossible to see from small craft but of course are massive and hard. They are a very well known hazard to cruising folk crossing oceans, and will readily hole and sink a fibreglass yacht, or even knock a keel off. Forward-looking sonar, if you've got it, can't see them because of waves.

    There are thousands of people crossing oceans in smallish boats, and every year a few of them go missing due to shipping containers. They very thought of them makes a cruising yachtie's blood run cold.

    • Are the automatic sinking valves out there yet? I thought I read about 10 years ago about a gizmo that would be installed into a container that would have a couple radios in it. One would sense the ship's radio (or that it's been removed from the ship and not disabled). In that case, the second radio would be a transmitter beacon, to help locate the missing cargo container if it's fallen off a ship (and has sufficiently valuable contents). It would also be detectable by other ocean vessels. When the ba

      • by radtea (464814)

        Or, did I just dream that one up?

        Probably not, but consider the economics: millions of containers, 0.1% loss rate, hundreds of dollars in hardware that has to be maintained (batteries swapped out once every few years at the very least.) Who is goiing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a problem they don't have?

        Then consider the politics: the only way you'd make this fly would be with a global treaty requiring it, which would be opposed by a small number of wealthy and well-organized companies and championed by a few disorga

        • Then consider the politics: the only way you'd make this fly would be with a global treaty requiring it

          Not really. Consider that California makes some silly requirement for a car, and all 50 US states, and sometimes Canada, wind up receiving cars designed like that.

          If, say, the US required this for all containers coming into its ports, that might create a new worldwide standard (as the costs of tracking non-compliant containers would become a factor).

          And in this case, the costs would be passed along to all

      • Are the automatic sinking valves out there yet? I thought I read about 10 years ago about a gizmo that would be installed into a container that would have a couple radios in it. One would sense the ship's radio (or that it's been removed from the ship and not disabled). In that case, the second radio would be a transmitter beacon, to help locate the missing cargo container if it's fallen off a ship (and has sufficiently valuable contents). It would also be detectable by other ocean vessels. When the battery was about to run out on the transmitter beacon, the last thing it would do would be to blow a valve, causing the container to sink.

        The additional logistics would consist of checking in and out a container when it was put on a ship, electronically registering it to the ship - not terribly hard to implement or integrate. Countries could require these valves for entry at their ports.

        Or, did I just dream that one up?

        If you *din't* dream it up - then it's pretty cool. If you *did* - you should go patent it.

        • If you *din't* dream it up - then it's pretty cool. If you *did* - you should go patent it.

          Well, if I did, thanks, though this comment thread can stand as prior art. :) I'm a big fan of Mercedes releasing its airbag technology into the public domain, so this would be similar.

  • ... and 7 years later, a new breed of octopus will be discovered, one that lives exclusively on meals [amazon.com] ordered from Amazon.

  • by ahodgkinson (662233) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:09AM (#35729932) Homepage Journal

    I've seen a statistic somewhere, I think it was from Lloyds, which states that, on average, one ship gets lost per day somewhere in the world (I believe it included hijacking and piracy) . These are mostly small ships, but given that an occasional container ship goes missing, I wonder how many of the containers are lost due to entire ships sinking.

    I also wonder how much theft and smuggling contributes to the number of 'lost' containers

  • by MaroonMotor (967664) on Wednesday April 06, 2011 @01:31AM (#35730012)
    Container sacrifice is the only thing prolonging Cthulhu's sleep.
  • Quote from "Zodiac":

    "They claim that this junk was going to become a habitat for marine life. You don't buy that?"
    Bless her, she did know how to blow my lid. "Rebecca, goddamnit, since the beginning of time, every corporation that has ever thrown any of its shit into the ocean has claimed that it was going to become a habitat for marine life. It’s the goddamn ocean, Rebecca. That's where all the marine life is. Of course it's going to become a habitat for marine life."

  • Did anyone else pick up on the bizarre doom-mongering going on in TFA?

    To quote:

    We lose a few (relatively speaking) containers a year.
    These containers are a product of a new technology.
    Aquatic species use these containers to live in, and might spread to new areas where they would affect the ecology

    I understand that in order to get any MSM attention these days there must be an overwhelming imperative involving the destruction of all we hold sacred, but this is stretching a point surely?

  • I was having it shipped in from Moller's new facility in China.
  • Well, let's say you are the captain of a ship and need to make extra cash cus they just don't pay you that much, and lets say some said company is willing to pay xxx amount of dollars, to drop a shipping container on purpose containing yyy garbage in it....could be toxic or not, but in the end, it costs less to make it appear like an accident and that we end up leaving the garbage at the bottom of the sea, because, if it would happen to be say IMPORTANT STUFF THAT A COMPANY OWNS OR PERSONAL BELONGINGS, we w

    • by Ksevio (865461)
      It's a little misleading to say that one on average is lost every hour. Realistically, most of them are lost during large storms where several fall off the ship. It's not like the ship just shows up and the stringy guy's container is missing.
      • I understand what you say, and would agree this is the best view one could have for a proper reason for things to disappear, but we all know as soon as a vulnerability is found in any system, it is exploited...I am just stating that this could be used to dispose of special materials that could end up contaminating the ocean....ie - nuclear waste.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          no, it could not be used for nuclear waste that is so toxic people would want to hide it.

          Maybe you should fucking read up on nuclear waste, storage, management, as well as the pesky details on proper transportation.

          or you can jst bask in your ignorance and stupidity and we will go with people disposing oh highly toxic and tracked waste can predict the weather well enough to know when a storm is coming. They can also dictate to the union crane operators where to but the box, tell the captain how to ballast t

          • Wow, what a lot of rubbish you need to spew out of that small mind of yours.....if only you knew the evils of which man is capable.....I see we have not experienced first hand again that possibility....or to think that the US is the only country in the world...of course there could be ships out there leaving the port of India, of which is barely monitored, and of which the tracking number of a few containers is the only clue as to knowing what those containers might hold, and that coming from another countr

    • by geekoid (135745)

      We do know about, have known about it. There is nothing 'shocking' or new in the article to anyone who ahs spent more the 20 minutes dealing with shipping logistics.

      This is not new, surprising, unsuspected. It's accounted for by accountants, shippers, inspectors and so on. PLUS that would really be lot of waste anyways.

      You are not thinking outside the box, you are becoming an unthinking, knee jerk, reactionary loon.

      I would love for you to actually start thinking.

      • wow you again, you must be following my posts immensely.....i guess you like me....wow I have a fan....following me like a little lap dog....cool, ok here is one for you....

  • Original article claims the containers are rarely weighted. I beg to differ, for I was briefly employed in this industry and have witnessed great care during loading (and unloading) container ships. The Center Of Gravity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metacentric_height) for any ocean going vessel is very very important thing and has to be kept right in proper place for given ship, not too low and not too high. While one can adjust CoG to some level by ballast tanks/pumps, the weight of containers and their
  • I've heard about people being snuck into various countries by being "loaded" into shipping containers. I now have to wonder how many are at the bottom of the ocean whether by choice (illegal immigration), or not (human trafficking). Whoops sorry, your Filipino Mail-Order Bride was lost at sea. No refunds.

  • to boycott goods from overseas.

  • See, the environmentalists are wrong. If 10,000 containers are good, then surely 100,000 containers would be better. Clearly we should be dumping our trash in the sea.

  • Shipping information received

    Left UPS facility

    In transit

    A warren for a variety of aquatic life on the ocean floor

"All my life I wanted to be someone; I guess I should have been more specific." -- Jane Wagner