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Studying the Impact of Lost Shipping Containers 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the modern-day-treasure dept.
swellconvivialguy writes "Looking at a picture of the world's largest container ship, it's easy to visualize how 10,000 containers fall overboard from these vessels every year. Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are now undertaking the Lost Container Cruise, an attempt to gauge the effects of shipping containers lost at sea by studying a tire-filled container, which marine biologists discovered in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (The research [PDF] is being funded by a multi-million dollar settlement with the operators of the Med Taipei, the ship that lost the cargo.) The work is not unlike studying a deep water shipwreck: Use robotic submarine to take pictures and collect sediment samples; repeat."
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Studying the Impact of Lost Shipping Containers

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  • Times two.
    Both were probably Lost at sea in transit from the Beijing sellers to my home.
    ;-)

  • by yog (19073) * on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:00PM (#36427562) Homepage Journal

    Wow, 10,000? Why don't they use chains or something to hold those bad boys down in choppy waters? Or, I don't know, built steel railings along the perimeters? Or inter-locking Lego-like attachments between containers?

    I guess the good news is that they will mostly sink down into the muddy bottom and be out of the way. You wouldn't want those things floating on the surface like icebergs or something.

    • by Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:03PM (#36427600)

      I guess the good news is that they will mostly sink down into the muddy bottom and be out of the way.

      Strangely most of them float, as ocean yachtsmen will testify; they're a serious hazard.

    • by PitaBred (632671)

      Because that would cost more than just claiming it against insurance. Those ships run 24x7... they would lose more money from downtime than they would ever make it worthwhile in keeping that shit on deck. Picture perfect example of the tragedy of the commons colliding with unregulated capitalism.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:12PM (#36427692)

        >>>Picture perfect example of the tragedy of the commons colliding with unregulated capitalism.

        Sadly for you, this is NOT a perfect example because the Ship (and train) containers do interlock like legos and they do tie them down with chains. Shippers really do NOT want to tell their customers, "We lost your cargo," and risk losing them to competitors. They'd prefer to have zero loss.

        But of course zero loss is as impractical as zero downtime for your website or the software you are writing. It's an unrealistic demand.

        • Shippers really do NOT want to tell their customers, "We lost your cargo," and risk losing them to competitors.

          I was under the impression that the way they write these kinds of transoceanic contracts is that you are actually responsible for your cargo. You are responsible for getting it insured, and you are responsible for the loss NOT the shipper. Amazing, but I do remember reading that from some research I did some time ago.

          In that case, the shipper doesnt care one bit if your cargo makes it over. I also

        • by morcego (260031)

          It is completely possible/practical to have zero downtime for a website. It just costs tons, and is usually not worth it (I'm talking telecom-level real redundancy here, including different brands of equipments etc).

          It is also possible/practical to have zero loss transport. It just increases the cost exponentially. It is cheaper to pay insurance than to implement zero loss. Much cheaper. For both the transportation companies and their clients.

          So, anyone who wants to demand zero loss would have to be willing

      • by GreenTom (1352587) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:20PM (#36427774)
        Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com]. I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually
        • Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com]. I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually

          That's kind of awesome. I feel like this belongs in a demotivation poster. Maybe "Sure, I could hack it together over the weekend" or "This is what your code will look like to the next developer."

        • by pz (113803)

          Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com]. I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually

          It appears that there are a few container missing, but holy tiedown, Batman, that's an extra heapload more robust than I would have thought. And imagining the seas that vessel must have endured makes me want to sit down immediately.

        • If you look at those two green containers on the far right, hanging in the air with nothing supporting them, I'd say they must be secured in some fashion, otherwise, they could not possibly be where they are. The containers on the left seem to be hanging in the air as well. That circumstance would be adequately explained with chains.

          The ocean can be pretty rough. Clearly, the methods used to secure cargo are occasionally overcome.

          • by Demolition (713476) on Monday June 13, 2011 @05:43PM (#36429460)

            If you look at those two green containers on the far right, hanging in the air with nothing supporting them, I'd say they must be secured in some fashion, otherwise, they could not possibly be where they are. The containers on the left seem to be hanging in the air as well. That circumstance would be adequately explained with chains.

            I worked at a container terminal while putting myself through university, many years ago. This is why those containers in the photo are still stuck together...

            A device called an intermodal box connector (AKA "IBC", a hefty steel pin with a twistlock mechanism) is used to connect containers to each other. They fit into holes (four on the top, two on the bottom) on the corners of the container.

            This is the usual method for loading and locking them together: A container is dropped onto a ship and locked down (via IBCs welded to the deck). Then, four IBCs are placed in the top holes of the container and another container is lowered. The IBCs slide into the four holes on the bottom of the new container and their twistlocks are turned. No chains are required. For extra safety, some companies erect a steel scaffold/frame around the outside of a block of containers to keep them from swaying in rough seas. Otherwise, the IBCs are the only things holding the containers together.

      • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:25PM (#36427862) Homepage

        Nice try. 10,000 is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of the 18,000,000 containers that make 200,000,000 trips every year. I'm surprised it's not more.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          >>>10,000 is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of..... 200,000,000 trips

          99.995% reliability for shipping. Not bad. That's close to the reliability of phone service (five 9's).

    • by kidgenius (704962)
      They DO lash the containers down. But, you start getting a lot of swaying going on, and those lashings can break free.
    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:09PM (#36427666)
      According to Wikipedia there are around 18 million shipping containers in the world that make over 200 million trips per year. Which means that 10,00 lost at sea each year is just a drop in the bucket. Spending any significant amount of money to reduce that number would not be a worthwhile expenditure.
      • by dainbug (678555)

        spending any significant amount of money to reduce that number would not be a worthwhile expenditure.

        Well, unless you calculate the real long term damage it does to oceans -> microbes -> plankton -> fish -> humans.

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Like providing a habitat for them? Take a look at the story, the container in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary became a habitat for sea cucumbers, snails, and crabs.

          • I actually figured it wasn't something like that. I know they stripped down old NYC subway cars and used them to form a new reef.

          • by Duhavid (677874)

            This ignores the issues of what is in the container, how does it degrade with time and is it toxic or become toxic with time.

          • by beckett (27524)
            what if they're shipping a container of poison, or worse, mcdonalds burger patties?
        • Umm, they're (well the ones that do sink) actually beneficial as they form artificial reefs/protect from trawling etc.
        • by StikyPad (445176)

          Which is probably also a drop in the bucket.

          The real damage is marine cargo insurance, which is already scandalously high. Of course, if they're already charging 1-3% (and they are) with a loss rate of 0.005% (10k losses out of 200M shipments), then lowering the loss rate further probably isn't going to change much of anything.

    • I wonder how many of those contained people.

    • by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:19PM (#36427768)

      Except for steel railings, the shippers do everything you have mentioned. The reason for no railing is that the containers themselves are the structure and they are stacked far above the hull of the ship.

      Here is the tie down that goes between the containers http://www.tandemloc.com/0_securing/S_AD54000A.asp [tandemloc.com]

      Here is a picture of the lashing used http://www.flickr.com/photos/blueship/137784714/ [flickr.com]

      • by Cramer (69040)

        Also note, only the level at deck level is tied down -- most ships stack *much* higher than the deck. And there appear to be no pins between the containers.

    • by KUHurdler (584689)
      I propose that we fill the ocean with dirt, and then drive our cargo across on trucks.
    • They usually ARE interlocked. They have holes on their corners which are clamped together with standardized clamps.

    • The sad thing is that they *can* interlock. Most of these are intermodal shipping containers and have the ability to bolt together with a twist interlock. Unfortunately to save labor and shipping time, the companies moving them often don't bother to put the twist locks in and rely on gravity instead, which works... mostly. This isn't just the cargo shipping business not locking things down either. I've heard tale of freight train operators doing the same thing, which is a scary thought that I'm sure nobody
    • Why don't they use chains or something to hold those bad boys down in choppy waters?

      They do. Chains break, particularly when they're trying to tie down this much weight. We're talking tens of of thousands of tons, here.

      Or, I don't know, built steel railings along the perimeters?

      They do that, too. Once again, they break, particularly with this amount of weight (see above). Also, you can't as a practical matter erect railings high enough to hold in containers as high as they stack them.

  • by frisket (149522) <peter@@@silmaril...ie> on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:10PM (#36427676) Homepage
    Marine archaeologists of the future are going to have a ball examining all these boxes on the seabed.

    "We believe that late 20th century humans had a variety of cults, worshipping (among other totems) rubber models of ducks and some strange-looking footwear..."

  • by Isaac-1 (233099) on Monday June 13, 2011 @03:25PM (#36427858)

    This reminds me of a photograph a friend of mine showed me years ago from a dive trip to the Red Sea. While there on a dive at a random site (live aboard dive boat), they ran across a contrainer on the bottom in about 80 feet of water that had broken open, of all the possible treasures it might have contained it was full of toilets. The photo showed a diver sitting on an upright one in the pile of toilets.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Next they can do an environmental impact of the study that studied the lost container.
    How much fossil fuel was used by the sub going down there to get samples.
    How much damage did the sub do by disturbing the site.
    How many trees were used to print the journal the research was published in.

  • Wasn't there a similar post about cargo lost? I bookmarked this page on "Gallery of Transport Loss -- Photos & Lessons of Disaster" at http://www.cargolaw.com/gallery.html [cargolaw.com] and oh man are there zillions of photos of all kinds of transport accidents. Some cargo damaged at ports but the amount lost at sea is staggering! Though be careful as this site is interesting and can become a huge timepit surfing through all the pics.

    All kinds of disasters including "Meals Ready to Explode" (ya know all them MREs

  • Loading order (Score:4, Informative)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday June 13, 2011 @04:12PM (#36428478)

    The article should really look a bit into why container ships are loaded the way they are. The article contends, with no fact to support this contention, that one of the issue is that heavy containers that are loaded high on the sip are a major cause of the issue. Their solution is to load heavy containers first. Lets look into what would be required to do this feat.

    1a. Every time a container come it it would be sorted by size so that the large one would be easily accessed first.
        Issues:
                containers come in one at a time over quite a long period of time. what happens if many light ones come after all the heavy ones? The heavy ones get burried.
    1b. Alternately, sort the containers before they are loaded.
            This would require more space and handling each container at least one additional time.

    Lets assume that all the heavy containers are in the bottom of the ship. The article neglects the fact that container ships usually make more than one offloading stop. They are currently loaded so that the containers can be unloaded at each stop while still maintaining the balance of the ship. If the heavy containers are at the bottom, it would require unloading containers above the heavy containers, unloading the heavy containers and re-loading the light containers. This takes time and space.

    Every minute a container ship is tied up at a dock costs money. The sorting and excess loading/unloading take time. Most ports are also very crowded and do not have the space required to do the sorting of containers to make sure heavy containers are loaded lower. There is also a limited number of berths for container ships. The longer a ship is in port means fewer ships can be loaded and unloaded by that port.

    One final point, everything breaks. Even light containers go overboard. A perfect example is the container full of tires. Compared to shipments such as metals, tires are relatively light but a container full of them still went overboard. Given rough enough water even an empty container can break loose.

    Here are some of the parameters that container loading software uses to place containers on a ship.
            the weight of each container being handled
            which port each container will be unloaded at
            if the container is refrigerated, and needs to be plugged in during the voyage
            if the container’s contents are hazardous, as these could be potentially explosive if placed next to a refrigerated container
            advising Customs of the ship’s arrival and reporting the cargo on board
            the order in which the containers will be loaded and unloaded.
    A lot of science goes into the efficient loading and unloading of containers; sorting by weight is taken into account but not the overriding consideration.

  • That was an issue about a decade ago, then we stopped hearing about it. The shippers would provide minimal living conditions and sometimes lose contact at the other end. Most of these immigrants were southern Chinese who'd become effectively indentured servants for several years in the US while paying off their fees. I wonder if it has stopped. Maybe slightly higher 9-11 security would have detected a greater fraction of these. I'd guess just coming through the northern or southern US borders is a lot l

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