On course for collision – the dangers of lost shipping containers
It’s reported that over 1200 shipping containers are lost in transit every year. But at just 0.01% of around the 120 million containers that are carted around the world each year, this figure is an insignificant amount as far as the shipping industry is concerned.
Charging through storms to meet tight deadlines, aging containers and unreliable bracing systems are some of the factors that are blamed, and while no sleep may be lost over losing a container, it’s potential to cause damage is of greater concern – either through environmental damage or a collision.
‘Lost containers are not a widespread problem,’ said John Fossey, editorial director of Containerisation International ‘but of course it’s tragic when a yachtsman hits one.’
And his concerns are well founded.
In September 2005 Moquini, a 42ft yacht with six crew members went missing during the Mauritius to Durban yacht race. The vessel was found four months later, upturned some 500 miles off the SW coast of South Africa. Yacht designer Alex Simonis believed that the damage to the keel was caused by a container. All six crew members were presumed drowned.
Three years previously Martin Taylor was steady away at 6 knots 20 miles out from the Isle of White when his boat, Lycaena, hit an object and sank. Taylor survived to describe the incident whereby his vessel, ‘stopped dead, slewed over and lay on top of this thing, whatever it was’.
These are just two examples of what seems to be an all-too familiar story, with some well-travelled routes become notorious for perilous debris in the form of shipping containers.
Measures to lower the risk have been suggested, then ruled out. Dissolvable door seals was one discarded idea, as the containers needed to withstand the sea spray from the journey, while companies wanted their containers to be painted in their corporate colours, rather than a fluorescent paint which would make them more visible.
It has taken the threat of terrorism to create of much needed focus on containers within the shipping industry. In light of concerns around ‘dirty bombs’ – conventional explosives combined with nuclear waste – the shipping industry is looking into radio tagging containers. While this may seem like the perfect solution to account for potentially dangerous 2-tonne metal box, these trackers are only being considered for the road and rail journey, not in the sea.
It can only be hoped that lost containers will, at some point be addressed for the dangers they present as hidden and untraceable obstructions of the open sea, rather than just an insignificant amount of lost cargo.