Shipping containers traverse the sea every day, transporting goods from continent to continent. However, the sea is a formidable danger. Things such as sea storms or large waves lead to shipping containers falling off a cargo ship and becoming lost at sea. This does not only come at a high cost to businesses but the environment as well.

We Lost 1,679 Containers in 5 Years

Several different figures float the internet quoting the exact number of cargo ship containers lost at sea each year. These depend on the exact year, the range of time taken and the nature of the losses. Between 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 those, however, that number rises to 1,679 containers lost per year.

cargo ship

© Pixabay

This is a fairly large amount. However, it is incredibly small when compared to the 120 million containers estimated to be transported on a cargo ship each year. Even taking the larger value of 1,679 containers, that is only 0.00001% of the total number of containers shipped per year.

Are Lost Containers Ever Discovered?

Although the actual percentage of containers lost at sea is modest, it does still pose a significant loss. Each shipping container on average carries several thousand 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 fallen off a cargo ship aren’t recovered or even discovered. Lost containers might lie dormant for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

cargo ship

© Will Truettner

Although the proportion of lost containers 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.

Featured image: © Tom Fisk