The container ship Svendborg Maersk was battered by hurricane winds as it crossed the northern stretch of the Bay of Biscay on February 14th. Battling 30-foot waves and working through winds of 60 knots the ship arrived only to find that a large chunk of her cargo had been swept overboard. The ship was originally heading from Rotterdam to Sri Lanka.
The shipping giant initially reported that only 70 containers had been lost in the storms. However, last Wednesday this number skyrocketed to 517 – the largest recorded loss of containers overboard in a single incident. Countless more are supposed to have been damaged when six of the bays tilted over.
Maersk have suggested that almost 85 percent of the containers were empty, with the rest containing mostly dry goods and frozen meats. They also reinforced the fact that none of the containers were carrying harmful substances and that many had sunk in the turbulent seas.
Nevertheless, French authorities have been on the lookout for floating containers, which can be hugely problematic for other shipping vessels, alongside a huge environmental risk. According to New Zealand marine insurer Vero Marine, a 20-foot container can float for up to two months, whilst a 40-foot container may float up to three times longer.
Already, containers have been surfacing as far away as the coast of East Devon, United Kingdom. The 40-foot container washed up at Axmouth, near Seaton and is estimated to contain 14 tonnes of cigarettes. Police were immediately called in to cordon off the area and scare away any would-be smokers hoping to make a steal and sneak off with a portion of the 11 million cigarettes (refer to picture gallery).
As of yet, there has never been a requirement for shipping lines to report container loses to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)or any other international body. In 2011, the World Shipping Council estimated that around 675 containers were lost at sea, whilst the Through Transport Club, which insures 15 of the top 20 container lines, has suggested that the number is closer to 2,000.
However, other sources suggest that this is nowhere near the true number, with some citing as many as 10,000 lost at sea each year. Analysts have suggested that one of the reasons such loses can occur are due to the lack of accuracy when weighing containers before transit. Some shippers have been found to understate the weight of containers in order to reduce shipping costs. Such misinformation can lead to uneven strain on a vessel as it transverses the seas.
One of the most notable incidents occurred in 2007 when the MSC Napoli ran aground off the English coast, breaking up and spilling 103 containers worth of toxic cargo, polluting five miles of the South Western coast. The UK marine accident investigation board ruled that the accident was due to cargo being loaded in such a way that it exceeded the baring weight of the hull girders, resulting in a structural failure across the ship. The report concluded that if such loses are to be prevented, it is essential that containers be weighed before embarkation. Source: Port Technology