Despite several high profile incidents recently, a new
survey of the container shipping industry by the World Shipping Council (WSC)
reports that the incidents of containers lost overboard has been on the decline
and is a small percentage of the total annual volume. The WSC also outlines a
number of initiatives to further enhance container safety.
Containers lost overboard represent less than one-thousandth
of one percent of the roughly 226 million containers transporting $4 trillion
in cargo currently shipped each year according to the WSC. Looking at data for
the past 12 years contributed by shippers that represent approximately 80
percent of the industry, and extrapolating it to represent all shipping, the
WSC reports that the three-year moving average is declining, halved to an
average annual loss of 779 containers lost overboard between 2017 and 2019.
The WSC concludes based on data from the past 12 years that
half of all containers lost at sea are attributed to a limited number of major
incidents that have occurred during those years. Some carriers reported no lost
containers while others noted significant incidents where hundreds of
containers were lost in a single accident. With more than 6,000 ships around
the world carrying containers at any point in time, the WSC previously
distinguished catastrophic losses as 50 or more containers lost in a single
incident. However, the 2020 data no longer differentiates catastrophic losses.
In the period between 2008 and 2019, the WSC estimates that
there were on average a total of 1,382 containers lost at sea each year. The
lowest point was between 2008 and 2010 with an average of 675 losses per year,
quadrupling to an average of 2,683 between 2011 and 2013, declining to an
average of 1,390 between 2014 and 2016 and again down to an average of 779
between 2017 and 2019. The numbers were however impacted by several significant
losses, including 900 containers on the Rena (2011), 4,293 containers on the
MOL Comfort (2013), 517 containers on the El Faro (2015), and a few incidents
in 2018 and 2019 that each lost more than 100 containers.
Recognizes that all containers lost at sea represent safety
and environmental hazards regardless of how and when those containers were
lost, the WSC points to efforts between government and other stakeholders to enhance
container safety. Among these, they highlight the 2016 changes to the SOLAS
convention that require verification of container weights before packed
containers may be loaded aboard ships. The WSC also anticipates efforts to
further revise and enhance the 2014 code of practice for packing of cargo
transport units as well as future revisions to the 2015 ISO standards for
container lashing equipment and corner casting.
The WSC repeats a proposal it made to the IMO in 2019 to
align container stacking requirements to eliminate discrepancies that might
have significant safety implications. It says that those discrepancies might
contribute to the potential for the collapse of container stacks and container
loss at sea.
At the same, the WSC is also participating in efforts to
revise the IMO guidelines for the inspection programs for cargo transport units
including containers, and is also co-sponsoring with the European Union a
proposal to the IMO for mandatory reporting of containers lost at sea.
The World Shipping Council concludes the survey report
saying that carriers will continue to explore and implement preventive and
realistic measures to bring container losses as close to zero as possible and
welcome continued cooperation from governments and other stakeholders to
accomplish this goal.