Responding to the dramatic increase in the loss of
containers at sea in the past year, the Maritime Safety Committee of the
International Maritime Organization discussed the issue at its recent meeting.
Agreeing that the loss of containers at sea represents a potential danger to
maritime safety and is a threat to the environment, the IMO’s MSC took initial
actions focusing on detecting and reporting lost containers. The IMO said that
it will also work to address efforts to prevent the loss of containers and
restore confidence in container shipping practices.
The committee raised a range of concerns during its
discussion that focused on the loss of over 3,500 containers over the past few
months in the Pacific Ocean. The One Apus was the most dramatic loss with the
vessel’s representatives reporting that over 1,800 boxes were lost into the
Pacific on November 30 due to what they said was high seas. Inspectors and
analysts for cargo claims consultants WK Webster reported that out of the 22
bays on deck, only six appeared to have survived intact. With 20 rows per bay
and with stack heights of 6-8 tiers, Webster estimated that approximately 2,250
containers were potentially impacted. Since the vessel was mostly carrying
40-foot boxes, Webster noted that it was equivalent to approximately 4,500
TEUs. It took nearly four months for the vessel to recover and return to
Summarizing the discussion by the IMO’s committee, the
industry trade association BIMCO reported that the IMO agreed that the causes
that may lead to the loss of containers at sea vary. It may be due to bad
weather conditions or high waves creating instability on board. Inspectors for
the class society, insurers, and cargo claims representatives will also be
looking at the loading practices and equipment and design of the vessels. Cargo
associations also cite the dangers of misdeclared and overweight containers.
Regardless of the causes, the IMO committee also says the
fact is that it is difficult to have precise figures on the number of
containers lost. They highlighted particularly that container visibility from
the bridge may be limited by the containers themselves, and only the upper
tiers and the nearest bays can be seen. They discussed the dangers of pollution
particularly in regard to the plastics in the containers.
When a relatively distant stack of containers collapses, it
is difficult to determine immediately and precisely how many containers are
involved and when they fell, the committee said. These events generally occur
in adverse weather conditions that prevent immediate on-site investigation. For
the crew, it is extremely dangerous to walk along unstable container stacks.
The IMO’s MSC, therefore, agreed according to BIMCO to
initiate new measures to detect and report containers lost at sea, which may
enhance the positioning, tracking, and recovery of such containers. The IMO
agreed to establish a compulsory system to declare the loss of containers and
setting up means on board to easily identify the exact number of losses.
Together with such a system, the ships are obliged to report
the loss of containers through a standardized procedure, possibly detailing,
e.g. identification, cargo carried (particularly dangerous goods or harmful
substances), or whether these containers may float and constitute a risk of
collision with ships and boats.
Over the next couple of years, BIMCO says the IMO will also
develop measures designed to mitigate containers falling into the sea and to
restore fidelity in the safety of container transport with the present fleet.