Containers lost at sea trending upwards

by Emily Atkins

The number of shipping containers lost at sea increased by 18 percent in 2021, reversing a trend that saw container losses decreasing.

Although the actual number of containers lost at sea – 1,629 – is a less than one thousandth of one percent of the 241 million moved in the two years covered by the World Shipping Council’s (WSC) Containers Lost at Sea Report covering 2020-2021, the organization is concerned by the increase, it said.

The winter of 2020-21 saw an unusually high number of weather-related incidents, and the average losses for the two-year period 2020-2021 were 3,113 compared to 779 in the previous period.

Every container overboard is one too many, and every day carriers work with the other parties in the supply chain to enhance safety, the WSC said.

Numerous factors cause loss

Even with proper packing of the cargo into the container, correct container weight, and proper stowage and securing aboard ship, factors ranging from severe weather and rough seas to events like ship groundings, structural failures, and collisions can result in containers being lost at sea.

“Container vessels are designed to transport containers safely and carriers operate with tight safety procedures, but when we see numbers going the wrong way, we need to make every effort to find out why and further increase safety,” said John Butler, president and CEO of WSC.

That’s why the industry has launched a three-year study, the MARIN Top Tier project, that will use scientific analyses, studies, and desktop, as well as real-life measurements and data collection to develop recommendations to reduce the risk of containers being lost overboard.

Parametric rolling

The study’s initial results found that a relatively under-researched phenomenon called parametric rolling movement (PRM) in following seas is especially hazardous for container vessels. It can cause a ship to roll at extreme angles of up to 30 to 40 degrees or more and can lead to the vessel capsizing.

PRM mainly affects new container ships and car carriers, thanks to the flared fore and aft decks. In quarter seas, when the sea is striking a ship’s quarter at an angle of 45 degrees to its heading, PRM can occur with other types of vessels.

The WSC has published a Notice to Mariners describing how container vessel crew and operational staff can plan, recognize and act to prevent parametric rolling in following seas.

“The liner shipping industry’s goal remains to keep the loss of containers as close to zero as possible. We will continue to explore and implement measures to make that happen and welcome continued cooperation from governments and other stakeholders to accomplish this goal,” Butler said.

The further this objective the Containers Lost at Sea report will now be updated annually, and the organization is supporting the creation of a mandatory reporting framework for lost containers.