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What happens to shipping containers lost at sea.??

Hey all, came across an article (What happens to shipping containers lost at sea?).. Although this article is more concerned about the environment (which is very important), it also begs the question of how such things happen and who is responsible for this and what is the remedy..

In my opinion, such incidents occur mostly due to the mis-declaration of weight by the shipper/exporter and/or their agents.. I have also written a previous article on the importance of declaring the right cargo weight.. This puts a huge strain on the ship, the cargo, peoples lives etc..

When shipping lines enquire about the weight of the cargo for their planning purposes, a common answer that comes from the shipper/exporter or their agent is that they dont know..!!!!!!!!! That is a very irresponsible answer as surely the exporter knows what and how much of what he is exporting.. He knows the cargo, the weight, the measurement and all such information.. So there can be no excuse for him to say that he doesn’t know the weight or how much he will be packing into a container after having sold the goods already..


Brace yeselves fer a tale of the high seas. Out there, in the deep, there be abandoned shipping containers. Yarr.

The merchant vessel Med Taipei left San Francisco on February 25, 2004, in the middle of a winter storm. As the ship steamed south toward the Port of Los Angeles, it began rolling violently in seven- to nine-meter (23- to 30-foot) swells. In a rush to get his goods to port, the captain continued southward at high speed, despite the rolls. Unbeknownst to the captain and crew, the containers on their ship had been stacked incorrectly, with massive, heavy containers perched on top of lighter ones.

Shortly after midnight on February 26, when the Med Taipei was directly offshore of Monterey Bay, stacks of containers began to break free of their lashings and topple sideways. Fifteen of the 40-foot-long containers fell overboard into the churning sea. Yet the ship continued south. By the time the ship reached the Port of Los Angeles, nine more containers had fallen overboard, and another 21 lay crumpled on deck.

This kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, I’ve been told that one of the hazards of trans-oceanic sailing trips are lost shipping containers that haven’t quite sunk yet, but are still hard to spot. In the middle of the Atlantic, the last thing you want is to pull a Titanic on a metal box full of lawn chairs. But what hadn’t occurred to me is what happens after these containers find their way to the ocean floor. Now, that sentence would make a nice lead-in to telling you about how lost shipping containers affect the environments they drop in on. Unfortunately, though, nobody yet knows the answers to that question. It’s not been studied before.

But that’s about to change. See, one of the containers from the Med Taipei managed to land within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where it was discovered by scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. This week, they’re using a robotic submarine to study the container— which holds 1,159 steel-belted tires, if you’re curious—and the impact it has on deep seafloor ecology. Better yet, the research is funded by the $3.25 million settlement that the owners of the Med Taipei paid to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I’ll be checking up on this later, to find out what the scientists learn from that box full of tires. When I find out, you’ll be the first to know.

So lets not damage the environment and ourselves and lets all revisit this topic and ensure that the right weights are declared to the shipping line.. It starts with you..


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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Hi! I see that these shipping containers are stacked in a vertical manner. this does lend itself to horizontal rigidity, especially when the ship is rocking from side to side. I’m wondering as to why they don’t stagger the containers, like bricks in a brick wall? At least 4-5 containers deep?


  2. Hi all,

    Interesting point on proposal for mandatory container weighing system, probably through IMO. I am intrested to know more on how to reach an international regulation of container weighing, and most appreciate if anyone can advise me sources for further reading.

  3. I have never been to a port for containers though I live very close by one. I always thought the ports & its related infrastructure would have scale to weigh every box before it goes onto the ship. Aren’t those giant metal orange clamps/cranes at the port supposed to do? what about truck weighing scale? Trucks need to pass by a scale station before going thru the tunnel I live by.

  4. Hi,

    It’s a nice article, as much as the lost containers ( floating or sunk in the sea ) poses a threat to the environment, it also poses a threat to other ocean going vessels, submarines, to divers etc, so the risk is pertinant to other Ocean users. The weight is vital and should be declared correct, type of stacking inside the container is equally important. The shipping Lines now have access to sophisticated , advanced stowing systems combined with high-end equipments and accessories for securing the containers intact. Instead of paying heavy penalties, denting their image and facing legal proceedings, Shipping Lines can invest that money and opt for some mechanism to cover the top deck and sides of the ship securing the containers intact, like fully cellular vessels, just a thought.


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