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World Shipping Council report on containers lost at sea identifies several active safety improvement initiatives

Although containers lost overboard represent less than one-thousandth of 1% (0.001%) of the roughly 241 million packed and empty containers currently shipped each year, the industry is deeply concerned about this development.

The liner shipping industry works continuously to further enhance container safety, partnering with governments and other stakeholders to reduce the number of containers lost at sea.

The liner industry has been engaged in this safety effort over two decades, and working with our partners in the supply chain there has been quite some progress.

These are some of the key takeaways from the 2022 update of the “Containers Lost at Sea” report by The World Shipping Council (WSC).. The WSC represents most of the major container liner shipping companies that operate more than three-quarters of the global containership capacity..

Containers Lost at Sea

Since 2011, the World Shipping Council (WSC) has undertaken a survey of its members to accurately estimate the number of containers that are lost at sea each year..

In 2021, the international liner shipping industry transported approximately 241 million containers, with cargo transported valued at more than $7 trillion.. And inspite of “proper packing of the cargo into the container, correct container weight, and proper stowage and securing aboard ship, several factors ranging from severe weather and rough seas to more catastrophic and rare events like ship groundings, structural failures, and collisions can result in containers being lost at sea,” the report found..

containers lost at sea - 2022 update

While the disasters of 2013 (MOL Comfort), 2020 (ONE Apus) and 2021 (Maersk Essen/X-Press Pearl) were the worst in recent times, across the period of 2008-2021 the WSC estimates that there were on average a total of 1,629 containers lost at sea each year..

Initial results from the study show that parametric rolling in following seas is especially hazardous for container vessels, a phenomenon that is not well known and can develop unexpectedly with severe consequences giving rise to several maritime disasters..

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. 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,” says John Butler, President & CEO of WSC..

Initiatives by WSC 

To help in preventing further incidents a Notice to Mariners has been developed, describing how container vessel crew and operational staff can plan, recognize and act to prevent parametric rolling in following seas. Many more topics, tests, and measurements will be undertaken by the project, which will continue reporting on progress and sharing insights on a regular basis through the IMO and other forums.

Some of the main Active Safety Improvement Initiatives identified by the WSC report include:

  • MARIN TopTier Study
  • Revision of the IMO’s guidelines for the inspection programs for cargo transport units, including containers
  • Discrepancy in container stacking strength
  • Mandatory reporting of containers lost at sea

The report also identified that several improvements have been achieved based on the industry’s engagement in the safety efforts over two decades including :

  • Amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention
  • Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code)
  • Revised ISO standards for container lashing equipment and corner castings
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