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The debate about how many containers are lost overboard at sea was reopened today.
Liner shipping lobby group the World Shipping Council (WSC) has released its latest survey, which claims there has been an industry-wide reduction in lost boxes.
In any case, the WSC argues, the number of containers lost at sea is far lower than often supposed.
It says: “In the past, obtaining an accurate assessment of how many containers are actually lost at sea was a highly speculative process. For many years, there were widely circulated, but unsupported and grossly inaccurate, claims that the industry might lose as many as 10,000 a year.”
This year’s publication – its previous surveys were published in 2011 and 2014 – says that in each of 2014, 2015 and 2016 an average of 1,390 container were lost at sea. This figure includes what the WSC terms “catastrophic losses”, such as the breaking up of the MOL Comfort.
The 2017 survey includes the one catastrophic loss during the period, the 40-year old con-ro El Faro, which tragically sank carrying 391 containers and 294 trailers and cars, and which accounted for 43% of the containers lost that year.
Excluding “catastrophic losses”, the average number of containers lost between 2014 and 2016 was 612. This compares with 350 a year recorded in the 2011 report (675 with “catastrophic losses”) and in 2014, non-catastrophic average losses averaged 733 a year (2,683). The main reason for the large jump was the 2011 MV Rena grounding, which saw 900 containers lost, and the MOL Comfort incident, in which all 4,293 boxes were lost.
John Butler, WSC president and chief executive, argued that recent years had seen an improvement in container losses.
“Although the number of containers lost at sea represents a very small fraction of the number of containers carried on ships each year, the industry continuously strives to reduce those losses. The latest report shows the average number of containers estimated to be lost each year is down from the estimates reported in 2014.
“This is an encouraging sign. The report also identifies initiatives the industry is actively supporting to increase container safety and reduce losses further,” he added.
It was partly in response to containers being lost overboard that the International Maritime Organization amended its Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations to bring in the VGM requirement, updated its code of practice for the packing of cargo transport units and is revising standards for onboard container lashing equipment and corner castings.