THE upcoming meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (5-14 May 2021) will focus on containers lost at sea.

Over the course of three months late last year and early this year, almost 3500 containers were lost in a number of incidents in the western Pacific Ocean. This is far above the numbers usually registered for the same period and has raised concern regarding the causes of these incidents.

The reason for the IMO focus is that containers lost at sea are potentially dangerous, not only to ships when floating in the water, but also to the environment, particularly with regard to the plastics they contain.

Spike in containers lost at sea

The shipping industry is seeing the biggest spike in lost containers in many years. An average of approximately 1400 containers are lost at sea every year. Unfortunately, since December 2020, four major incidents have occurred in the Pacific Ocean, a region where the busiest traffic and the worst weather collide. The numbers related to these four incidents have caused a spike in the statistics with a total number of around 3500 lost, according to media reports.

Shipping association BIMCO said that parametric rolling in relative moderate seas as well as discrepancy between declared weight and actual weight of containers may be contributing factors.

“However, it appears that no single factor caused the incidents but rather that several factors may have contributed. The incident investigation reports have yet to be finalised, setting out the detailed root causes,” BIMCO said.


Possible preventative initiatives

At IMO level there is a request to review current regulations and possibly introduce preventative initiatives.

During MSC 103, the IMO will consider measures regarding the detection and mandatory reporting of containers lost at sea that may enhance the positioning, tracking and recovery of such containers.

“BIMCO recognises that a mandatory reporting system is a prerequisite when containers are lost overboard.

“However, it is equally important to avoid having them lost in the first place. To restore fidelity in the safety of container transport with the present fleet and provide the technical understanding that is needed for safe operation, other areas of interest, like weather routing, the ship’s design and its propulsion, as well as the lashing of the containers should be considered too.”

BIMCO is the largest of the international shipping associations representing shipowners; its membership controls around 65% of the world’s tonnage and it has members in more than 120 countries, including managers, brokers and agents.