The World Shipping Council (WSC) Containers Lost at Sea Report covering 2020-2021 shows that containers lost overboard represent less than one thousandth of 1% (0.001%). However, the past two years have seen a worrying break in the downward trend for losses, with the average number of containers lost at sea per year since the start of the survey increasing by 18% to 1,629.
he 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.
Triggered by these events, maritime actors across the supply chain have initiated numerous initiatives to address the issue:
#1 MARIN Top Tier project: This project will run over three years and will use scientific analyses, studies, and desktop as well as real-life measurements and data collection to develop and publish specific, actionable recommendations to reduce the risk of containers lost overboard.
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. 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.
#2 Revision of the IMO’s guidelines for the inspection programs for cargo transport units, including containers: MSC 105 (April 2022) approved to amend the IMO guidelines for CTU inspection programs in order to: 1) clarify that the scope of application is to CTUs carrying all types of cargoes, not just those declared to be carrying dangerous goods; 2) adequately refer to the CTU Code; 3) to allow for inspection reports from non-governmental organizations to be included; and 4) to include inspection for visible pest contamination. WSC participated actively in the revision work.
#3 Discrepancy in container stacking strength: WSC, working together with IMO Member governments and other industry associations, proposed to the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 6) in September 2019 to align the Safe Container Convention (CSC)’s and ISO 1496-1 container stacking strength requirements, noting that the existing discrepancy might have significant safety implications, including collapsed container stacks and containers lost at sea. This is an issue that is now being considered as part of the MARIN TopTier project.
#4 Mandatory reporting of containers lost at sea: Presently, at the international level, there are mandatory reporting requirements for containers lost overboard that are declared to contain dangerous goods and marine pollutants. However, there are not yet comparable international mandatory reporting requirements for containers lost overboard, irrespective of their declared content.
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
says John Butler, President & CEO of WSC.
The liner industry has been engaged in this safety effort over two decades, and there has been quite some progress, including in regard to:
- Amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention: On July 1, 2016, changes to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention requiring verification of container weights before packed containers may be loaded aboard ships went into effect. This is an effort WSC advocated in support of for many years. The requirement makes container gross mass verification (VGM) a legally binding condition for vessel loading. Mis-declared container weights have contributed to the loss of containers at sea, as well as to other safety and operational problems.
- Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code): The IMO, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), with industry support, produced a code of practice for the packing of CTU, including containers, outlining specific procedures and techniques to improve safety, such as how to ensure correct distribution of the weight inside the container, proper positioning, blocking and bracing according to the type of cargo, and other safety considerations. The code was approved in late 2014, and informal work to revise it has commenced.
- Revised ISO standards for container lashing equipment and corner castings: In support of the IMO’s efforts to enhance container safety, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), with the industry’s active participation, revised its standards regarding lashing equipment and corner castings and the new standards went into effect in 2015. The corner casting standard is poised to be revised in the near future.