Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ocean Freights Big Guns Study the Menace of Shipping Containers Lost Overboard

At Last an Attempt to Assess and Cure the Problem
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The loss of a shipping container whilst at sea always presents a problem. As losses do not tend to be generally in single figures the difficulties presented are manifold and complex. Containers can float, sometimes for years, just sub surface offering a real danger to other shipping, chemicals often leak from them causing untold damage to the marine environment. In human terms there are sometimes more tragic results than simply the loss of freight consignments or endless insurance wrangles.

A question which has deserved an informed answer is: How many containers actually are lost at sea? The World Shipping Council (WSC) has seen various statements in public that the industry loses 10,000 containers a year at sea. The WSC understood that this number is grossly excessive and concurs with the statement of the National Cargo Bureau: “there have been no comprehensive statistics kept, as to the number of containers lost overboard.”

In an effort to shed greater clarity on the issue, the WSC undertook a survey of its members to obtain a more accurate estimate of the number of containers lost overboard on an annual basis. The WSC’s members represent over 90 percent of the global containership capacity. Members were asked to provide the actual number of containers lost overboard for three previous consecutive years. Those carriers that responded represent over 70 percent of the global container ship capacity. WSC assumed for the purpose of this analysis that the container losses for the 30% of the industry that did not respond to the survey would be roughly the same as the 70% of the industry that responded.

As a result, the total annual figure reported has been adjusted upward to provide an estimated loss figure for all carriers, both WSC members and non-members, and arrive at a total industry figure. Some carriers reported that they lost no containers during the period, while others noted a catastrophic loss, which for the purposes of this analysis was defined as a loss overboard of 50 or more containers in a single incident. Catastrophic losses are rare. The number of containers lost in a catastrophic event can vary greatly -- from fifty to several hundred.

Based on the survey results, the World Shipping Council estimates that on average there are approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year, not counting catastrophic events. When one counts the catastrophic losses, an average total loss per year of approximately 675 containers was observed. Total industry losses obviously vary from year to year, but these numbers are well below the 2,000 to 10,000 per year that regularly appear publicly, and represent a very small fraction of container loads shipped each year. Containers lost overboard as a result of events related to severe weather are usually outside the control of carriers, stevedores, or shippers, and unfortunately, such events are unlikely to disappear completely. But the industry has been supporting a number of efforts undertaken in recent years to reduce the number of containers lost at sea. One effort is the joint industry/government project, called lashing@sea3 by the Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands (MARIN).

Another effort is the joint publication of Safe Transport of Containers by Sea: Industry Guidance for Shippers and Container Stuffers by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the World Shipping Council (WSC), which provides recommended best practices for ships, port facilities, and shippers in the loading and handling of cargo containers in an effort to pursue the unattainable goal of reducing ocean container losses to zero.

A related effort is the joint decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to develop an IMO/ILO/UNECE code of practice for packing of cargo transport units, including containers. Industry experts, including staff from the WSC, are preparing recommendations on the draft code of practice with a target publication date in 2013.

In September the IMO is looking at proposals to legislate with regard to the actual weight of every loaded container being verified and provided to the vessel operator prior to stowing aboard a ship in an attempt to negate the scourge of containers lost overboard due to stack collapses caused by misdeclared weights.