Lost at Sea – Every Year, Shipping Containers Go Missing
But does anyone know how many, and should we be worrying about it?
The nightmare scenario
Your goods have been loaded at port and are on their way to their destination. Freetrax tracking system is keeping you up to date.
You await their arrival with excitement, ready to fulfil orders, satisfy customers and make money.
But, they never arrive … What happened? Your container was lost at sea!
Does it really happen?
Although it’s very rare, it does occasional happen that containers disappear. On any given day, there are between five and six million shipping containers on the high seas. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that some of these will go astray, and some will be lost overboard.
From severe weather to accidents, such as groundings and collisions, a number of shipping containers fall off ships every year. The question is, how many, and if you are an exporter, is it worth worrying about?
Search Google and you will get wildly different results – from just a few hundred, to as much as 10,000 containers per year.
The real numbers are not quite so scary. One report, that delivered what was widely accepted as the best estimate, came in 2014 from the World Shipping Council (WSC). They surveyed their members in 2011 and again in 2014.
The result was that between 2008 and 2014 on average 546 containers were lost each year, not counting catastrophic events. When catastrophic events were added, the average jumped to 1,679 containers.
It may sound a lot, but it’s not that many, when we consider the number of containers on the seas. But, one thing that the surveys do agree on is that losses are increasing.
In the time frame 2008-10 WSC estimated that on average there were approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year, not counting for catastrophic events. When counting the catastrophic losses, an average annual total loss per year of approximately 675 containers was estimated for this three-year period.
The 2014’s results showed that 733 containers were lost at sea on average for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, not including catastrophic events. Including catastrophic losses, for these years the average annual loss was approximately 2,683 containers
That’s an increase of 297% from the previous three years.
Rare Catastrophic Events
What caused such a jump? The WSC puts it down to two rare catastrophic events: the 2013 sinking of the MOL Comfort in the Indian Ocean and the 2011 MV Rena grounding off New Zealand. The report shows that the loss from the MOL Comfort alone resulted in the loss of all 4,293 containers – possibly the worst containership loss in history. The MV Rena lost roughly 900 containers overboard when it grounded on a reef off the coast of New Zealand in 2011.
The Bigger Picture
Without the catastrophic events, the figure of 733 containers lost at sea per year is a far cry from the 10,000 figure that has been bandied around on Google.
When we consider that the international shipping industry carries approximately 120 million containers packed with an estimated $4 trillion worth of cargo, the numbers don’t seem too bad.
But any loss of a container at sea is a loss that carriers seek to prevent. After all, losing your precious cargo is a nightmare scenario for any importer or exporter.
On top of this, containers lost at sea pose a number of dangers and environmental hazards to the safety of navigation.
Know the risks and prepare
The industry is working hard to reduce any loss. But where there is bad weather and busy shipping lanes, accidents will occur.
So although the chance of loss is slim, it’s something we always factor in when talking to our clients about exporting.
In our report, Thinking Outside the Box, we look at a number of issues that face shippers and exporters that freight forwarders deal with on a daily basis – how you can avoid them, and how to mitigate most risks.
Insurance is always a must for all shipping. At Freedom, we offer advice and insurance to our clients, to make sure we take the best possible care of your shipments.
Our goal is to make sure that nothing of yours is lost. But in those very rare circumstances and catastrophic events, we make sure that we can trace the problem and get you compensated where needed.
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