Stepped-up prevention helps reduce loss of containers at sea

The World Shipping Council (WSC) in its 2020 report shows that an average of 779 containers were lost at sea in the three-year period between 2017 and 2019, down from the yearly average loss of 1,382 containers in the twelve-year period (2008-2019).

With more than 5,000 container vessels in operation and about 789 million TEU being handled in ports worldwide, the container trade, an extraordinary globalisation tool, accounts for nearly 18 per cent of the total seaborne trade, according to marine insurance P&I Club News.

Catastrophic events such as sinking or grounding of vessels account for half of the containers lost, but still the container trade community’s ambition is to fight the multiple causes for containers falling overboard. Semi-submerged containers are a threat to safety of crew and vessels and are also a danger to marine life.

Misdeclaration of weight, improper packing of cargo, improper stowage as per ship’s Cargo Securing Manual (CSM), twist locks issues or maintenance of the containers are important risk factors.

Being aware of this multifaced threat, the container trade industry itself, in cooperation with government bodies and shipper associations, has continuously worked on addressing the problem. These include several initiatives at an international level aimed at improving the international standards under SOLAS, ISO and the CTU Code and have already reshaped the risks and contributed to lowering the risk.

In order to fight misdeclaration of cargo, changes to SOLAS came into effect on July 1, 2016, requiring verification of container weights (VGM) before containers can be loaded onboard.

As per an IMO proposal more loss prevention work is to be done also on the shipowner’s side as an alignment of the Safe Container Convention (CSC) and ISO 1496-1 container stacking strength requirements is needed.

Inspection of the securing equipment onboard: In a recent case, a vessel lost nearly 50 containers and the investigations revealed that lashing arrangements were inadequate and that the securing points for containers were heavily corroded.

The WSC report recommends the frequent inspection of the lashing equipment and sockets.

“Reject damaged containers and observe stevedore’s routines to make sure that securing equipment is handled well and returned to the vessel. Avoid using a mix of manual and semi-automatic twist locks and avoid storing left and right-hand twist locks together,” the report added.

Rolling, parametric forces and stowage planning are key elements in loss prevention. In July 2018, a vessel lost 81 containers overboard in very rough seas, and on January 1, 2019 a vessel lost 342 containers. In both cases the forces generated during sudden, heavy rolling placed excessive stress on the containers. This resulted in structural failure of containers and components of the lashing system.