Among the many environmental damages caused by the shipping industry, the impact of lost cargo containers on the environment is significant. Shipping companies often overlook the task of container handling, and the stowage process goes unsupervised. In many cases, bad weather conditions and inefficiency in tackling it lead to slippage and falling the shipping containers off the vessel. Due to their weight, these containers sink to the ocean bed and remain there for centuries, causing consistent environmental harm. This blog will walk you through the ecological damage caused due to cargo containers in the sea.
Shipping containers in the maritime industry
The maritime industry accounts for a whopping amount of intermodal transportation of goods annually. A significant portion of the goods circulating in the global supply chain is transported via ships as it is the cheapest way of shipping goods internationally. Shippers send millions of containers for cross-border trade annually to harvest higher profits. Therefore, the maritime industry serves as the backbone for international trade business. Shipping containers are environmentally sustainable boxes stuffed with cargo are loaded onto ships for a voyage. On its journey, the ships are exposed to turbulence caused by bad weather conditions or the sea waves, which can lead to falling cargo containers into the sea and sinking to the ocean floor. In extreme cases, they also run the risk of looters or pirates.
Securing shipping containers onto ships
While preparing for its voyage, securing arrangements are made where the containers and the ship’s structure are fixed to each other to prevent any chances of sliding, tipping or falling. The conex boxes are brought to the yard and then loaded onto vessels with the help of port cranes.
- On the ships, workers ensure that the shipping containers are adequately lashed and secured with the help of ropes, wires, screws and nets.
- Cargo blocking is an effective way where shipping containers are stowed on the blocking structures fixed on the vessel floor. It minimises the risks of sliding or tipping containers during transit.
- Containers are stacked and secured with each other through the twist-locks, lashing rods, turnbuckles, and corner castings, which are then connected with the bridges to prevent disbalance.
Causes of containers lost at sea
Thousands of shipping containers are lost at sea annually, and the numbers are spiking yearly. Abandoned cargo are left in shipping containers floating around in the sea with no one taking responsibility for it. Since the impact of lost cargo containers on the environment is immense, the reasons should be addressed to prevent it. There are several reasons containers get dislodged and fall off the container ships.
- Human error – Among the maritime industry’s various challenges, lack of trained and skilled labour is a potential issue. Workers lack knowledge about the proper lashing techniques and, in most cases, fail to adhere to the guidelines and regulations. Under such circumstances, catastrophes on board are bound to happen. Lack of a container tracking system adds to this.
- Weather conditions – Harsh climatic conditions such as high tides, storms, and heavy rains cause turbulence in the ship and disbalance the containers, making it difficult to keep the containers intact in their places. Under extreme and challenging weather, containers risk being dislodged and thrown into the sea.
- Lack of maintenance – All the latching and blocking components must be inspected and tested to ensure proper working before loading containers. They must have appropriate screws, greased and free from rust and corrosion, so they tightly fix the containers to their position. If the container is too old to survive the voyage, it must be discarded.
- Economic issues – When shipping companies are pressured for cost controls, they often reduce expenditure on securing components. Cheap lashing materials of poor quality also sabotage the integrity of containers on board. Particular types of cargo need unique lashing material, the unavailability of which exposes the containers to risks.
- Reduced workforce – The size of container ships has enlarged over the years to accommodate more containers in one trip. The workforce remains the same, though. Under such circumstances, every container does not get individual attention, and many loose latches and improper stowage faults go unaddressed.
What is the impact of lost cargo containers on the environment?
Improper container stowage leads to tripping and falling container boxes off the ships. Recently, many major shipping companies are facing severe losses due to cargo sinking that causes cargo damage. Loss of containers at sea may not be a significant loss to the shipping company or the shipping, but it is a loss for the environment and resources.
- A single shipping container may not cause harm, but when thousands of containers accumulate in the seabed, it poses a significant threat to the environment.
- Cargo containers sinking to the ocean floor are like a foreign element introduced into marine life. It impacts the deep sea ecosystem. Organisms risk getting entangled and trapped in the container’s nets, ropes or other parts.
- The success rate of retrieving these container boxes is shallow. Therefore, the containers clog the ocean bed once lost until they degrade.
- The paints used in shipping containers contain high levels of toxic substances such as lead and chromates to provide resistance against corrosion and rusting. In the sea, this paint chips off over time, harming aquatic life.
- Containers loaded with hazardous cargo cause immense damage to the environment. If leaked, these have an extreme impact on the sea.
- The shipping containers are non-biodegradable and may stay intact for centuries before degrading. They may float near ocean surfaces causing difficulties for other ships to navigate in water.
The cases of shipping container loss are increasing, reflecting the inefficiency of cargo handling at ports. The shipping companies must ensure proper stowage to minimise the impact of lost cargo containers on the environment.
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