What Happens To Rogue Shipping Containers?

What happens to lost shipping containers

Have you ever wondered what happens to shipping containers that fall overboard? Statistics state that between 2,500 and 10,000 rogue shipping containers are lost to the ocean each year. Others put the number at just over 1000, but suffice to say that they do indeed end up in the ocean. Some of them float just below the surface and present a real danger to boats that aren't wary enough to spot them, how are they dealt with? Other containers solve the problem themselves and sink to the seafloor.

In an increasingly globalized world, it seems like massive shipments are absolutely necessary. With this need comes the unavoidable shipping container falling overboard. There is a lot to discuss. What effect does this have on the environment? What situations lead to them being dropped into the water in the first place? What did they possibly contain? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

What Happens To Rogue Shipping Containers? product stack

How Do Shipping Containers End Up Overboard?

There is a long list of reasons that a shipping container might end up in the water. Cargo ships don't generally sink, but if they do? That leads to hundreds of containers in the water, and millions of dollars in lost product. Luckily most of these ships are insured so even one lost container can be reimbursed with relative ease.

A much more likely scenario than a sinking ship is simply rough seas and unsecured containers. When something is washed over the side it is let go. Nobody has time during a rough storm to stop and attempt to haul a container back in. Most of these containers weigh many tons and are probably impossible to retrieve even if one were able to put the rough waters on hold.

Outside of disasters like sinking, or unexpected weather conditions we have what is probably the largest category... Human negligence. Many shipping companies will cut corners and ignore guidelines for weight or stacking containers, and this is what leads to the majority of containers that end up at sea. The regulations are there for a reason and should be followed stringently. If you happen to know of a company that isn't following safety guidelines then you have a moral commitment to blow the whistle. Lives hang in the balance, whether they be marine or human.

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What Do They Contain?

This is a fun question, because it would be a much shorter answer to rattle off a list of what they don't contain. Some contain cars, others are full of chemicals, some hide toys and other fun things. Every time I pass a cargo ship I find myself imagining what could be inside, and that line of thought usually doesn't stop until I reach the most ridiculous possible answer.

There was quite an interesting case in which a 28,800 rubber ducks in a shipping container broke free and began to float to distant shores all around the world. It seems like quite a fun novelty, and it's much more interesting than the majority of containers that simple make a sudden dive to the seabed. These ducks even helped scientists find out more about the currents of our oceans, but there was also quite an impact on the environment.

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Environmental Consequences

The impact that these rogue shipping containers have on the environment is pretty terrifying. While the containers themselves can settle on the bottom and create a nice home for sea life (until they're filled with sediment), the contents of said containers can be very bad news. Around 10% of them contain chemicals which are toxic to marine life. The other 90% doesn't fare much better. They will slowly break down in the corrosive saltwater. Your boat might become a victim of saltwater as well if you don't protect it properly! Clean your boat from hull to engine with our de-salt concentrated salt remover, in addition you can add an extra layer of protection with our hybrid ceramic sealant spray.

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Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

It's no secret that the ocean is slowly filling up with plastic. When I heard about a garbage patch, my simple brain imagined what was essentially a floating landfill. The truth of the matter is much more complicated. Let's use our friendly little floating bath toys as a convenient example. One might think that they float and find their way to the shore so no harm done, right? Well, that isn't guaranteed.

The percentage of those plastic bath time ducks that don't make it to shore will slowly be degraded by the sun and fall apart, piece by piece. This zombie army of polymer ducks will send a rain of toxic material falling to the ocean floor. Some creatures might mistake these bits for food and eat them, which can send it right back up the food chain. The bits that aren't eaten will break down into microscopic parts that can't be seen by the naked eye. It spells very bad news.

Migration Situation

Even creating a new home for marine creatures that might not have settled in a certain area if it weren't for the presence of a shipping container or twenty might lead to bad things. These containers could create migration 'stepping stones' that introduce foreign creatures into an ecosystem where they wouldn't normally exist.

Obviously some of these creatures can out-compete and quickly take over, and since ocean environments are nowhere near as heavily monitored as the land-based environments we see every single day it's not a far stretch to say that it could get out of hand before we can manage to keep things in check.