TT Talk - Who is happy to see ‘10,000 lost containers every year’?

On 21 October 2010 the Chairman of the European Parliament Transport & Tourism Committee (Brian Simpson MEP) led a debate in which he claimed that a 'staggering 10,000 containers were lost each year', the majority of which fell overboard, and that shipping lines and insurers where happy to accept this figure and do nothing about it. This assertion was in part prompted by the MARIN


report issued earlier this year.

The TT Club experience over the last decade would lead us to question the validity of the number of containers lost at sea, but it raises a pertinent and persistent matter for liner operations.

Mr Simpson demanded that the European Commission take immediate action to look at the compensation schemes for local authorities who are left to clear up the debris after all these containers come ashore. This sentiment was echoed by a number of fellow Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who suggested that shipping lines and insurers should be held responsible for the after effect of non chemical toxic releases into European waters.

The MEPs cited many reasons for all these containers falling overboard. Amongst them was 'shoddy workmanship' by those involved in stowing containers, reporting that many containers were lost from short sea ships which 'often' released the lashings prior to the ship entering port.Another reason suggested by the MEPs for containers being lost at sea was that they were mis-declared and were overweight. Misdeclaration of the cargo mass is a serious problem and the MEPs again demanded that containers were weighed at the port prior to loading.

As the Club has repeatedly advised, responsibility for providing accurate gross mass information rests with the shipper/consolidator and thus arguably catching mis-declaration at the port is too late. This is clearly so, but in intermodal transport mandating the opportunity to validate weight at this nodal point is one the Club would support, with the knowledge that all transport contracts allow recovery of costs from malfeasors.

Wrongly declared containers can present the ship planners with a serious problem, as they could be stowed higher or lower in a deck stack than would be correct for their actual mass. A container with a mass larger than those below them will adversely affect the stack's stability and should be avoided, but equally a container with a smaller mass can compromise stability calculations. Thus, the Club would assert that the risks relate to under and over weight declarations - and the impact is felt as much on land as at sea.

In addition to training for the those involved in lashing containers, one solution suggested by the MEPs was that every container should be equipped with a beacon that would allow it to be located when it was in the sea to alert nearby ships and smaller vessels of its presence so that it could be avoided or recovered. The beacon could also be used to identify the owner so that a penalty could be levied against them for any salvage and clean up costs.

The European Commission replied stating that there were European Directives (2004/35, 2005/35 and 2009/20) that covered insurance risks, compensation and penalties. Furthermore the Commission felt that every action should be taken to protect the world's seafarers and the proper forum for such action was the International Maritime Organisation, despite the MEPs assertions that the IMO had 'to be one of the slowest international organisations the world has ever come across'.