Number of Containers Lost at Sea Falling, Survey Shows

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2750
July 11, 2017

The MV Rena lost an estimated 900 containers when it ran aground and broke up off the coast of New Zealand in October 2011. Photo courtesy Maritime New Zealand

An average of 1,390 containers have been lost at sea each year over the past three years, according to a new survey of the world’s ocean carriers by the World Shipping Council.

The number of containers lost represents a 48% reduction in the average annual losses compared to the previous three-year period. The number includes containers that were lost during catastrophic events, i.e. those where more than 50 containers were lost during a single event. Excluding catastrophic events, the average number of containers lost each year was 612, which is about 16% less than the average of 733 units lost each year in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

The new figures were released this week in an updated survey of World Shipping Council members, who operate approximately 80 percent of the global containership fleet in terms of capacity.

number of containers lost at sea 2017
Source: World Shipping Council

The WSC undertook the first survey of its member companies in 2011 to provide a more accurate estimate as to the number of containers lost at sea each year and debunk what it describes ‘wildly inaccurate’ claims that the industry might lose as many as 10,000 containers at sea every year. The WSC conducted new surveys in 2014 and 2017, with the most recent gathering input for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The WSC survey is regarded as the best source for accurate information on the subject containers lost at sea.

Based on the most recent survey results, WSC estimates that for the combined nine-year period from 2008 to 2016, on average, there were 568 containers lost at sea each year, not counting catastrophic events, and 1,582 containers lost at sea each year including catastrophic events. On average, 64% of containers lost during this period were attributed to a catastrophic event.

Although the 1,390 annual average may still seem high, the WSC survey said in 2016, the international liner shipping industry transported approximately 130 million containers packed with cargo, with an estimated value of more than $4 trillion.

“Although the number of containers lost at sea represents a very small fraction of the number of containers carried on ships each year, the industry continuously strives to reduces those losses. The latest report shows that the average number of containers estimated to be lost each year is down from the estimates reported in 2014. This is an encouraging sign. The report also identifies initiatives the industry is actively supporting to increase container safety and reduce losses further,” said John Butler, WSC President and CEO.

Based on the 2011 survey results, the World Shipping Council estimated that on average there were approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year during the 2008-2010 time frame, not counting catastrophic events. When one counted the catastrophic losses, an average annual total loss per year of approximately 675 containers was estimated for this three year period.

In the 2014 survey, the WSC estimated that there were approximately 733 containers lost at sea on average for each of these three years, not counting catastrophic events. When one includes catastrophic losses (as defined above) during these years, the average annual loss for the period was approximately 2,683 containers.

This larger number in 2014 is due primarily to the complete loss in 2013 of the MOL Comfort in the Indian Ocean and all of the 4,293 containers on board – which remains the worst containership loss in history; and, in 2011, the grounding and loss of the M/V Rena off New Zealand, which resulted in a loss overboard of roughly 900 containers. Both of these incidents involved complete and total vessel losses.

In 2015, the tragic total loss of American cargo ship El Faro, carrying 391 containers, accounted for almost 43% of the total containers lost during the year.

Read Next: The Worst Containersship Disasters in Recent History


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