Every day there are millions of containers moving across the world’s waterways. During any voyage, containers may face severe conditions from wind, rain or tides. As such, maritime conditions, coupled with broken lashings and other factors result in containers falling overboard. Annually, it is estimated that up to 10,000 containers find their way overboard into the world’s oceans, bays, and waterways. Statistically, this is insignificant when considered against the millions of containers moved worldwide annually.)
Occasionally, some of these containers do wash up on shore, especially if the container was lost fairly close to shore, but the majority of the containers simply sink to the bottom of the ocean. Regarding cleanup, generally it is impossible to clean up after a container goes overboard, unless the containers come to rest in a protected area or fairly close to shore or beach. Some of these containers that remain on the ocean floor have been studied, only to find they can serve as an artificial reef (given concerns about the cargo in the container, such as chemicals!). However, not every container sinks, and depending upon the cargo, the container may be floating at or near the waterline. This creates a navigation hazard, especially if a vessel strikes a semisubmerged container or “floater”.
Ironically, a recent book entitled “Moby-Duck” (you can listen to an NPR broadcast here) highlights a container of rubber bath toys that fell overboard on a journey to Tacoma in 1992. Freed from the container, the 28,000 rubber ducks have travelled across the globe, with a few rubber ducks washing up in the Artic and Europe in addition to many areas the Pacific Ocean. The scientific community has benefited from observing the movement of the ducks to trace ocean currents; however, there is a large degree of trash in the world’s oceans, collected in natural sink areas, called Gyres, that collect not only the remnants of maritime trade, but other floatable items (chemicals, plastics, etc.) The lesson here: get insurance related to any international transportation movement!