New IMO measures to address containers lost at sea

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has agreed to initiate new measures to detect and report containers lost at sea, which may enhance their positioning, tracking and recovery.

As informed, the UN maritime body agreed to establish a compulsory system to declare the loss of containers and setting up means on board to easily identify the exact number of losses.

Together with such a system, the ships are obliged to report the loss of container(s) through a standardized procedure, possibly detailing, e.g. identification, cargo carried (particularly dangerous goods or harmful substances), or whether these containers may float and constitute a risk of collision with ships and boats.

The MSC 103 meeting was held remotely from 5 to 14 May. One of the issues discussed at the meeting was new measures addressing containers lost at sea.

Containers lost at sea represent a potential danger to maritime safety and are a threat to the environment, particularly with regard to the plastics they contain. Over the course of three months late last year and early this year, almost 3,500 containers were lost in a number of incidents in the Western Pacific.

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This is far above the numbers usually registered for the same period and has raised concern regarding the causes of these incidents.

The causes that may lead, in some cases, to the loss of containers at sea vary from bad weather conditions to high waves creating instability on board. The fact is that it is difficult to have precise figures on the number of containers lost, particularly as container visibility from the bridge may be limited by the containers themselves, and only the upper tiers and the nearest bays can be seen, according to BIMCO.

When a relatively distant stack of containers collapses, it is difficult to determine immediately and precisely how many containers are involved and when they fell. These events generally occur in adverse weather conditions that prevent immediate on-site investigation. For the crew, it is extremely dangerous to walk along unstable container stacks.

Over the next couple of years, the IMO will develop appropriate measures in order to mitigate containers fallen into the sea in the first place and to restore fidelity in the safety of container transport with the present fleet.