IMO agrees on new measures to detect and report containers lost at sea
The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 103) meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was held remotely from 5 to 14 May. One of the issues discussed at the meeting – among a very comprehensive list on the agenda, was new measures to mitigate for containers lost at sea.
Containers lost at sea represent a potential danger to maritime safety and is 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. 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; it may be due to bad weather conditions or 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.
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.
The MSC therefore agreed to initiate new measures to detect and report containers lost at sea, which may enhance the positioning, tracking and recovery of such containers. The IMO 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 (a) 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.
Over the next couple of years, the IMO will develop such 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.