Container Losses Fall to Record Low with Study of Parametric Rolling

containers floating in the ocean
Containers lost overboard fellto a record low in 2023 (AMSA file photo)

Published Jun 11, 2024 5:38 PM by The Maritime Executive


The container shipping industry continues to make strong progress in reducing the number of boxes lost overboard. The World Shipping Council, an industry group made up of the major carriers, reports for the second year in a row that the number of containers lost at sea has fallen to record-low levels as they make progress on managing parametric rolling and other dangers from loading to properly securing boxes.

Under the auspices of the Netherlands’ marine institute Marin, a multi-year project launched in May 2021 to improve the safety of the transportation of containers and cargo after a series of disastrous, high-profile casualties. The work has produced extensive data and helped to educate mariners, especially on the dangers of parametric rolling and how to manage it. They also developed a calculator to help determine the risk based on sea and weather conditions as well as a vessel’s specification.

As the study prepares to publish its final paper, the World Shipping Council is citing the continuing decrease in the overboard losses. In 2023, they reported just 221 containers were lost at sea out of 250 million transported. That is a decrease of two-thirds over the 661 containers reported lost overboard in 2023. The three-year average however remains higher at 1,061 due to the large losses in 2021.

“During 2023, most WSC member carriers saw no or single-digit container losses,” reports the trade group in its annual report of container losses. They said that only one carrier reported losses above 100 units for the year. Maersk suffered one of the highest profile losses of 2023 losing 46 containers into the North Sea, with a variety of cargo including what some observers described as an “ocean of shores” washing ashore on the Danish coast. A Maersk chartered vessel also lost six containers, including plastic pellets which washed ashore on the coast of Northern Spain.

According to the WSC, the number indicates a positive trend of increasing container safety, as well as improved navigational safety and vessel routing. They also highlight that a third of the containers lost (33%) were recovered.

"The reduction in containers lost at sea in 2023 is a positive development, but it does not diminish the urgency of our work," said John Butler, CEO of the World Shipping Council. “Every container lost at sea represents a potential hazard, and our commitment to preventing these incidents must be unwavering.”

According to the WSC, the liner shipping industry remains committed to working with governments and other stakeholders to implement effective safety measures and ensure the secure transport of containers. The progress achieved so far serves as a foundation for further action and continuous improvement they noted.

It comes as the International Maritime Organization has also moved to require mandatory reporting and developed a system to monitor and alert to the dangers. Starting in 2026, the IMO is making the master of the vessel responsible for reporting losses as well as containers spotted floating in the water.

The World Shipping Council commended the IMO effort while noting that it had actively participated in shaping the revisions. They also contributed to efforts including the revision of the ISO standards for container lashing equipment and fittings as well as the Code of Practice for Cargo Transport Units.