Study to Focus on Effects of Shipping Containers Lost at Sea

This shipping container was discovered upside down on the seafloor by MBARI researchers in June 2004, four months after it was lost at sea. Researchers will revisit this site during the upcoming cruise.

Container ships are increasing in size yet the technology that keeps those massive containers strapped down is not. Unsurprisingly, given this, the number of containers lost over the side of these massive ships is increasing each year.

But it’s a mostly hidden problem, one that is barely acknowledged by the authorities.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall off the ships that carry them across the seas, and, for the first time, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are going to investigate the effect that a shipping container has on the surrounding environment when it is finally laid to rest on the seafloor.

Using a robotic submarine to study the biological impacts of the containers, MBARI researchers will focus on a lost container that is resting at a depth of about 1,300 metres (or 4,200 feet). The container was located during a marine biology dive in 2004.

During the dive the researchers were able to read the serial numbers on the side of the container, which allowed them and the US Customs Agency to determine that the container fell off the merchant vessel Med Taipei, which left San Francisco on February 25, 2004, in the middle of a winter storm. The found container is in fact one of twenty-four that were lost during the vessel’s trip to the Port of Los Angeles.

This map shows the reported position of the container ship Med Taipei when it lost lost 15 containers overboard on February 26, 2004. It also shows where one of these containers landed on the seafloor, just outside of Monterey Bay.

The MBARI dive will be led by Andrew DeVogelaere, research coordinator at the MBNMS, and James Barry, a senior scientist at MBARI, who will be traveling aboard MBARI’s Western Flyer and using the remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts to take a closer look at the container itself, before moving on to count the number of deep-sea animals on and around the container and collect samples of sediment at various distances from the container.

The US Customs manifest shows that the container in question contains 1,159 steel-belted tires. Other containers that fell overboard held cyclone fencing, leather chairs, and mattress pads.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

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