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Falling Overboard: Cargo Lost at Sea



The ocean is a transportation highway for cargo containers that fuel the global economy. As with any highway or road, the sea has its fair share of accidents. In 2019 alone, over $4 trillion worth of cargo was transported by sea, but not every container arrived safely at its destination.


Traversing the Ocean is a Risky Undertaking


Despite our technological advancements, the ocean remains a dangerous and unpredictable terrain that can throw even the most advanced vessels for a loop or, in the worst cases, down into the briny depths. Every year, cargo is lost to the sea due to unexpected storm surges, improper container storage, or ship malfunctions.

According to the World Shipping Council, an average of 1,382 containers have been lost at sea each year since 2008. Some years are worse than others due, in large part, to events that lead to catastrophic losses for specific vessels and their cargo.


MV Rena Grounded on a Reef in 2011


The M/V Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of New Zealand, creating an ordeal that lasted nearly four and a half years. Stuck in the middle of the sea and carrying 1,368 containers, salvaging Rena and cleaning up the mess it left was no small task. Despite the salvaging efforts, an estimated 900 containers were lost.


MOL Comfort Hogged in Half in 2013


For reasons still unknown, the MOL Comfort suffered from hogging (upward bowing of the ship’s center) that resulted in the ship splitting in half 200 miles off the coast of Yemen. The stern sank about 10 days later while an ill-fated rescue operation for the bow section was underway. After a fire broke out, ravaging the still-floating half of the ship and its cargo, the bow began taking on water and eventually sank to the bottom of the sea as well. In the end, MOL Comfort took 4,293 containers with it to the bottom of the ocean.


ONE Apus Rolled in a Swell in 2020


During ONE Apus’ voyage from Yantian, China to Long Beach, California, the vessel was struck by a violent storm which caused the ship to roll and dislodge a large portion of its containers into the ocean. The final tally places current estimates of the total number of lost containers from this incident at over 2,250, but inspection of the remaining containers and their contents is still underway to determine total losses incurred.

While catastrophic events like these are quite rare, cases of containers being lost at sea in smaller numbers are much more common. Sometimes ships meet with difficulties that result in the need for jettisoning some of its cargo to reduce the vessel’s weight and ensure the safety of the vessel and its crew. These cases fall under the General Average clause found in most bills of lading.


What is General Average?


The General Average clause applies when a vessel makes necessary voluntary sacrifices of cargo for the safety of the ship, the crew, and the rest of its goods. This can often happen as a result of a fire breaking out or the ship being damaged in a storm. When a General Average is declared, all cargo owners (even those whose cargo was unaffected) must contribute to the losses incurred before they can gain access to their own cargo.


Cargo Insurance Protects Your Investments


As history has shown us, ocean voyages can be a perilous undertaking with any number of potential issues that can arise without warning. Therefore, cargo insurance continues to be the best tool for shippers that want to protect their investments.

While no one can guarantee your cargo’s safe passage on the open waters, ClearFreight can offer you complete cargo insurance coverage that will protect your investments from being impacted by the unexpected dangers that can be found at sea. Contact ClearFreight for a quote on cargo insurance and learn other ways we can make your shipping process less stressful for you.

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