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Shipping Containers Fall Overboard: How and What Happens Next?


It may come as a surprise to many, but not everything that gets placed on a cargo ship always makes it to its destination. Whether because of rough waters, accidents, or equipment malfunctions, shipping containers sometimes fall into the vast depths of the sea.


How Do Shipping Containers Go Overboard?

Even with all our modern technology and engineering, the ocean remains a dangerous and unpredictable place. In fact, there was a major loss of containers that happened recently as a result of a sudden storm. The ONE Apus rolled in late November of 2020, causing roughly 1,816 containers to fall into the ocean.

All kinds of disasters can happen out at sea, but the main concern for vessel owners is the safety of their crew and their ship. This means sometimes cargo may be sacrificed for the greater good of the ship, its crew, and the rest of the cargo on board.


What Happens After Shipping Containers Fall Overboard?

Regardless of how they got there, shipping containers don’t just fall into the ocean and disappear. In fact, many containers remain afloat for some time due to their contents or their construction. Some dislodged containers float long enough to make it all the way back to shore. Estimates place the number of containers currently floating in the sea at over 12,000.

Most containers sink either right away or after some time as water slowly seeps in. The containers themselves do not pose too much of a risk after they sink; however, their contents can pose a danger to the environment and nearby wildlife. For the most part, the containers sitting at the bottom of the ocean are fairly benign. This video shows how sea life can actually begin growing and living in dislodged containers.

Another consequence of containers going overboard is something called “General Average.”


What is General Average?

With its basis on the idea that cargo shippers and vessel owners are entering into a joint business venture, General Average is a maritime law that tries to fairly spread out the losses incurred when a vessel is forced to sacrifice some of the cargo on board.

Sometimes, vessel operators need to throw their cargo overboard to avoid sustaining greater losses. For example, a fire might break out in a shipping container and spread to other areas. The damages sustained in this fire and any cargo that is destroyed or has to be thrown overboard due to it posing further risk to the ship or its crew would be included in the General Average calculation.

When a General Average is invoked, all parties with cargo on that vessel will split the cost of the damages and lost cargo as a proportion of the value of each party’s own cargo. Cargo insurance is highly advised to mitigate or avoid the losses incurred from a General Average being called or other problems that can happen to the vessel on which your cargo is being carried.

While shipping cargo via the ocean is generally safe, accidents do happen. The key is to not be the person wishing they had the proper insurance coverage to protect them from losses. Contact the experts at ClearFreight today to discuss cargo insurance options and learn how our logistics solutions can help support your supply chain.

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