Dealing with the dangers of lost containers >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News


A presentation titled “The dangers of lost sea containers for small vessels and recreational sailors” was given at a workshop on lost containers by World Sailing on European Maritime Day on May 20, 2021.

The presentation was made on behalf of World Sailing by Sir Alan Massey, Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy and former CEO of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency who, among others, now heads the World Sailing delegation to the Maritime Organization international (IMO).

Here are the bullet points of the presentation:

Why lost containers are a danger to small ships
• There are many !
• Containers often float, semi-submerged, with only a small part visible.
• There is no consistent ability to track or trace them.
• They are invisible to small vessels navigating at night.
• And very difficult to spot by day.

What damage can they do?
• Sharp corners of containers can puncture the fiberglass yacht hull.
• Damage from collisions below the waterline can be catastrophic and boats can sink.
• If a container hits the keel of a yacht at high speed, the keel may be fully or partially removed, resulting in capsizing or sinking.
• On modern yachts with deep, hydrodynamically efficient rudders, the rudder may be damaged or the entire rudder position broken.

How big is the problem?
• The World Shipping Council estimates that between 2008 and 2019, an average of 1,382 containers were lost at sea each year.
• Each of these containers presents potential risks to the safety of navigation, the safety of life and the environment.
• We are aware of numerous contacts with containers by sailboats, fishing boats and their gear.

What is the impact on sailors?
• Hard data is hard to come by and it is not always clear which objects were actually affected. We must therefore keep a sense of proportion.
• During the Transat Jacques Vabre Race 2015, “French Tech Rennes St Malo” was seriously damaged by a container and forced to retire.
• In the Vendée Globe Race 2016, there were five withdrawals following collisions with floating objects.
During the Transpac Race 2019, the trimaran “Maserati” damaged one of its hulls, again potentially by a container.
• This week, the yacht insurance company Pantaenius was informed that the yacht “Panacea” had been sunk, almost certainly by a container, off the coast of Kefalonia in Greece.
• The risks are real!

Can sailors avoid them?
• It is difficult! A semi-submerged container will rarely appear on radar. But…
•… Personal locator beacons, for example, attached to seafarers’ life jackets could be adapted to containers.
• If such devices were installed on containers, then small vessel crews could detect and avoid them.
•… and those mainly concerned by the environmental impact of lost containers would be able to find and recover them.

What is World Sailing doing about it?
• Together with other authorities, we are trying to change the law.
• We recently supported a new IMO lost container workflow that has the full agreement of the 27 EU countries, and many more.
• And we were delighted that the Maritime Safety Committee approved a new outcome last week on:
“Development of measures concerning the detection and mandatory declaration of containers lost at sea which can improve the positioning, tracking and recovery of these containers”. That’s very good news.

What we hope
• Wider recognition of the dangers posed to small craft.
• A simple and inexpensive technological solution to locate containers lost overboard.
• Continued pursuit by the EU of new ISO standards for tracking and containers lost at sea.
• A tracking and reporting system to help avoid collisions and enable container recovery.
• International support for such measures, in order to protect the safety of life and the environment.


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