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Studying the Impact of Lost Shipping Containers

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the modern-day-treasure dept.

Earth 236

swellconvivialguy writes "Looking at a picture of the world's largest container ship, it's easy to visualize how 10,000 containers fall overboard from these vessels every year. Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are now undertaking the Lost Container Cruise, an attempt to gauge the effects of shipping containers lost at sea by studying a tire-filled container, which marine biologists discovered in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (The research [PDF] is being funded by a multi-million dollar settlement with the operators of the Med Taipei, the ship that lost the cargo.) The work is not unlike studying a deep water shipwreck: Use robotic submarine to take pictures and collect sediment samples; repeat."

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studying th e impact in my pants (1, Funny)

slashpot (11017) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427500)

I'm studying the impact in my pants.

So THAT'S where my Chinese Ebay battery went (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427524)

Times two.
Both were probably Lost at sea in transit from the Beijing sellers to my home.
;-)

Can't they tie them down? (2)

yog (19073) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427562)

Wow, 10,000? Why don't they use chains or something to hold those bad boys down in choppy waters? Or, I don't know, built steel railings along the perimeters? Or inter-locking Lego-like attachments between containers?

I guess the good news is that they will mostly sink down into the muddy bottom and be out of the way. You wouldn't want those things floating on the surface like icebergs or something.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (4, Insightful)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427600)

I guess the good news is that they will mostly sink down into the muddy bottom and be out of the way.

Strangely most of them float, as ocean yachtsmen will testify; they're a serious hazard.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428002)

Just as depressing is the estimation that a single large container ship emits as much greenhouse gasses in a day as all the cars in US do in a year. Staggering how shitty that is.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428200)

Citation needed

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428416)

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428506)

SOx is not a greenhouse gas. It is, however, air pollution and acid rain.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

bye (87770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428518)

But that does not prove your point - sulphur oxide pollution is just a very small part of what cars emit: CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that cars emit, and US cars emit several orders of magnitude more CO2 than just 15 container ships ...

Nice trolling in any case.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428636)

Not to mention op stated "that a single large container ship emits as much greenhouse gasses in a day as all the cars in US do in a year", correct me if wrong but the citation states 15 of these ships equals that.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428642)

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428390)

They take a very long time (days) to fill and finally sink, but 'float' from 3" to 3' below the water surface before they do. Hit one of them offshore in a sailboat or pleasureboat and you are in deep trouble.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427618)

Because that would cost more than just claiming it against insurance. Those ships run 24x7... they would lose more money from downtime than they would ever make it worthwhile in keeping that shit on deck. Picture perfect example of the tragedy of the commons colliding with unregulated capitalism.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (5, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427692)

>>>Picture perfect example of the tragedy of the commons colliding with unregulated capitalism.

Sadly for you, this is NOT a perfect example because the Ship (and train) containers do interlock like legos and they do tie them down with chains. Shippers really do NOT want to tell their customers, "We lost your cargo," and risk losing them to competitors. They'd prefer to have zero loss.

But of course zero loss is as impractical as zero downtime for your website or the software you are writing. It's an unrealistic demand.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Cramer (69040) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428370)

Have you looked at a cargo container? They do not interlock. But they do fit together. Any interlocks are extra devices added to the pod, or it's carrier.

I've never seen a cargo ship with even one chain dogged down. Granted, they could throw chains on once at sea. The one I watched steam up the Cooper river in Charleston, SC a few weeks ago didn't have any chains anywhere. It would take some serious chains to hold an 80ft stack of pods in place.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428656)

I've worked at N.I.T. in VA and I assure you they are secured.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

citylivin (1250770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428676)

Shippers really do NOT want to tell their customers, "We lost your cargo," and risk losing them to competitors.

I was under the impression that the way they write these kinds of transoceanic contracts is that you are actually responsible for your cargo. You are responsible for getting it insured, and you are responsible for the loss NOT the shipper. Amazing, but I do remember reading that from some research I did some time ago.

In that case, the shipper doesnt care one bit if your cargo makes it over. I also learned that you would never want to ship something priceless by sea (such as all your possessions in a move) because they basically say that they are not responsible - even if they totally are.

Unfortunately I cannot find any supporting links at this time.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (5, Informative)

GreenTom (1352587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427774)

Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com] . I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428344)

Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com] . I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually

That's kind of awesome. I feel like this belongs in a demotivation poster. Maybe "Sure, I could hack it together over the weekend" or "This is what your code will look like to the next developer."

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428418)

Here's a pic of a container ship after going through rough seas: http://i.imgur.com/4ynah.jpg [imgur.com] . I'm stunned that those containers are still on board. Looks like they're chained down, but even metal breaks eventually

It appears that there are a few container missing, but holy tiedown, Batman, that's an extra heapload more robust than I would have thought. And imagining the seas that vessel must have endured makes me want to sit down immediately.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

VanGarrett (1269030) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428618)

If you look at those two green containers on the far right, hanging in the air with nothing supporting them, I'd say they must be secured in some fashion, otherwise, they could not possibly be where they are. The containers on the left seem to be hanging in the air as well. That circumstance would be adequately explained with chains.

The ocean can be pretty rough. Clearly, the methods used to secure cargo are occasionally overcome.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Psychopath (18031) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427862)

Nice try. 10,000 is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of the 18,000,000 containers that make 200,000,000 trips every year. I'm surprised it's not more.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428186)

>>>10,000 is a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of..... 200,000,000 trips

99.995% reliability for shipping. Not bad. That's close to the reliability of phone service (five 9's).

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428272)

I thought that number (containers) would be higher. It feels like the NY/NJ port should hit that alone pretty quickly (but a quick look at their website indicates it's only about 5mil annually). Guess it's just the container graveyard that makes it seem so big.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428310)

Ignoring the fact that "unregulated capitalism" doesn't exist anywhere-- including Taiwan as in the incident recounted in this article-- Chinese shipping containers are also often lost. I assure you, their capitalism is regulated to the highest degree; however, their priorities differ from yours.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

kidgenius (704962) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427620)

They DO lash the containers down. But, you start getting a lot of swaying going on, and those lashings can break free.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

DocZayus (1046358) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427626)

But if they floated, wouldn't it be easier to find and recover instead of letting whatever's in it to rot and pollute the oceans?

Re:Can't they tie them down? (4, Insightful)

kidgenius (704962) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427686)

Consider a few scenarios....

Let's say it goes overboard and you don't realize it until you get to port. Now, you have to send a ship out to pick it up, and you have no clue where it is. Currents and storms could've pushed that container to who knows where, and that's assuming they floated instead of sunk. How long do you search for it? Searching at all would cost orders of magnitudes more than the container is likely worth.

Now, let's say it goes overboard and you DO realize it. Do you stop? Follow along as the container floats until another vessel can come pick it up? Those container ships don't have cranes to pick something out of the water with. The cranes are always at the docks. How much does that cost to wait next to a single container (at worst, from a value perspective) while a ship comes and picks it up. What about lost money due to perishables in other containers going bad?

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427786)

GPS beacons on containers + weekly cleanup ships which collect all the floating containers in a particular area

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

jdpars (1480913) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428074)

Actual GPS is not cheap. Cell tower "GPS" is cheap. There are no cell towers in the ocean, as far as I know.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

SockPuppetOfTheWeek (1910282) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428164)

Actual GPS is actually pretty cheap, but knowing where you are isn't very helpful unless you also have a way of telling someone where that is so that they can come pick you up. You need a radio or satellite transmitter that's capable of relaying your coordinates to someone who's on land, or at least a few hundred miles off. That's what makes it expensive, not so much the GPS portion of the device.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428386)

Actual GPS is actually pretty cheap, but knowing where you are isn't very helpful unless you also have a way of telling someone where that is so that they can come pick you up. You need a radio or satellite transmitter that's capable of relaying your coordinates to someone who's on land, or at least a few hundred miles off. That's what makes it expensive, not so much the GPS portion of the device.

Sea-going, radio-based distress beacons are an established technology for boats of any size. My understanding is that they carry their signal pretty far, even if it is low-tech.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (5, Funny)

zebs (105927) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428174)

There are no cell towers in the ocean, as far as I know.

Apart from the ones that fell off the ship.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428414)

Actual GPS is not cheap. Cell tower "GPS" is cheap. There are no cell towers in the ocean, as far as I know.

GPS is cheap. Cell-phone towers have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

a_nonamiss (743253) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428432)

I believe you are incorrect. Sirf Star III and IV chipsets are less than $20 - $30. That's not cell tower GPS, that's real GPS. How else would you explain why my $70 Garmin Forerunner watch can provide me with longitude/latitude on an airplane or in the middle of an ocean? Of course, that's just the price of a chip. You need a power supply and some sort of transmitter to relay the data back to somewhere, but I'd imagine that they could purpose-design a system like this for well under a couple hundred dollars, when purchased in bulk. Considering a new shipping container costs around $2000, it doesn't sound too unreasonable. And it'll have benefits for the shipper as well. I'd imagine an average container could easily contain a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of merchandise. A single recovered container could pay for thousands of GPS systems.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

GreenTom (1352587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427962)

Hmmm...just brainstorming, but shouldn't it be pretty cheap to put a GPS and water-activated beacon in each container? I bet the GPS is already there in a lot of cases, I can see that paying for itself in logistics management once the thing's on a train or truck. Then the insurance or salvage companies could operate smaller oceangoing cranes to scoop them up. Anyone have a guess what the average value of the contents of a container is? Since insurance companies and/or shippers are paying for all these losses, doesn't seem like it would have to be much to maybe worth somethign like this. Then again, maybe the cargo's worthless after a dip in the ocean. http://www.ttclub.com/TTCLUB/PubArc.nsf/D5E4C4B3A805731980256792004C617E/02CE747115C182F780256A6500596BF5?OpenDocument [ttclub.com]

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

spacey (741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428078)

Making the signal public after a week or so lost (to give the owner/shipper a chance to pick it up), and adding in the fact that there are rights to salvage in the open sea, and you'd probably have a great business opportunity.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428454)

In my past, I was exporting in excess for my clients 2000 TEU's per week, the loss of a container was a very big issue for my client. lucky for me I had only one claim in my transport career. But with that said, the device that needs to be designed is rather simple. it's a beacon type, that when it turns 180 degrees it becomes active. I am rather sure that at one point of the entire process the containers beacon would trigger.

You get very wet while on the High Seas and it is normal when you are traveling around the world, the vessel pumps are dumping a rather huge amount during storms. so you really want the tracking device only to be activated while it's falling off the deck and rotating, I've seen vessels move 20 degrees or more due to wind and wave action, so you don't want beacons being activated without reason.

Just to think out loud, How would a signal transmit from 1000M below sea floor? I am guessing that it could transmit while it's still floating but afterwards as it's sinking, would it still work?

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Cramer (69040) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428468)

Value after it's been soaking in seawater for a few days? Next to nothing. Scrape metal maybe. Rarely will you find water tight containers within the cargo pods. Even the cargo container itself wouldn't be in great shape after a few days in salt water.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427688)

If they floated, then why put them on a ship? Won't someone please think of the ships?

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428088)

They tend to float with their tops right at the surface, so they're really hard to see.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428326)

They do float (I guess depending on what is in them, I'm not sure what their max weight and hence density is).

And hence other smaller ships hit them and sink.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427650)

FYI, they do interlock with each other. Otherwise you would have far more lost every year. There are millions and millions of containers shipped every year, 10k is really nothing.

Re:Can't they tie them down? - Not gonna help... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427656)

Ummm, they do interlock using locking pins - so in normal rough-and-tumble they stay together... that doesn't do diddly when the ship lists 45 degrees and then you get side to side rolling of the deck - those locking pins sheer off, and away they go. Ropes and railing won't really help that much, either. Plus, if you DID keep them all together, and fastened to the deck - you'd risk capsizing the cargo container ship, and sending the whole mess to the bottom of the ocean. Better to lose a container or two - and claim it on insurance.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (4, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427666)

According to Wikipedia there are around 18 million shipping containers in the world that make over 200 million trips per year. Which means that 10,00 lost at sea each year is just a drop in the bucket. Spending any significant amount of money to reduce that number would not be a worthwhile expenditure.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427732)

According to Wikipedia, there is over 250 million cars in use in the US alone that travel a staggering 5+ trillion miles. Which means that 20,000 people that die in the hundreds of thousands of crashes is just a drop in the bucket. Spending any significant amount of money to reduce this amount would not be a worthwhile expenditure.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427784)

Yeah! Won't somebody think of all the stowaways drowning in the shipping containers?!

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427890)

You can't replace someone's mother.

You can replace a shipping container full of t-shirts.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427892)

It is a drop in the bucket.

You have a poor argument to begin with because as vehicles become safer, drivers in general are more comfortable and feel safer to the point that they drive more recklessly thus defeating the advantages of fancy brake and steering systems. The only easily viable way of actually protecting drivers from themselves on average would be to have race car quality roll cages.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428036)

Or self driving cars. We could call them "automobiles."

Re:Can't they tie them down? (3, Insightful)

GreenTom (1352587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428040)

The data doesn't really support your claim. Between 1920 and 2000, the rate of fatal automobile accidents per vehicle-mile decreased by a factor of about 17. No idea if that's better technology, drunk driving laws, better educated drivers, better roads or whatever, but the idea that transportation safety can't be influenced just doesn't hold up.

Despite libertarians wishes, policy actually does matter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_safety_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428680)

Automobiles all had safety belts, air bags, and safety-oriented cabin designs before these features were mandated by governments. They just weren't in 100% of vehicles. That being said, reasonable regulation might actually be a good use of the "general welfare" clause, as long as those nanny regulations come directly from Congress or from departments created by Congress. Mind you, there are ridiculous misses, like the mandated seat belt ignition interlock that cost consumers and taxpayers millions to remove when the technology was proved unusable.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Cramer (69040) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428524)

Without government regulations and multi-million dollar lawsuits, we wouldn't. Cost-Benefit has cost many people's lives... because it's cheaper to settle than fix the problem.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

dainbug (678555) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427770)

spending any significant amount of money to reduce that number would not be a worthwhile expenditure.

Well, unless you calculate the real long term damage it does to oceans -> microbes -> plankton -> fish -> humans.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428162)

Like providing a habitat for them? Take a look at the story, the container in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary became a habitat for sea cucumbers, snails, and crabs.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428318)

I actually figured it wasn't something like that. I know they stripped down old NYC subway cars and used them to form a new reef.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428168)

Umm, they're (well the ones that do sink) actually beneficial as they form artificial reefs/protect from trawling etc.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428192)

Which is probably also a drop in the bucket.

The real damage is marine cargo insurance, which is already scandalously high. Of course, if they're already charging 1-3% (and they are) with a loss rate of 0.005% (10k losses out of 200M shipments), then lowering the loss rate further probably isn't going to change much of anything.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428580)

The article talks about the "real long term damage" it does to them-- which is nothing. And people who say, "if it saves only one little fishie" are even worse that the "think of the children" crowd.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427798)

You know they're not just sending the containers back and forth right? It's the stuff inside them which is important.
If those 10,000 contain bigscreen TVs or computers or cars or [insert expensive item here...], then each ""lost"" (heavy quotation there) container could cost a lot of money.

Though, to the GP, it was my understanding that most ship captains had a policy about dumping cargo in high-seas in cases where the ship may be in danger; so any attempts at securing the containers would need to support quickly releasing the containers, as well as not delay (un)loading of containers when in port.
Also, ""lost"" containers provide a tidy profit to those that find them.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427724)

I wonder how many of those contained people.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (5, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427768)

Except for steel railings, the shippers do everything you have mentioned. The reason for no railing is that the containers themselves are the structure and they are stacked far above the hull of the ship.

Here is the tie down that goes between the containers http://www.tandemloc.com/0_securing/S_AD54000A.asp [tandemloc.com]

Here is a picture of the lashing used http://www.flickr.com/photos/blueship/137784714/ [flickr.com]

Re:Can't they tie them down? (2)

Cramer (69040) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428578)

Also note, only the level at deck level is tied down -- most ships stack *much* higher than the deck. And there appear to be no pins between the containers.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427932)

I propose that we fill the ocean with dirt, and then drive our cargo across on trucks.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428236)

The dirt will just turn into mud. We'd first have to pump all the water out.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428254)

Good thinking. First we need to research waterproof dirt.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

SockPuppetOfTheWeek (1910282) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428312)

No problem, just pump it into the Grand Canyon.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

KUHurdler (584689) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428358)

great idea. Then we can sell lake-front condos.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428156)

They usually ARE interlocked. They have holes on their corners which are clamped together with standardized clamps.

Re:Can't they tie them down? (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428528)

The sad thing is that they *can* interlock. Most of these are intermodal shipping containers and have the ability to bolt together with a twist interlock. Unfortunately to save labor and shipping time, the companies moving them often don't bother to put the twist locks in and rely on gravity instead, which works... mostly. This isn't just the cargo shipping business not locking things down either. I've heard tale of freight train operators doing the same thing, which is a scary thought that I'm sure nobody would ever admit to unless they got caught.

Lost vs. "Lost" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427588)

I have no that that a large number of cargo containers really do fall off during bad weather or whatever, but I wonder what percentage of that 10,000 are lost at sea vs. "lost at sea" while the dock workers look the other way.

Re:Lost vs. "Lost" (4, Funny)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427606)

I have no that that a large number of cargo containers really do fall off during bad weather or whatever, but I wonder what percentage of that 10,000 are lost at sea vs. "lost at sea" while the dock workers look the other way.

While some of the contents of my shipping container mysteriously vanished on the way across the Atlantic, I can't help but feel that someone is going to notice if a dock worker tries to drive out of the docks with a forty-foot container sticking out of the trunk of their car.

Re:Lost vs. "Lost" (2)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427850)

Indeed. And even if the shipping companies didn't care, there's the whole customs thing -- most oceanic freight is international, not intra-national. Even though customs is a joke, it would be sort of difficult to claim that a container was lost at sea after it cleared customs.

Re:Lost vs. "Lost" (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428576)

Just because it came off of the ship doesn't mean the Customs ever got notified that it's in the yard. It's even possible that, *gasp!* people with rather high dollar interests managed to find a way to bribe officials to let a truck or two out without documentation, or to forge documentation that made it look legitimate.

Consider these container ship pictures and the number of containers present, then consider that there are a lot more than one ship's container load in a dockyard, and that containers can be loaded on to rail, tractor trailer, or on to other ships, and in some places can probably be manually emptied. There's probably a whole railyard in the area, and a large fleet of tractor trailers. It's probable that they genuinely lose stuff in the yard without meaning to, and that some stuff that hasn't cleared customs genuinely gets accidentally loaded for outbound shipping. Further consider how much of what we buy comes in from overseas (almost all TVs and other consumer electronics, most small appliances, some large appliances, lots of cheap tools and equipment, most of our furniture, most of our clothing, lots of food, etc) it's no wonder there's real worry that our shipping is the next target for attack.

If you want to fix all of this, the simple solution is to upgrade the security at the ports to the point that the speed of the non-security setup we currently have is maintained, and factor that cost into the cost to ship. That could mean 100x the number of personnel, billions of dollars in equipment, and probably new legislation to get it to happen, but it'll have a few benefits- first, one reduces the "lost" container problem, as it's much harder to bribe the necessary number of officials when there are many more officials paying attention. Second, it reduces the real possibility of an attack, as suddenly containers get the scrutiny that they should. Third, if the real cost to pay for all of this gets built into the price of the good, suddenly foreign goods are much more expensive than they were relative to domestic goods, which benefits our domestic economy and is difficult to label as an unfair tariff as it's just forcing importers to pay for the real security costs to import.

Re:Lost vs. "Lost" (4, Interesting)

onepoint (301486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428594)

it's rather simple, the way a container get's lost is ...
a) declared not lifted by the crane operator and marks his list showing that he lifted only 1 less than what he really lifted.
b) that container is placed on a truck, and stacked near the empties.
c) wait for the late gate to be opened one day, and have a yard hauler move it over to someone warehouse. ( the late gate is not
that effective in counting containers leaving the port, that gate is good for last minute cargo that has to make it to the vessel or export.)
d) unload container
e) give the container to a buddy at the scrap yard he grinds it and it's gone.

I once lost a container at the port. I was warned that once I was at the port, I might not make it back ( containers do fall, even on windless days ),
so I went to the port with a few people, paid a union man to drive me around and stick to my side like butter on bread ( ever see a union port worker nervous )
and by pot luck found my container. What they did not know at that time is that I was renting P&O and Cast Line containers for redeliver back to china, so these containers were blue, rather easy to see, and I quickly found it. the export cargo was worth in excess of 400K and I did not want this customer to go to another shipper.

A note to outsiders: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427630)

I fink 10000 containers will fill up to the brim the whole Monterey Bay including National Marine Sanctuary.

Losses... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427658)

Due to "piracy"? That's how the *IAA and SBA account for those huge piracy numbers!

Future shock (2)

frisket (149522) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427676)

Marine archaeologists of the future are going to have a ball examining all these boxes on the seabed.

"We believe that late 20th century humans had a variety of cults, worshipping (among other totems) rubber models of ducks and some strange-looking footwear..."

Re:Future shock (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428466)

and some strange-looking footwear..."

Well they're right about half the populous.

Really lost? I wonder. (1)

hilldog (656513) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427684)

Considering the huge opportunity for graft I wonder how many containers are simply off loaded at sea to other vessels and reported lost? Insurance covers the loss for the owners of the containers and the crew makes a killing.

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (4, Insightful)

kidgenius (704962) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427708)

Transferring isn't really viable. These ships don't have cranes on em. How in the world would you, at sea, pluck a container from the top of the stack and move it to another boat? Helicopter? That's a logistical and economical nightmare for a couple of containers....

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (0)

2names (531755) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427756)

"How in the world would you, at sea, pluck a container from the top of the stack and move it to another boat?"

You don't. You let one that floats "fall" off the ship and smaller ships collect just the contents, not the container.

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427928)

And how do you propose just letting one "fall" off? Are you suggesting that one of the crew repel up the cargo to somehow release the pins to a container, and then what? Have the captain create a large enough list for it to fall off?

Are you serious?

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428316)

Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.
-Archimedes

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428548)

Other then the act of repelling being a downward action, yeah, something like that.
Climb up, unbolt, push off. Or simply wait for a storm to knock it off for you.

It would be even simpler to open the container and take all the goodies below deck first. That way it's lighter for the storm to abscond with the evidence and you don't need a buddy with a boat.
It's theft, not rocket science.

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428542)

By having a crane on the second ship?

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (1)

Anonymous Psychopath (18031) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427918)

Considering the huge opportunity for graft I wonder how many containers are simply off loaded at sea to other vessels and reported lost? Insurance covers the loss for the owners of the containers and the crew makes a killing.

Losing a container is a very rare event, even though the number seems large. Practical problems aside, it would be very obvious if this sort of thing were happening. That's assuming none of 50 people involved never talked about it.

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428128)

More likely that some of the lost containers were never actually loaded on a ship.

Re:Really lost? I wonder. (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428420)

It doesn't matter how much the insurer pays, you'll still piss off the owner, since almost all containers are leased.

Just more junk on the seafloor (2)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427858)

This reminds me of a photograph a friend of mine showed me years ago from a dive trip to the Red Sea. While there on a dive at a random site (live aboard dive boat), they ran across a contrainer on the bottom in about 80 feet of water that had broken open, of all the possible treasures it might have contained it was full of toilets. The photo showed a diver sitting on an upright one in the pile of toilets.

Re:Just more junk on the seafloor (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428172)

Tada!!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/17685394@N04/1847030233/ [flickr.com]

That's a lot of toilets...

Re:Just more junk on the seafloor (2)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428502)

Nope, that's a crapload of toilets!

Enviromental Impact of Study (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427948)

Next they can do an environmental impact of the study that studied the lost container.
How much fossil fuel was used by the sub going down there to get samples.
How much damage did the sub do by disturbing the site.
How many trees were used to print the journal the research was published in.

I see a theoretical grey market here (1)

DemonGenius (2247652) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428016)

I'm stretching the definition of grey as much as possible here. Anyone with the right resources could probably travel through these shipping routes and reclaim these lost shipping containers. If none of the contents get damaged, then they could probably be sold on the grey market since the manufacturers have probably already scratched these off their records already as losses. Only flaw here is that the cost of doing business would outweigh the profits generated from selling the goods, if they even happen to be undamaged. Also, any competition here would make this business unfeasible and possibly very bloody.

Re:I see a theoretical grey market here (1)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428342)

Also, any competition here would make this business unfeasible and possibly very bloody.

Shedding blood for a trove of sweatpants does not a good pirate make.

Just think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428050)

There is probably a large container full of Colecos sitting, waiting to be discovered and put up on eBay.

cargo lost gallery (2)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428110)

Wasn't there a similar post about cargo lost? I bookmarked this page on "Gallery of Transport Loss -- Photos & Lessons of Disaster" at http://www.cargolaw.com/gallery.html [cargolaw.com] and oh man are there zillions of photos of all kinds of transport accidents. Some cargo damaged at ports but the amount lost at sea is staggering! Though be careful as this site is interesting and can become a huge timepit surfing through all the pics.

All kinds of disasters including "Meals Ready to Explode" (ya know all them MREs with water activated heaters, what about containers filled with MREs with their heaters and water gets inside), http://www.cargolaw.com/2001nightmare_mre2.html [cargolaw.com]

Here's an interesting mention from the cargolaw webpage:
"We are frequently asked the question: Do Containers Float? Why yes, they do -- at least for a while depending upon the container age, whether there are holes and the volume of air within the stow. There are many documented cases of partially submerged containers -- floating just at the surface which have been hazards to navigation. In Year 2000 the entire crew of the F/V Solway Harvester fishing trawler perished when their vessel struck a partially submerged container in the North Sea -- laden with mayonnaise. You probably have never considered mayonnaise to be dangerous. "

Loading order (3, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428478)

The article should really look a bit into why container ships are loaded the way they are. The article contends, with no fact to support this contention, that one of the issue is that heavy containers that are loaded high on the sip are a major cause of the issue. Their solution is to load heavy containers first. Lets look into what would be required to do this feat.

1a. Every time a container come it it would be sorted by size so that the large one would be easily accessed first.
    Issues:
            containers come in one at a time over quite a long period of time. what happens if many light ones come after all the heavy ones? The heavy ones get burried.
1b. Alternately, sort the containers before they are loaded.
        This would require more space and handling each container at least one additional time.

Lets assume that all the heavy containers are in the bottom of the ship. The article neglects the fact that container ships usually make more than one offloading stop. They are currently loaded so that the containers can be unloaded at each stop while still maintaining the balance of the ship. If the heavy containers are at the bottom, it would require unloading containers above the heavy containers, unloading the heavy containers and re-loading the light containers. This takes time and space.

Every minute a container ship is tied up at a dock costs money. The sorting and excess loading/unloading take time. Most ports are also very crowded and do not have the space required to do the sorting of containers to make sure heavy containers are loaded lower. There is also a limited number of berths for container ships. The longer a ship is in port means fewer ships can be loaded and unloaded by that port.

One final point, everything breaks. Even light containers go overboard. A perfect example is the container full of tires. Compared to shipments such as metals, tires are relatively light but a container full of them still went overboard. Given rough enough water even an empty container can break loose.

Here are some of the parameters that container loading software uses to place containers on a ship.
        the weight of each container being handled
        which port each container will be unloaded at
        if the container is refrigerated, and needs to be plugged in during the voyage
        if the container’s contents are hazardous, as these could be potentially explosive if placed next to a refrigerated container
        advising Customs of the ship’s arrival and reporting the cargo on board
        the order in which the containers will be loaded and unloaded.
A lot of science goes into the efficient loading and unloading of containers; sorting by weight is taken into account but not the overriding consideration.

Recycle Containers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428624)

A little off topic, but one of the things I find fascinating is that China manufactures cargo containers to ship goods to the US. The US does not ship the empties back to China because it costs too much. Instead, the US melts them down and recycles the metal.

Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428650)

A question for someone involved with Asia <--> N.American shipping. What are the containers filled with when headed back to China et al? Are they largely empty? Filled with scrap material for 'recycling'?

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