|This is the Italian container ship Ital Florida on a good day.|
|This is the Ital Florida on a bad day. They call it a "stack attack." She lost at least three fully loaded containers in the Arabian Sea.|
This is what the sea bed looks like in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California. It was one of 15 containers washed overboard from the merchant vessel Med Taipei.
WE CAN SAFELY add the word “container” to the list of perils that threaten those upon the sea.
Based on survey results, the World Shipping Council estimated in 2011 that on average there are approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year, not counting what they delicately refer to as “catastrophic events.” Those are times when ships lose “from 50 to several hundred” containers overboard in one accident.
And if you include the catastrophic losses, ships lose approximately 675 containers at sea every year.
Now, nothing spoils a nice day of sailing like running full-pelt into a half-submerged 40-foot container in stormy seas. And it’s even worse at night. For small yachts, these are perils as dangerous as any reef or rock. What’s more, they’re scattered all over the world’s oceans and they’re totally uncharted.
It’s not as if these were freak accidents. They happen all the time on a regular basis, and you can bet your life that the number of lost containers is growing every year. It seems to me that if you are going to defy the basic tenets of good seamanship, and overload your vessel with deck cargo piled so high that it topples overboard in heavy seas, then you ought by law to provide each and every container with an Epirb that activates itself if it falls overboard, plus a buoy on a long line to enable its recovery when it sinks. Then the shipping company should be made to recover the container before it is allowed to carry any more.
We worry about the amount of floating plastic and debris that is already fouling our deep-sea habitat and threatening the lives of sea creatures, but few of us pause to think how much trash is being deposited on the ocean floors in steel containers.
But besides that, human lives are at stake here. Floating containers are deadly to small boats. This ought not to be a game to see how many containers we can stack on deck without any falling overboard, and how much more profit we can make by piling a few more on top of that. It’s time the shipping companies faced up to their responsibilities and quit laying these death-traps for small-boat mariners.
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
— William Whiting, Eternal Father, Strong to Save
“Daddy, what’s a pink elephant?”
“It’s a beast of bourbon, my dear.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)