Atlantic Boat and Marine News and Information
Containers at Sea
CHARLESTON, SC (04/10/09) --

The ocean is a big place. And although collision with a container at sea is slim, it does happen. At any given time, between 5 and 6 million containers are in transit around the world. Depending on the source, estimates of the total number of containers lost overboard each year range between 2,000 and 10,000.

Containers are designed to be weather tight, but rarely are they watertight. The vast majority of containers lost overboard likely sink right away or after a few days. Depending on the container's contents, however, some can stay afloat for months. There have been recorded cases of containers lost in the Caribbean Sea found in the waters of Spain 15 months later.

Although containers can and do float, the idea they "float" submerged a few feet or more below the surface is a myth. It is not physically possible for a standard container to be totally immersed and freely floating some distance below the water's surface. Once they sink below the surface, they continue to sink. They can only be at surface level partially immersed or on their way to the bottom.

For a commercial steel hulled ship, collision with a container would cause little or no damage and would likely go unnoticed. A collision between a lightly built vessel such as a fiberglass hulled sailboat or trawler with a container could do serious damage.

The answer to avoiding or surviving such an offshore collision is diligent watches and good seamanship. Even though the chances are slim, that is no reason not to be prepared. Regardless of the cause, there are plenty of recorded sinkings inside of 2 minutes. Enter the 90 second rule. Your entire crew should be able to don life jackets, retrieve your ditch bag (including an EPIRB), and be prepared to deploy your life raft and leave the vessel in 90 seconds. The motions of this drill should be practiced, and timed, with your crew at the dock before each passage. Such exercises will not only train you and your crew to act in the face of adversity, it may demonstrate, for example, that things like stowing your life raft in a locker or below during a passage may not be a great idea.

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