As giant vessels crisscross the oceans carrying containers containing everything from smartphones to chemicals, a significant number of them are getting lost in the process. The lost cargo containers are piling up in the oceans at an alarming rate as pressure to deliver huge cargo loads in the fastest time possible leads to errors and accidents.
There has been the biggest surge in lost cargo containers in the last 7 years. The shipping industry has reported 3,000 lost cargo containers in the last year alone. Over 2675 containers were reported lost in December 2020 and January 2021 alone.
A Spurt In Lost Cargo Containers In Recent Years
In 2021, 1,000 more lost cargo containers have been reported. While this has led to a disruption in the supply chain, it is the pollution caused that has triggered great concern among environmentalists.
Other than the pressure on the supply chain, the pandemic-led demand and inclement weather are being blamed for turning the shipping of cargo containers more treacherous each year.
Ever Given, recently stranded in the narrow Suez Canal is a prime example of the increase in the size and number of large containers that are leading to more accidents with each passing year.
The environmental consequences are disastrous as huge quantities of plastics are being dumped along with a lot of other toxic chemicals that will affect the accident zones for years. The plastic products contained in the lost cargo containers do not decompose but disintegrate into microplastics that are already causing huge damage to the ocean environment.
While the losses caused by the lost cargo containers are merely a fraction of the cargo that is transported annually. As 90% of the total cargo is moved through the sea, even as little as a thousandth of a percent loss reported at sea is a huge number.
Around 226 million containers are shipped on average every year. and that is mover environmental pollution that the oceans can handle, already suffocating under the plastic that flows in with the rivers, and are dumped deliberately at sea.
The tracking of just one spilled shipment illustrates the enormity of the problem. Ink cartridges were part of the consignment in several lost cargo containers back in 2014. Over 1,500 ink cartridges were tracked down by environmentalists using oceanographic models and assisted by social media. The spill off New York was traced to beaches in Florida and even Norway.
Estimates put the number of lost cargo containers each year in their thousands. They affect the seabed as they initially sink to the sea. But the real danger is when the containers get ruptured due to pressure and with time. The spilled contents of the lost cargo containers affect vast areas of the ocean as the study on the spilled ink cartridges shows.
Researchers from the Lost at Sea Project and Plymouth University found that the ink cartridges had disintegrated enough to release a large number of microplastics and toxic electronic chips.
These ink cartridges are tagged, declaring them as e-waste. Such products are to be disposed of with extra care. There exist stringent regulations about their transportation and disposal, though significantly, there exist no regulations on e-waste losses arising from shipping containers.
The Effect Of The Pandemic On Lost Cargo Containers
The pandemic has the opposite effect to what was initially anticipated. Instead of a drop in international, the restrictions led to a spurt in the online demand for goods. This led to a sharp spike in cargo shipments. The introduction of the stimulus check for Americans also led to a spurt in goods bound for the US.
The cargo industry was already under pressure to deliver more than it could handle before the pandemic. But the start of pandemic restriction and the following spurt in demand led to an upsurge in the number of lost cargo containers.
Ship captains were pressurized into moving through dangerous seas when prudence would have made them avoid it at other times. Many ships were ordered to move through storms instead of going around it to save time.
Matters were compounded by abnormally heavy seas in the North Pacific. 2 of the 5 biggest mishaps took place here and the ships lost most of their cargo. The winds recorded last year during that period were among the strongest that were recorded.
While the El Nino and the La Nina dictate weather patterns in the Pacific, strong winds are linked to an El Nino winter, but instead, it was a La Nina winter. It indicates that these weather phenomena did not have any bearing on the storms that raged in the Pacific Ocean last year.
The unpredictable nature of the weather patterns indicates that we are witnessing changes that could have a bearing on future shipping routes. Warmer waters in the oceans attributed to global warming are disrupting the La Nina and El Nino. Melting polar ice caps is further compounding the problem as they affect the jet stream.
It is obvious that changing weather patterns will continue to disrupt shipping and lead to more lost cargo containers. Years of research by climatologists on which the shipping industry plans their journey might be set for some changes to factor in the consequences of global warming. And as innumerable factors come into play here, it becomes difficult for experts to make a long-term prediction on the weather patterns.
The combination of changing weather patterns and commercial demands for more cargo moving at higher speeds means that more disasters are on the cards. To compound that, human errors like improper locking and wrong stacking of containers make ships unstable and top-heavy, making them prone to roll in a storm