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When Shipping Goes Wrong

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Every year millions upon millions of shipping containers travel all over the world transporting a wide variety of different types of cargo. The average shipping container goes through its entire life with no problems at all, but there are occasions when accidents occur and consequently cargo can be lost, as well as people’s lives. These types of accidents are fairly rare, but when they do happen they can often happen in spectacular style. There are two main reasons for these types of accidents to happen which are either human error or bad weather. Natural disasters can also help to cause accidents with shipping containers, but the majority of the time it is down to human error.

Lost at Sea

It is estimated that there are about five or six million shipping containers in transit right now as you read this, and on average there is one shipping container falling into the sea every hour. This means that there are around 10,000 shipping containers that are lost at sea each year, most of which are never to be recovered, depending on the location that they are lost in of course. So how are these shipping containers lost you may be wondering?

  • Bad Weather and Rough Seas
  • Human Error
  • Overloaded Shipping Containers
  • Bad Planning

lost at sea

Bad weather which sees rough seas is the most-common cause of accidents to shipping containers when they are being transported on container ships. These massive ships are loaded with thousands of shipping containers all stacked up, and with the size of the container vessels they are neither very manoeuvrable nor are they able to move very fast. This means that sometimes they cannot outrun bad weather, or move quick enough to avoid it. It is not uncommon for ships to roll up to 30° to either side during rough weather, which means it is quite easy for unsecured cargo to potentially fall into the sea. Once there the shipping container can float on the surface for a substantial amount of time, or it could sink to the bottom like a stone, depending on the contents of the shipping container.

Overloaded Shipping Containers

Every shipping container that is made has a maximum amount of weight that it can carry safely. The weight that each shipping container can safely hold will all depend on the size of the shipping container. It is crucial that you make sure that the maximum weight is not exceeded as this can in turn cause accidents, as well as put people’s lives at risk. There are cases that have been documented where the maximum weight has been exceeded and when stacked upon other shipping containers they can cause the shipping containers beneath to buckle and cause damage to the contents of the shipping container. As with anything that is top heavy, when you stack shipping containers on top of each other and the shipping containers at the top exceed the maximum allowed weight, this becomes very unstable.

overload shipping containers

If the container vessel moves too much to port or starboard when in transit, there is a real risk of the shipping containers toppling over. This could mean that they fall on top of other shipping containers damaging them, falling onto the deck of the container vessel potentially killing or hurting someone, or even possibly falling overboard whilst at sea. Many accidents happen with shipping containers due to people overloading them which can lead to the loss of the shipping container and its contents, or even the loss of life.

Securing the Load Properly

Another major factor which can cause accidents with shipping containers, especially when they are in transit, is a heavy load which is not secured properly. A good example of this would be when you load cars or other vehicles in a shipping container and you do not secure the vehicle down properly, or when the straps that you use fail. When travelling in a container vessel and rough seas throw the ship in all directions, both the ship and the shipping containers can be moved around a lot. If the vehicle is not secured properly or if the fastenings fail, the inertia of the vehicle moving inside of the shipping container can cause considerable damage, especially if the contents fly out of the shipping container.

loading shipping contaienr

All shipping containers have bull-rings inside which can be used to secure the load down properly, and the correct fastenings should also be used in order to make sure that the contents cannot move about inside during transit. When loading a shipping container it is also important that the load is spread evenly across the floor of the shipping container and that the heavier items are at the bottom. This will help to make sure that the shipping container does not become top heavy which can make the shipping container very unstable.

The Human Factor

A lot of accidents that happen with shipping containers are also due to human error, which can manifest itself in different ways. As previously mentioned overloading a shipping container can be very dangerous and cause accidents, especially when travelling through heavy seas and bad weather. When shipping containers are being transported by road, or by rail, if they are not loaded correctly of secured properly, then a major accident can take place. If they are being carried on a truck, then accidents can also happen due to human error. If the shipping container is heavy and the driver of the truck tries to turn whilst going too fast then there is a good chance that the vehicle may topple over, with potentially fatal results.

human factor shipping containers

The fact is that anyone can make a mistake, which is one of the reasons that when a container vessel is being loaded, instead of letting someone plan where each container is going to be placed; computers are used in order to do the job properly. They will plan each shipping containers location to make sure that the vessel is properly balanced, whilst also taking into account the port of embarkation to make the unloading as easy as possible. For all of the accidents that do occur involving shipping containers, millions of shipping containers travel vast distances around the world without any problems at all. As long as they are used correctly and within the recommended guidelines, shipping containers are still the most practical form of transport for bulk cargo being shipping around the world.