NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Containers Overboard

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By: Dianna Parker

A Maersk container vessel off the coast of France reportedly lost hundreds of containers in the ocean on February 14 when it encountered high winds and 30-foot waves. Maersk says 85 percent of the containers were empty and told news reporters that the others housed non-hazardous dry goods, including frozen meat.

When containers spill, it’s an interesting reminder that there are many, many sources and types of marine debris. For the most part, it is almost impossible to tell exactly where marine debris originated. No one can say for certain if one plastic bottle on a beach came from a careless sunbather, from an overflowing trash can, or from a fisherman sailing off the coast. In some cases, regular monitoring can help identify local sources if shoreline surveyors see the same type of debris over and over again.

There are those occasions when we can tell almost immediately, and often times they involve container spills. The containers themselves become marine debris (and a hazard to navigation, if they don’t sink to the sea floor). Sometimes the goods inside are so bizarre or unique that they are traceable when we find them, as is the case with sports-themed fly swatters that litter some Alaska coasts. Other notable spills of the past have involved rubber ducks, sneakers, and bags of chips. It’s hard to say whether we’ll ever see the result of this recent spill on beaches, but if frozen meat (or more realistically, the packaging) washes ashore, it’s a safe bet that we’ll know why.

UPDATE — An interesting question: What happens to the containers that sink? We’re reminded that scientists at NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary spent a week last December finding out when they sent an underwater robot 4,000 feet down to check out a container that sank in 2004. They made some interesting discoveries! Check out their photos and mission logs.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

5 thoughts on “Containers Overboard

  1. Pingback: Containers Overboard – OECOLOG

  2. Maersk says they “will now carefully examine our procedures to see if they need correction in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.”
    Industry independent action aside, what is NOAA’s position, and the IMDCC’s position, on whether existing operating procedures followed by Maersk and other container shipping are already sufficiently robust, or whether reforms need to be made?

  3. We had a similar incident here in Brisbane a few years ago. Cargo vessel caught in a storm and containers were lost and managed to rupture the vessels fuel tank. End result ? Oil ended up on Moreton Island and a huge clean up bill.
    Enquiry found that the operator of the vessel had inadequate gear to tie down containers.

  4. Hi,

    My name is Cristina Ramirez, i am the project coordinator of “The Condado Lagoon is my home”, from the San Juan Bay Estuary Program in Puerto Rico. We receive founds of the NOAA FY 2013 Community Based Marine Debris Removal Federal Fundings Opportunity Annoucement (FFA).

    I want to shared and publish in yours Marine Debris Blog. We work to identify, characterize and remove marine debris on the Natural Reserve of the Condado Lagoon. If you can explain me how to enter in your blog to publish different notices i could share our project with the marine debris program.

    For more information, please contacting me by email.

    Thanks and hope your answer.

    Regards,

    Cristina

    On Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:46 PM, NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog wrote:

    > NOAA Marine Debris Program posted: “By: Dianna Parker A Maersk > container vessel off the coast of France reportedly lost hundreds of > containers on February 14 when it encountered high winds and 30-foot waves. > Maersk says 85 percent of the containers were empty and told news reporters > that”

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