3 Not-So-Obvious Consequences of Lost Cargo

Sep 21, 2017News

There are many reasons a ship might lose some of its cargo between pickup and delivery. Rough waters, unexpected weather, and poor packing practices. When a ship loses cargo en route to a delivery, the obvious costs are immediately apparent. There’s the cost of the material itself and replacing that material. There’s also the cost of a broken contract if the goods are not delivered.

And while these losses may seem few and far between, in 2014, the WSC reported Maersk vessel lost 517 containers in the Bay of Biscay alone. And when containers are lost, the consequences are not only monetary, and not always obvious.

Here are some of the not-so-obvious consequences of lost cargo.

Debris Cleanup Costs

Even if the cargo dropped from a vessel isn’t hazardous, in many cases the shipping company could be called on to clean it up.   

In 2011, 700m of seabed were surveyed to find sunken containers that had floated free of a wreck. 35 of 70 containers were reported to have been recovered at a cost of over 20 million. In addition to search costs, the polyethylene beads in the containers (used in bean bag chairs) were considered a blight on beaches even though they weren’t hazardous. Due to public outcry, an order was made for their removal and up to 500 people, vehicles, vessels, and a helicopter were deployed at a reported cost in the region of $10 million USD.

Search Costs

When containers go missing, they must be accounted for. If a ship wrecks or loses cargo, that cargo must be tracked and every piece found must match what was on record. In the case of the Maersk vessel mentioned above, 85-percent of the containers lost were empty with the balance containing dry non-hazardous goods. But when only 17 floating containers were recovered, the French authorities ordered the ship owners to map the exact location of the containers which sank.

In 2011, a bulk carrier lost 26 containers from its deck in an area off of China. The authorities demanded a sonar sweep of over 1,000 square kilometers, at an estimated cost of $4 million USD. An initial 24 square kilometer sweep identified 15 containers and some were found at a cost of several million dollars.


Hazardous materials can pollute waters, and even non-hazardous material can cause debris to float ashore, placing the recovery burden on municipalities rather than carriers. When lost shipping containers are not recovered, it may be tempting to adopt an out of sight out of mind approach, but when they are lost, they have to sit somewhere. Back in 2011, a team of biologists even decided to study the effect of shipment containers on aquatic ecosystems. Reported on by NPR, they immediately discovered that those containers had become a new type of habitat on the ocean floor. While one container may not make a difference, hundreds or thousands might.

Andrew DeVogelaere, a biologist Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is worried about the long-term effects of these containers. “What nobody’s really thought of before was the trash that we’re leaving across the Pacific and other oceans every time we lose these containers, and to drop hard substratum along certain routes could create stepping stones or highways of trash as years accumulate and these things don’t really disintegrate.”

We are always looking forward and looking for ways to approve our processes in order to ensure our cargo is safe and secure. If you have any questions, please reach out or visit our website!


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