Containers Lost at Sea

Mar 18, 2021Blog, Imports and Exports

The concept of losing a container or two on a vessel is not unheard of. For as long as ships have sailed, cargo has gone overboard. However, in modern times, such an occurrence is typically rare, thanks to sophisticated systems for securing cargo in place.

Despite this, the last calendar year has seen thousands of containers from multiple ships sink into the ocean. Our team dove into this issue to see what might be causing such an uptick in lost cargo.

Inclement Weather

This is, perhaps, the most common reason that cargo goes overboard. Large storms or swells of waves can rock ships, knocking their center of balance off or straining the lashes that keep containers in place.

The Atlantic alone saw 30 hurricanes in 2020, which broke previous records from the last 169 years. While the Pacific’s cyclone season was less active than normal, the typhoon season was brutal. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Climatology illustrated that typhoons that made landfall in China since 2004 have been growing progressively stronger. There has also been an uptick in super typhoons in the northwest Pacific, which further impacts ocean trade lines.

Much of this change has been attributed to factors like the increased temperatures of the South China Sea and other environmental factors attributed to climate change. Experts are expecting this trend to continue in the years to come, which could mean even more cargo falling overboard from unruly waves and impactful storms.


The past year has seen an increase in shipping demand that has otherwise been unheard of in this industry. As ports open and close throughout the world, ocean carriers are being overloaded with cargo in an attempt to get as many containers as possible from one destination to another. Add to this the container shortage that parts of the world have been seeing and the desperate need to get several containers from one side of trade routes to the other, and it spells a recipe for disaster.

As cargo is stacked higher on decks, the containers are subjected to more force as the ship adjusts to the ocean around it. It’s similar to being in a sailboat as it is hit from the side by a wave. If you are sitting, you will likely stay in the boat. However, if you’re standing, your center of balance shifts more drastically, and you may fall overboard. The same principle applies to cargo, no matter how securely it is attached to the ship.

When this factor is combined with worsening weather, it’s no wonder over 3,000 containers have been lost to the sea in the past two months.

Carriers will likely continue to be stacked to the brim, and weather conditions will only grow more volatile as we approach summer. The best way to protect your shipment is to ensure it is fully covered by All Risk Insurance. All-Risk Cargo Insurance covers any external cause (depending on the policy), including physical loss, such as falling off of an ocean carrier. Reach out to your TOC representative today to discuss All Risk Insurance options for your freight.


Our capable and experienced team is standing by to assist organizations and supply chains across the globe. Click the button to get in touch with our team.

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