The loss of containers will be on the agenda at the International Maritime Organization discussions

28/06/21

Just as the X-press Pearl was sinking off the coast of Sri Lanka, the IMO decided to tackle the problem of lost containers, one of the 200 proposals proposed by various countries including France. As a reminder, the ship sailing under the Singaporean flag caught fire about ten kilometers off the Sri Lankan coast, causing three forms of pollution, two of which were linked to the contents of the containers it was transporting. Plastic pollution, with millions of granules (pellets) contaminating dozens of kilometers of coastline, and chemical pollution due to nitric acid occurred in addition to the hydrocarbon pollution caused by the fuel oil present in the ship's tanks. The magnitude of this disaster meant that it received extensive media attention, but what about when the loss of containers and the pollution this causes goes undeclared or goes undetected?


Over 3,500 containers reportedly lost in the Pacific in recent months

It is currently impossible to know exactly how many containers are lost at sea each year. However, according to the IMO, these incidents are constantly on the rise. As well as posing a major safety hazard for world shipping - for navigators, fishermen and professionals in the maritime sector as a whole - they can be a real scourge for the Ocean and the environment, as the X-press Pearl has demonstrated. At this time, it is extremely complicated to determine the short and long term consequences on Sri Lankan waters and on the ecosystems that live in them.

The causes of container losses are varied. They can result from an accident or from bad weather conditions or significant wave troughs which destabilize the ships, but they can also be caused by human error. The IMO inspectors will be paying particular attention to loading practices, fraudulent declarations or excess weight in containers.


Surfrider Europe has been campaigning for many years to ensure that this issue, which is too often overlooked, is placed at the heart of IMO discussions and that concrete preventive actions are taken to limit the number of these incidents. International regulations have to evolve and promote risk prevention instead of States trying to patch up the damage caused by disasters when incidents occur. We are happy to see that Surfrider Europe's efforts, with the backing of a whole community of ocean lovers, is bearing fruit today.


2 major proposals will be discussed: GPS tracking and loss reporting

These 2 proposals were already put forward by Surfrider Europe in the report it published on container loss in 2019.


The first of these proposals concerns GPS tracking of containers. If all the containers are equipped with a GPS beacon, their loss can easily be identified and it will be easier to geolocate them in order to recover them. This will limit the danger their presence entails on the surface and also the detrimental effect their presence entails for the ocean.

The second proposal is to adopt a single and mandatory declaration of container losses in order to establish a precise count of all those lost. Among other things, this will provide an overview of the phenomenon on a global scale.

These are two major advances that are set to be adopted by the IMO after many years of work on the subject. Surfrider Europe welcomes the fact that international regulations on the loss of containers are moving towards more prevention. However, regulations must go even further, in particular by demanding a precise declaration of the contents of the containers on board, which today are too often incomplete. It is essential to develop good practices to prevent this pollution at the source. Surfrider Europe therefore remains mobilized on the subject and is continuing its work for regulations that protect the Ocean better.

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