Container pollution highlighted after Nike trainers wash up all over North Atlantic

The BBC has reported on the environmental significance of containers falling overboard, even when they do not contain materials deemed to be an environmental hazard. The controversy could lead to higher claims levels for liability insurers.

The organization highlighted the fact that over the past year hundreds of pairs of unworn shoes have washed up on beaches, from Bermuda and the Bahamas to Ireland and Orkney, with the source suspected to be some of the 70 to 76 containers that fell overboard from the Maersk Shanghai (IMO 9725158).

In early spring last year, Maersk Shanghai was travelling from Norfolk, Virginia, down the east coast of the US to Charleston, South Carolina.

On the evening of March 3rd, when she was 17 miles from the Oregon Inlet, off the coast of North Carolina, a storm caused a stack of its cargo-laden containers toppled overboard (IMN April 4th 2018, March 13th 2018).

Afterward, the ship briefly anchored near Charleston as officials reviewed the losses. Maersk Shanghai sailed directly to Freeport in the Bahamas for salvage work. Some of the containers were later spotted floating in the Atlantic and were designated by the Coast Guard as navigation hazards. Maersk said one of the lost boxes was carrying about 5,900lb of sulfuric acid, but there have been no indications that it either surfaced or washed up on shore. No other hazardous materials were reported in the lost containers.

Of the nine containers seen floated, seven were later reported to have sunk.

The BBC emphasized that it was not possible to say with certainty that all the recovered footwear originated from the Maersk Shanghai, although two footwear brands, Triangle and Great Wolf Lodge, confirmed the examples of their products that had been retrieved did originate from Maersk Shanghai.

Lauren Eyles from the Marine Conservation Society told the BBC that “the shoes will be breaking down to micro-plastics over years, which will have huge impacts on the amazing wildlife we have both in the UK and worldwide.”

The World Shipping Council has estimated that about 1,000 of the 218m containers transported annually go overboard, but this figure has been disputed as likely being too low, with several losses going unreported.

Currently, shipping companies only have to report lost containers if they could become a hazard to other vessels or if they include substances deemed “harmful to the marine environment”, such as corrosive or toxic chemicals.

Nike trainers do not count as “harmful” for the purpose of reporting cargo lost at sea.

The International Maritime Organization told the BBC that it accepted that more needed to be done to identify and report lost containers, noting that it had “adopted an action plan to address marine plastic litter from ships”.

Liberia-flagged, 110,632 gt Maersk Shanghai is owned by Stovep Marine SA care of manager Zodiac Maritime Ltd of London, UK. It is entered with North of England Club on behalf of Stovep Marine SA.