Monday, March 24, 2014

How much stuff is adrift at sea?

As the search for Malaysian flight 370 continues, considerable attention is being focused on debris adrift at sea. It's not uncommon for ships to lose cargo or containers. Even Amver ships sometimes lose cargo.

Cargo containers

While the media often reports there are up to 10,000 containers lost at sea each year, the World Shipping Council has actually done a study (link to pdf) to determine the actual number of containers lost or adrift. According to the Council's report,  "Based on the survey results, the World Shipping Council estimates that on average there are approximately 350 containers lost at sea each year, not counting catastrophic events. When one counts the catastrophic losses, an average total loss per year of approximately 675 containers was observed."

Ducks and tennis shoes

One of the most famous losses of cargo are the rubber ducks. In 1992, 28,000 rubber duck bath toys were lost at sea on a voyage from Hong Kong to the United States. These ducks are still washing up today. Bath toys aren't the only things floating around the ocean.

There's the fascinating story of Nike shoes washed overboard on a voyage to the United States in 1990. Nike gives each pair of shoes a serial number and, according to a report by Dennis Bryant in the Maritime Professional, "...The first reports of the Nike shoes coming ashore were on Vancouver Island in January 1991. Some shoes were later found further north along the shores of the Queen Charlotte Islands and in Alaksa. Many more, though, were deposited on the beaches of Washington and Oregon. There were so many and usually singles, that informal networks were established to help people find the missing shoe mate (sole mate)."

Would you believe the University of Washington has the distinction of having the world's leading authority on flotsam? Yup, Curtis Ebbesmeyer has made a career out of tracking rubber ducks and tennis shoes at sea!

Ghost ships

Cargo isn't the only thing adrift at sea. Ships are often abandoned at sea.  According to NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, the earliest report of a ghost ship was a Japanese fishing vessel found adrift near Mexico in 1617. One recent case of a ship adrift is the Russian cruise ship Lyubov Orlova, reportedly full of cannibalistic rats adrift in the North Atlantic headed towards the coast of Ireland.

Tsunami Debris

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan in 2011 created a dangerous situation for ships in the Pacific. We reported in July of that year that NOAA established website for reporting tsunami debris. NOAA also maintains a resource documenting garbage patches at sea.

In the meantime, Avmer remains at the service of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Amver ships will provide assistance as requested by Australia.

Photo credit: Fotolia

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