Floating MSC boxes threaten North Sea shipping

(Credit: Steve Gibson)

Only 21 of the containers lost from Panamanian-flagged MSC ZOE last week have washed up, leaving 249 still unaccounted for, posing a considerable risk to vessels in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

The total leaves the whereabouts of the vast majority of the 270 containers, which fell off MSC ZOE during heavy weather, still unknown. Ships in the region have been advised to be on the lookout for the containers, which do not always show up on radar and float low in the water, making them difficult to spot in many cases, could cause severe hull damage to passing ships and boats.

Ardent Global, the merger of Svitzer Salvage and Titan Salvage, has been contracted by Swiss owner MSC to attempt to salvage the remaining containers. However, heavy weather in the region has interfered with the search.

The containers have mainly washed up on Dutch islands of Terschelling, Ameland and Vlieland. However prospective treasure hunters making off with televisions and children’s toys have been warned off by the Dutch and German coastguards, claiming three of the containers carry toxic substances.

More than 50 containers lost at once is considered a ‘catastrophic event’ by the World Shipping Council, which in the conclusion of a 2011 survey estimated that an average of around 700 containers are lost at sea per year.