While one container lost overboard seems to be one too many, particularly if your yacht encounters it in a bad way, the reality is thousands can be thrown into the sea and the loss for the shipping industry remains such a small percentage that it’s hardly a loss at all.

While stories of these losses do get reported, it is hard to find information on what is being done about it. This report by MarineTraffic, the world’s leading provider of ship tracking and maritime intelligence, dives into the topic:

Even though uncertainty around transport and trade remained an overriding concern in the past year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that roughly 80% of global trade by volume and 70% by value is still transported by sea.

At the moment, there are thousands of containerships continuously operating on the world’s seas and waterways, providing vital supplies to communities around the globe.

More specifically, over 17,600 cargo vessels among which 3,869 containerships (>1,000 gross tonnage with the latest position received from AIS within the last 24 hours) were found on the MarineTraffic database at the time of writing.

According to UNCTAD’s latest Review of Maritime Transport 2020, “over the past 20 years, vessel sizes have been increasing to optimize costs through economies of scale. Average bulker and container ship sizes have grown significantly since the 1990s – the average size of container ships has more than doubled since 1996. The distribution of average sizes across vessel types suggests that the average capacity of vessels built in the last four years is much greater than those built 20 years ago.”

“For example,” the report writes, “compared with vessels built 20 years ago, the average capacity of container ships now is four times greater; of general cargo ships, three times greater; and of bulk carriers, two times greater.”

But could someone assume that having larger boxships crossing the oceans could be translated into an increased risk of incidents worldwide, where containers could be washed overboard spilling their contents into the seas?

Well, the answer is that container loss is a multi-faceted threat which the container industry has continuously worked on addressing.

The World Shipping Council (WSC) has released their 2020 update, and based on their findings, there is a downward trend compared to the decade prior. In the 2017-2019 period, an average of 779 containers were lost every year in total (considering both non-catastrophic and catastrophic losses).

“Containers lost overboard represent less than one thousandth of 1% of the roughly 226 million containers currently shipped each year,” the report says.

So even though accidents with containerships losing boxes are, according to experts, relatively rare, during these past four months, incidents have been on the rise with most of them taking place in the Pacific.