Containers lost at sea

Posted by Christine, October 19, 2011

Euronews and lots of others report on the New Zealand container ship on the rocks:

Salvage crews have returned to the stricken container ship Rena, grounded off the coast of New Zealand since October 5.

Rough weather had forced the team to halt efforts to pump hundreds of tonnes of fuel from the ship. So far only a fraction has been recovered but the crew hopes to add more booster pumps to accelerate the recovery of the remaining 1,200.

The first job today though was to assess the damage from an overnight storm.

As helicopter hoist operator Simon Barton explains, conditions are far from ideal.

“It’s high risk out there. We’re winching into a very very tight area, and dealing with the wind and everything else that goes on out there,” he said. “But what we do, we do very slow and safe. We’ve got people on the end of the wire, and we’re put into a very tight area, and safety and human life is paramount.”

Some 350 tonnes of oil have already seeped into the ocean, killing 1,300 sea birds and staining beaches, making this New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.

Those containers fall off ships all the time, though. In one case, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been able to leverage the loss into research:

It’s estimated that 10,000 of these large containers are lost at sea each year, and our understanding of what happens to them afterwards is scant at best. But that’s changing. This month the Monterray Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) sent a robotic sub to investigate a shipping container that was lost in the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2004. What’s happened to the sunken shipment in the past seven years? It’s become a warren for a variety of aquatic life on the ocean floor, providing a new habitat for species that might otherwise not be attracted to the area. As the MBARI investigation continues to discover the destiny of drowned containers we will undoubtedly learn more about this (possibly) ecologically dangerous byproduct of our modern transportation system. Could a system such as the Internet of Things help prevent the growth of the waste we’re strewing across the seabed? Perhaps. Yet the importance of this situation may be less about the solutions to this one problem, and more about the unexpected consequences that follow the adoption of any technology.

One of the scientists came to Cambria to talk about the problem and I’ll post his report in the future.

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