A United Nations Day of Significance, World Maritime Day 2022 is calling on the maritime community to have a conversation about the transition of the sector to a greener and more sustainable future.  

This World Maritime Day, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is highlighting the importance of safe and effective container stowage planning to prevent container loss at sea and ocean pollution.  

“The ATSB is an advocate for the safe carriage of containers and for the prevention of their loss at sea through operator compliance of their ship’s Cargo Securing Manual,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said. 

“In addition to posing a navigational hazard, lost shipping containers are a significant environmental hazard in the marine environment.” 

A single empty container lost at sea can release iron oxide as it rusts, as well as synthetic polymers and heavy metals from the breakdown of its insulation foam and protective paints. 

The ATSB conducts ‘no blame’ safety investigations into selected maritime incidents and accidents in Australian waters, carried out in conformity with international treaties and instruments to improve maritime safety for all seafarers. 

In 2018, the ATSB conducted an investigation into the loss of containers overboard involving the Liberian-flagged cargo ship YM Efficiency, which occurred 16 NM east-south-east of Newcastle, New South Wales.  

YM Efficiencywas en route to Sydney, steaming slowly into strong gale force winds and very rough seas off Newcastle when it rolled suddenly. The ship lost 81 containers overboard and sustained structural damage to its lashing bridges, superstructure, and accommodation ladder.

Over 1,000 tonnes of pollution, including plastics, furniture, tyres, and paper products washed up along 400 kilometres of shoreline with more than 720 tonnes of waste recovered from the waters off the Hunter Coast as a result of the incident.  

The investigation found that the forces generated during the sudden, heavy rolling placed excessive stresses on containers stowed aft of the ship’s accommodation resulting in the structural failure of containers and components of the lashing system, leading to the loss of the containers.  

The investigation also found the weights and distribution of containers in the affected bays meant that the calculated forces exceeded the allowable force limits as defined in the ship’s Cargo Securing Manual (CSM). 

“The ship’s cargo-planning process ashore did not allow for the checking of the proposed container stowage plan’s compliance with the stowage and lashing forces requirements of the ship's CMS,” Mr Mitchell said.  

“This left limited time for the ship’s crew to make amendments without unduly impacting commercial operations and created a reliance on shipboard checks during a late stage of the loading operation.”  

Mr Mitchell noted that despite the checking of stowage plans for compliance with a ship's CMS – now often achieved with loading computer systems that provide some process efficiencies – the scale and pace of modern container ship operations often means ships officers are asked to check, amend or approve proposed stowage plans at late stages in a loading operation. 

“This operational reality reinforces that the planning process ashore is the best opportunity to take all practical measures to ensure that the proposed stowage plan presented to ships officers complies with the CSM and is as safe as reasonably practicable. 

“Weather forecasting, routing and good navigational practices in adverse weather all play a part in minimising the risk of injuries to crew and damage to ship, cargo and environment.  

“However, safe and effective container stowage planning remains the primary control measure in managing the risks involved in carrying containers by sea.” 

Read the ATSB investigation report: MO-2018-008 Loss of containers overboard involving YM Efficiency, 16 NM east-south-east of Newcastle, New South Wales, on 1 June 2018 

Read more about World Maritime Day  

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