IMO mandates reporting of lost sea containers


A step forward for international maritime safety occurred in London recently during the meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (No. 108).

From January 2026, ship’s masters must report the loss of freight containers lost overboard to ships in the vicinity, to the nearest coastal state and to the flag state administration. If the ship is abandoned, or if the report is incomplete, the shipping company is subject to the reporting obligation and must report to the flag state, government delegates from around the world agreed. Master must also report any containers that are spotted drifting. The flag state will pass the information on to the IMO via the Global Integrated Shipping Information System.

Details that must be put into the report include the loss of freight, the time, the ship’s identity, the position where the boxes were lost (or where last known before being lost), the number of boxes lost, the type of goods in the box (including whether or not they were dangerous goods and the dimension and type of the box (e.g. a 20 foot reefer). The master can also report a variety of other pieces of information including details of wind, sea, drift, waves and the like and any description of the cargo spill.

Commenting on the decision, Lars Kjaer, SVP Safety & Security for the World Shipping Council said, “The new regulations, specifically amending SOLAS Chapter V Regulations 31 and 32, mark a significant advancement in maritime safety and environmental protection. By ensuring prompt and detailed reporting of lost and drifting containers, these amendments will enhance navigational safety, facilitate swift response actions, and mitigate potential environmental hazards”.

The World Shipping Council commended the IMO and its member states for their dedication to this issue, adding that it looks forward to the successful implementation of these regulations. “We remain committed to working with all involved to ensure the safe and efficient transport of goods across the world’s oceans,” the WSC said in a statement.

In a summary published by the global cargo insurer, the TT Club, it was noted that in 2019 about 226 million containers were transported by sea and that the percentage lost overboard was less than 1,00oth of one per cent. Excluding ships sinking or running aground, about 568 containers are lost each year. Normally shipping containers sink to the sea floor once they are lost, however, some may stay afloat for days or weeks before sinking or being washed ashore. Afloat boxes may be hard to see and there are many examples of collisions between lost boxes and recreational or fishing vessels. As can be imagined, a strike by a 40 foot fully laden box is potentially catastrophic for a small sailboat.

Meanwhile, the contents of the containers can be disgorged and this inevitably leads to marine pollution. In 1997, a container ship was hit by a large wave and it dislodged a container of plastic toy bricks off the coast of southern Britain. For decades later, the plastic bricks continued to wash up on British southern beaches, according to cargo services provider, Cargo Partner.

This article is shared by courtesy of Shipping Australia

For more articles about containers lost at sea, click here.

Narjiss Ghajour

Editor-in-Chief of Maritime Professionals
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