Can a shipping container float? What happens if a container falls off a cargo ship and falls into the ocean? Whether you’re wondering where your overseas online shopping order went missing, or you’ve just seen some precariously stacked cargo ships, this is a valid question.
In fact, the World Shipping Council estimates that nearly 1,400 shipping containers are lost at sea each year. In December 2020, 1,800 containers were lost in a stack collapse. That’s a devastating blow to shipping companies as well as the companies transporting goods—to say nothing of the ocean environment.
But do they float? Read on to find out what happens to overboard shipping containers.
Do shipping containers float?
Yes, shipping containers can float—at least for a short amount of time. How long a container will float depends on a number of factors, including the type of container, the cargo inside, how permeable the container is and more. Eventually, since shipping containers are not completely watertight, they will sink. Water can get in through vents and seals, which causes the containers to slowly sink. Reefer (refrigerated) containers are some of the most airtight shipping containers, so they are more likely to float for a while.
Some containers sink immediately, whether that’s because there is no air trapped inside or because they were particularly permeable. On the other hand, there are reports of some shipping containers bobbing on the surface of the ocean for as long as 15 months. These containers are either empty, or contain lightweight, buoyant cargo. If the cargo has enough “uplift,” the shipping container can stay afloat for months or even years.
Another factor in how long a container will float is whether (or when) it’s broken. The ocean can be quite violent, and containers may break under the force of waves or when pushed against rocks.
Finally, the height from which the containers fall can affect whether they float and for how long. Falling from a lower height makes it easier for the containers to stay on the surface.
Can containers float just underneath the surface?
Some people have heard that shipping containers bob in the ocean, just underneath the surface. This is physically impossible. If the weight of the container and its contents is less than the water displaced, it will float. If it’s higher, then the container will sink to the bottom.
Can shipping containers be recovered?
If there’s a floating shipping container out on the sea, shipping companies may be able to retrieve them before they sink. After all, bobbing shipping containers present a navigational hazard for other vessels.
Otherwise, retrieval operations require the container to be pulled up from the depths of the ocean, which may or may not be successful. It’s certainly in everyone’s best interest to collect overboard shipping containers for environmental purposes—not to mention the fact that we’re in the middle of a serious shipping container shortage.
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Categorised in: Shipping Containers
This post was written by Writer