How Many Shipping Containers Are Lost At Sea?


Among shipping companies and buyers alike, one of the most commonly searched questions online today is: “How many shipping containers are lost at sea?”

According to a World Shipping Council (WSC) report, up to 1,382 shipping containers are lost at sea each year. The figure is based on three year averages calculated over a 12-year period – which represents 80% of the global vessel container capacity. This was up until 2019.

Other estimates paint a more concerning picture: between Nov 2020 and Jan 2021 alone, 2,675 sea containers were lost at sea. Furthermore, 2021 witnessed the largest rise in lost shipping containers since 2013.

Reasons for containers getting lost at sea

One marine biologist has estimated that there are approximately 12,000 shipping containers lost in the world’s oceans.

The human factor has been identified as a key cause of lost sea containers, which includes taking shortcuts to save costs and not declaring container weight properly. In addition, poor packing inside containers and lack of stowage planning has contributed to this as well.

However, the human factor alone is not blameworthy – climate change has contributed greatly to lost containers just as much, if not more. Changing weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean, which is home to some of harshest weather conditions in the world, and the rise in China-US container traffic combined with the strongest Northern Pacific winds since 1948 – are all prominent climate-related factors responsible for containers getting dislodged from shipping vessels and lost at sea.

The above factors in particular make containers highly susceptible to damage from storms.

With all of the above in mind, many shippers have identified the main cause to be ship groundings and structural failures when stacked together.  

It is believed that more than 50% of lost containers are because of either ship groundings or structural failures. Every time a container is lost, it can prove to have devastating consequences for marine life – lost sea containers can potentially destroy aquatic habits and even help the spread of invasive species. Lost containers can also release dangerous materials or cargo into the ocean. In a recent incident, a ship carrying sulphuric acid broke down, and released 6,000 pounds of sulphuric acid. 


How many containers are lost at sea – will the numbers go up or down?

All in all, it does not appear that the total number of sea containers (for sale) getting lost at sea is going down anytime soon. However, it’s worth noting that any losses experienced by shipping companies or handlers do not contribute to an economic loss, but a loss of resources.

Fortunately, more regulations are coming into effect, so we can definitely expect to see fewer incidents of lost sea containers in the future, if not now.

Looking for quality sea containers for sale built to last? Cargostore Worldwide has just what you need. We offer a broad range of sea containers for lease and sale, from 20ft dry vans to best-in-class ISO refrigerated containers.

Contact us today at for a quick quote.

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