How much does shipping your Household cost?
Free Instant Online Calculator based on quotes from Trusted House Moving Companies
Customer Images
7790 people shipped using A-1 Auto Transport last week

Joe brought me peace of mind. I can’t thank you enough for being so reliable and trustworthy

Joe brought me peace of mind. I can’t thank you enough for being so reliable and trustworthy

+2 million
of customers
recommend us

What Happens When a Shipping Container Is Lost at Sea?

What's in this article?
  1. How Often Do Containers Get Lost At Sea?
  2. How Are Owners Refunded When Their Containers Are Lost?
  3. How Do Owners Of Cargo Containers Get Their Lost Cargo?
  4. The Importance Of Having Cargo Insurance
  5. Consequences Of Containers Getting Lost At Sea
  6. Consequences For Marine Life
  7. Product Shortages
  8. Supply Chain Disruptions
  9. Why Are Containers Lost Overboard?
  10. Bad Weather And Other Catastrophic Events
  11. Human Error
  12. Malfunctioning Equipment
  13. Stack Collapse
  14. Port Congestion
  15. Pressure On Ship Operators
  16. What Can Be Done To Prevent Containers From Being Lost Overboard?
  17. Better Weather Forecasting
  18. Better Vessel Maintenance
  19. Proper Container Securing
  20. Reducing Port Congestion
  21. Conclusion
What Happens When a Shipping Container Is Lost at Sea?

Shipping containers are a vital part of global trade. They are the lifeblood of the international shipping industry and play a crucial role in the global economy.

That's why when a container is lost, everyone involved takes it very seriously. Of course, it's even worse if it contains hazardous materials.

But what happens when a shipping container is lost at sea?

In this post, we will explore that question in depth. We will examine the effects of lost shipping containers on the environment and discuss how the owner gets refunded when their container is lost.

How Often Do Containers Get Lost at Sea?

It's actually quite rare.

According to the World Shipping Council, which represents carriers and shippers worldwide, over 1000 containers got lost at sea in 2021.

That might sound like a lot, but statistically speaking, it's actually a very tiny number when you consider that there are over 6000 container ships worldwide.

But, of course, even one container lost is too many.

Even though it's a rare occurrence, there have been significant instances of containers lost at sea:

  • In 2013, the MOL Comfort broke apart in the Indian Ocean and spilled over 2000 containers into the water.
  • APL China lost over 800 containers in the Pacific Ocean in a severe storm in 2014.
  • In 2018, Cyclone Mekunu caused a container ship to lose over 300 containers in the Arabian Sea.

The most recent and significant event happened in March of 2021 when Ever Given, a container ship, got stuck in the Suez Canal.

During the incident, over 4,000 containers were lost in the water.

But these are relatively rare events.

The vast majority of lost containers are found within a few weeks. But in some cases, they are never found.


How Are Owners Refunded When Their Containers Are Lost?

When a container is lost at sea, the owner is typically refunded by the shipping company.

The amount of the refund depends on the value of the goods that were in the container.

However, it's important to remember that shipping lines are not required to refund the owner. They may choose to do so, but it's not necessarily something they have to do.

Sometimes, the shipping company may try to negotiate a settlement with the owner. But it's usually lower than what the owner paid for the goods.

How Do Owners of Cargo Containers Get Their Lost Cargo?

The owner of the cargo container is responsible for getting it back.

They will usually have to pay a fee to the ship operator. The ship operator will then search for the container and try to retrieve it.

If they are unable to find it, they will declare it lost at sea.

The Importance of Having Cargo Insurance

To mitigate the potential costs of losing a container, it's essential to have cargo insurance when shipping goods.

Cargo insurance will cover the cost of the goods if they are lost or damaged. Without it, the owner will have to bear the entire cost of the lost goods.

To get cargo insurance, the owner must contact an insurance company. The insurance company will then assess the risk of the shipment and determine the premium.

Cargo insurance is not required by law, but it's highly recommended.

Consequences of Containers Getting Lost at Sea

Consequences for marine life

When a container ship loses containers, some sink to the ocean floor.

In other cases, numerous containers (primarily refrigerated containers) that have fallen overboard will float on the surface.

In either case, it can have severe consequences for the environment.

The most common type of container is made of steel; when they sink, they create an artificial reef. This can be good for marine life as it provides a new place for them to live and breed. But it can also have a negative impact.

The problem is that these containers are often filled with hazardous materials. They can leak their contents, polluting the surrounding ecosystem and harming marine life.

They can also sink to the bottom of the ocean and damage the ocean floor, or they can float on the surface and create navigational hazards.

That's why clean-up efforts are often initiated when a container is lost at sea.

When a container is lost at sea, it's not just the environment that suffers. The shipping industry takes a hit as well. Not only do they have to pay for the lost container, but they also have to deal with the negative publicity.


Product shortages

When a container is lost at sea, it can also cause supply shortages.

This is because many companies rely on just-in-time delivery. Just-in-time delivery is when companies only produce the amount of product that they need to meet the demand. They do this to save money on storage costs.

But, of course, if a container is lost and the product is not delivered on time, it can cause significant problems for the company.

Supply chain disruptions

Another consequence of lost containers is disruptions to the supply chain.

This is because when a container is lost, it can take weeks or even months to find it. In the meantime, the companies relying on the products in the container have to find another source for those products.

This can be difficult and time-consuming, and it can cause significant disruptions to the company's operations and the supply chain as a whole.

Why Are Containers Lost Overboard?

There are many reasons why shipping containers are lost overboard.

These include:

Bad weather and other catastrophic events

Bad weather is the most common cause of container loss.

High winds and waves can cause containers to break free from their moorings and fall into the sea.

Cyclones are particularly dangerous as they can generate substantial ocean currents that can quickly capsize a ship or damage its hull, causing containers to be lost overboard.

Climate change is making catastrophic events such as cyclones more frequent and more severe, so we can expect to see more containers being lost overboard in the future.

Human error

Sometimes, containers are lost overboard because of human error.

For example, if a container is not properly secured on the deck of a ship, it can fall overboard in bad weather.

Or, if a ship collides with another vessel or object, it can damage the hull and cause containers to be lost.

Malfunctioning equipment

Another common cause of container loss is malfunctioning equipment.

This equipment includes cranes and winches that are used to load and unload containers.

If the equipment is not maintained correctly, it can fail and cause containers to be lost overboard.

Stack collapse

Another cause of container loss is stack collapse.

This is when a row of containers collapses because the containers are not adequately secured.

Once a stack of containers collapses, it can damage the other containers around it and cause them to be lost overboard.

Port congestion

Another reason why containers are lost overboard is port congestion.

This happens when there are too many ships in a port and not enough space to store the containers. The containers have to be stacked on top of each other, which can make them unstable.

If a port is hit by bad weather, it can cause the stacks of containers to collapse and be lost into the sea.

Pressure on ship operators

The shipping industry is under a lot of pressure to cut costs, limit ship delays, and ship more containers.

This has led to some ship operators cutting corners, overloading their vessels, and not properly maintaining their vessels or equipment.

All of this increases the risk of container losses.


What Can Be Done to Prevent Containers From Being Lost Overboard?

There are many things that can be done to prevent containers from being lost overboard.

Some of these include:

Better weather forecasting

Accurate weather forecasting can help ship operators avoid bad weather conditions.

It can also help them plan their journeys better to avoid passing through areas of bad weather and rough seas.

Better vessel maintenance

Better vessel maintenance means making sure that the ship and its equipment are properly maintained and regularly serviced.

It also means making sure that the crew is properly trained in how to use the equipment.

Proper container securing

It's crucial to ensure that containers are properly secured on the deck of the ship before it sets sail.

This also means that a ship should never be overloaded. The ship must have enough space to store all containers securely.

Reducing port congestion

Port congestion can be reduced by building more storage facilities in ports and limiting the number of ships allowed into the port at any one time.



One significant risk of transporting goods across the ocean is container loss. It happens rarely, but when it does, there are substantial losses.

The best way to limit the risk is to have cargo insurance and seek advice from someone knowledgeable in the industry.

If you're looking to ship your cargo or looking for more shipping advice, contact us at A-1 Auto Transport today. We are experienced in all aspects of the shipping industry and would be happy to answer any of your questions about a range of shipping services.

Share this content on social media
for a chance to get up to 15% off your next shipment.
Copy link

Joe Webster always knew the auto transport industry would be a great career option. And with decades of experience, Joe is now an established consultant for A1 Auto Transport.

Joe was born in Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Joe worked as a mechanic; a job continued to work part-time during his bachelor's degree.

Email Me

Mylene Rutllant
It’s my number one pick in auto shipping to this day.
★★★★★ choice in terms of auto transport has to be A1 Auto Transport. It’s in the name, but also in the quality with which they do their jobs. I’ve never had a problem with this company.

Luis Rodriguez
You have my full support and recommendation!

A1 Auto Transport... From the get go, they were very different from my past options. Their website was very professional and up to date, full of useful information. I requested a quote using their online form, and I got an email response within an hour. Surprisingly fast!

Testimonial by Cristine Benoit
Cristine Benoit
I can safely say this is a legit company that will get the job done.

There are a lot of options for auto transport these days, which surprisingly makes it harder to find a good company. I received more than 10 offers to ship my car, but I couldn’t decide on any of them... Fortunately, I made the right choice with A1 Auto Transport.

David Osallo
We give A1 Auto Transport a big 10 out of 10!

We give A1 Auto Transport a big 10 out of 10! We chose them to move our car from California to Vermont, since we needed professionals.

Visit our social, and see what our clients are saying about us

Ship Your Vehicle With A-1 Auto Today
Get an instant free Quote Now

Or Call Us Today and Speak Directly to Our Sales Team:

Our Partners:

Better Business Bureau Accredited
FMCSA Member
INC. 500 Member
VeriSign Secured
AMSA Member

A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
Copyright © 1988-2023, A-1 Auto Transport - All Rights Reserved.