On February 4th 2004, the merchant vessel Med Taipei set sail from San Francisco heading due south to the port of Los Angeles. A terrible winter storm was raging that day delivering swells up to 21-to-27-meters in height which for the crew must have felt like they were sailing a "cork" through a "flushing toilet." Consequently they lost some freight; 14 containers in all and now one of those containers has been found in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.
Two years after the incident a $3.25-million settlement was paid by the shipping company to the US government agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to settle all claims. Some of that money is going towards locating all 14-containers. An ambitious task since containers will float for a period of time before sinking so GPS coordinates as to where an accident happened may not be accurate but the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has taken up the quest.
After some heavy duty ocean reconnaissance, the MBARI found a container. After tracing numbers on the side of the upside down container, they were able to connect the contents to a US customs manifest stating if is filled with over 1,159 steel-belted radials. Other containers lost that day had similar "inert" contents such as metal fencing, mattress pads, and other urban junk that is essentially not so harmful when the contents are compared to 55-gallon drums of acetone, benzene, or powered bleach.
From the MBARI site:
The merchant vessel Med Taipei left San Francisco on February 25, 2004, in the middle of a winter storm. As the ship steamed south toward the Port of Los Angeles, it began rolling violently in seven- to nine-meter (23- to 30-foot) swells. In a rush to get his goods to port, the captain continued southward at high speed, despite the rolls. Unbeknownst to the captain and crew, the containers on their ship had been stacked incorrectly, with massive, heavy containers perched on top of lighter ones.
Imagine you are the Captain or a crew member and you find out that your container ship could have capsized that day! Nonetheless, according to National Geographic Between 2,000 and 10,000 containers are lost at sea each year and that is a lot of stuff!
From National Geographic:
"... Every year, more than 10,000 containers fall overboard and spill their cargo into the ocean. Storms are often to blame.
An 8-foot by 40-foot container (2.4-meter by 12.2-meter), which can carry up to 58,000 pounds (26,000 kilograms) of cargo, might hold 10,000 shoes, 17,000 hockey gloves, or a million pieces of Lego. ..."
So, why don't we hear about this? Because they is no law that says container dumps such as the Med Taipai have to be reported hence only the customs agents know. Hence, one has to wonder if this is a possible smuggling tactic?
The inspiration for this article was originally from a tweet written by Joe Rojas-Burke.