Sunday, March 20, 2011

Voyage to sunken shipping container

10,000 shipping containers are lost overboard each one sense that's too many. On the other hand, percentage wise that's probably only 1% of the shipping containers that cross the ocean.

Monterey Herald.comVoyage to sunken shipping container
MBARI researchers to study container's effect on marine life
Herald Staff Writer

The merchant ship Med Taipei lost 25 containers on its 2004 voyage to... (JAMES HERRERA/The Herald)«12»It's not exactly a search for sunken treasure, but an expedition will be mounted today to study a shipping container discovered 4,200 feet beneath the sea outside Monterey Bay seven years ago.

The container, which fell overboard during a storm as the merchant ship Med Taipei steamed past San Francisco Bay on Feb. 26, 2004, was found by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute four months later during a marine biology research dive by a remotely piloted submersible.

The 40-foot-long metal shipping box was traced by serial numbers and labels clearly visible in the underwater videotape, said institute spokesman Kim Fulton-Bennett. It contains more than 1,100 steel-belted radial tires made in China.

The Med Taipei lost more containers during its voyage to Los Angeles when it began rolling violently in 20- to 30-foot swells, he said. Fifteen were lost outside Monterey Bay and nine others went overboard during the voyage. The ship arrived in the Port of Los Angeles with 21 containers crumpled on its deck.

The containers apparently were improperly stacked on the ship's deck, Fulton-Bennett said. The heavier ones were on top and the lighter ones below, making the load top-heavy in the rolling seas.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall off ships into seas, Fulton-Bennett said. But there is no legal requirement for shipping companies to report such losses, and this one came to the government's attention when institute



scientists told the U.S. Customs Service.
On July 26, 2006, the shipping company agreed to pay the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $3.25 million to settle claims relating to the lost containers, Fulton-Bennett said. Money from the settlement is being used to fund the upcoming research dives.

The Med Taipei was hauling "innocuous" cargo intended for retail stores, he said, including cyclone fencing, leather chairs and mattress pads.

That isn't always the case, he said. Some containers are laden with barrels of household or industrial chemicals, pesticides, batteries and other toxic items that can pollute ocean waters.

The institute sub won't try to open the shipping container, Fulton-Bennett said.

"That takes equipment we do not have," he said. "You'd need an underwater grinding tool like the one used for the Deepwater Horizon. It's a very difficult and time-consuming process."

The submersible instead will study marine life on the container and the nearby sea floor, he said.

Because the container is in the "oxygen-minimum zone" of the undersea world, he said, "things don't rust that fast, not that much grows," and the container should be in good shape.

The researchers — lead by Andrew DeVogelaere, research coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and senior institute scientist James Barry — plan to stay at the site on board the research vessel Western Flyer today through Thursday.

The submersible will count the number of deep-sea animals on and near the container and collect sediment samples at various distances from the container for biological and chemical analysis.

"As these containers drop to the bottom of the sea, they form deep-water stepping stones between ports — highways of debris, if you will," DeVogelaere said.

"I hope that this cruise will help expand the public's thinking about human impacts in the deep sea."

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