MOSS LANDING, CA Each year, an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall off container ships at sea. Although many of these containers float at the surface for months, most eventually sink to the seafloor. No one knows what happens to these containers once they reach the deep seafloor.
From March 8 to March 10, 2011, a team of researchers from MBARI and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) will use a robotic submarine to study the biological impacts of a shipping container resting on the seafloor about 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of Monterey Bay (but still within the boundaries of the sanctuary).
MBARI researchers first discovered this lost container at a depth of about 1,300 meters (4,200 feet) during a marine biology dive in June 2004. Video from MBARI's submersible clearly showed serial numbers on the side of this container. Sanctuary staff sent these numbers to the U.S. customs agency, which was able to identify the ship that had originally carried the container.
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.
Shortly after midnight on February 26, when the Med Taipei was directly offshore of Monterey Bay, stacks of containers began to break free of their lashings and topple sideways. Fifteen of the 40-foot long containers fell overboard into the churning sea. Yet the ship continued south. By the time the ship reached the Port of Los Angeles, nine more containers had fallen overboard, and another 21 lay crumpled on deck.
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|Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett|
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute