March 8, 2018
UPDATE: Nine of 74 Lost Shipping Containers Spotted
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Coastal Review Online
the 74 huge steel containers that fell from a cargo ship near Oregon
Inlet during the weekend nor’easter, as of Wednesday afternoon, all are
still floating in the ocean somewhere off the coast.
One holds 5,913 pounds of sulfuric acid in big plastic boxes, a
hazardous substance that is not considered a significant threat when
diluted with saltwater.
So far, nine of the containers tossed off the Maersk Shanghai about 17
miles off Oregon Inlet have been spotted, said Petty Officer Corinne
Zilnicki at the Coast Guard Portsmouth, Virginia, office. It is not
known whether any of them is the one containing the acid, she said,
because the markings are difficult to detect.
The Coast Guard issued a notice to mariners after they were notified at
10:10 p.m March 3, according to Petty Officer Ronald Hodges, Public
Affairs Detachment Baltimore. Most of the containers have been spotted
during Coast Guard C-130 flights from Oregon Inlet to Cape Lookout, he
The first one was seen about 14 miles off Hatteras Inlet at 6:53 p.m.
March 4, followed by sightings of three more in quick succession. On
March 5, a fifth container was spotted at 12:32 p.m. by the cruise ship
Norwegian Breakaway, with two more spotted that day before 2 p.m.
Finally, a ninth container was sighted on March 6 at 1:20 p.m., about
27 miles northeast of Oregon Inlet.
Hodges said that the Maersk Shanghai had been heading to Charleston,
South Carolina, from Norfolk, Virginia, with its origin from Liberia.
It held about 3,000 containers.
“The container with the sulfuric acid – we confirmed it’s not on the
boat,” Hodges said. ‘We assume it’s in the water.” But the vessel
had to be diverted to Freeport, Bahamas, due to limited berthing
options in Charleston, Katherine Mosquera, North America regional
communications manager for Denmark-based Maersk, said Wednesday in an
The cargo ship is expected to reach Freeport on March 8, she said.
Cargo customers are being updated daily on their shipments, she added.
Vessels like the Shanghai, which is a chartered vessel, operate under a constant rotation, Mosquera said.
“There is no starting or ending,” she wrote, “for the journey is a just a constant loop under the lane they operate on.”
Mosquera said that the company “at this time” is not
aware of any other hazardous cargo that may have been lost overboard.
She did not elaborate on what the other shipments contained.
Tracking and recovery efforts for the lost containers is underway, she said.
Standard steel containers, she said, can range in size from 20 feet by
8 feet by 8.6 feet to as large as 54 feet by 8 feet by 9.6 feet.
“No containers have yet been recovered owing to
local weather conditions, but operations are ongoing,” Mosquera said in
the email. “The vessel owners, Stovep Marine, will take the lead in all
salvage and recovery of containers lost overboard.”
Frank Csulak, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or
NOAA, scientific support coordinator in Point Pleasant, New Jersey,
said in an interview on Wednesday that he was told by the Coast Guard
that the 40-foot containers blew off the ship in 40 to 50 mph winds off
the Outer Banks. The container with the sulfuric acid held the liquid
in large polyethylene plastic boxes within the steel container.
Sulfuric acid is generally used to make fertilizer and in water
treatment systems, he said. Although it can be very toxic if it
is breathed or touches skin, the chemical is neutralized in saltwater.
Even if the container sank – a common occurrence when containers are filled – it is not likely to leak from the plastic box.
“If the container – the polyethylene container – did break open,” he
added, “the sea water would neutralize it quickly.” He also said he
would not expect there to be any impacts on marine life.
“It’s not good, but fortunately, it was only one container,” Csulak said.
But Csulak said that it appears that a number of the containers still
onboard the cargo ship were damaged during the storm, which may explain
why the vessel had to be diverted.
“They’ve got to go through every container one-by-one,” he said.
The Coast Guard is continuing to warn mariners to be on the lookout for the containers.
“Our biggest concern is the threat these pose to navigation,” Hodges said.