Hundreds of Shipping Containers Lost at Sea, Creates Potential Hazards for Vessels

520 containers that were onboard the Danish-flagged ship, Svendborg Maersk were lost at sea after hurricane-level winds and 30-foot high waves razed the ships. According to a news report, this was the largest recorded loss from a ship in a lone incident. The company reported that 85% of the containers were empty and that no containers held dangerous goods. A warning was issued to other vessels to look out for floating containers, but most were believed to have sunk.

A French environmental group claims that the containers places the lives of others at sea in danger in addition to causing pollution. Refrigerated containers and polystyrene packaging can stay afloat due to the insulation and naturally buoyant properties. Small vessels have reported damage to their ships in recent years after hitting semi-submerged containers that are too low in the water to reveal itself on radar. Currently there are no requirements to report how many containers are lost at sea, or for containers to be weighed prior to being loaded on the ship. Burdensome weight can add stress to the vessels, but the International Maritime Organization has stopped short of enacting the proposals to weigh ships.

Shipowners are required to provide a seaworthy vessel to the seamen and passengers onboard. Seaworthiness is not just the ship's ability to sail with properly functioning external or mechanical systems, but also includes pathways or items regularly used onboard. The unseaworthy condition does not have to be known to the owner for the owner to be liable to those injured on the ship. Prior cases have provided more specifics as to what constitutes an unseaworthy vessel. Equipment brought onboard by a third party may cause a ship to be unseaworthy, but a temporary unsafe condition does not.

Federal rules of civil procedure allow a defendant to bring a "third party defendant" as a party to the case, claiming that they are wholly or partially liable to themselves or to the plaintiff. The original defendant can ask the court to hold them liable for damages above their own or contribute to the damages assessed in favor of the injured plaintiff. An example might involve a scenario described above, like if a crew member was injured on a boat and sought maintenance and cure from the owner of the boat they worked on, after the boat hit a floating container. If the vessel owner and employer of the crew member happened to find the owner or company that shipped the container, and could show negligence by the shipping company or owner of the container, the original ship owner could ask the court to make them a party to the case and pay damages.

The Washington maritime attorneys Gordon Webb and John Merriam are internationally recognized lawyers who have built a solid reputation by litigating and negotiating personal injury maritime cases for injured passengers and crew members like you. If you have been injured while working on a vessel, contact our office at 877.800.1007.

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