Shipping Containers, Overboard! Pt 1 of 3

Shipping Containers, Overboard! Pt 1 of 3

9/2/2014 Umut Türker 2435 Times Read

“I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!”

This was the catchphrase for a commercial for a medical alarm product in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and which was frequently satirized. The commercial featured an elderly lady who fell down and, because of circumstances beyond her control, could not move or stand up again.


I thought of that commercial and the idea for this post when I read that about 10,000 shipping containers are lost at sea each and every year. They have fallen off and they cannot get up. Everything about this is fascinating and awful at the same time.


This means that 27 shipping containers are lost at sea each day, or about one each and every hour of the day, on average. Of course, this is just the average. On days when there are no hurricanes or typhoons then there may be no lost containers. On days when there are hurricanes or typhoons then the actual loss could be much higher.


The physical magnitude of the containers is also fascinating and frightening. There are a handful of common lengths of containers: 20 feet (6.1 meters), 40 feet (12.2 meters) up through 53 feet (16.2 meters). I am not certain about the average length of a container but I believe that the 40 foot length is the most common. This average, though, is offset by the number of not only the also-common 20 foot long containers but also the longer containers. For the sake of ease and simplicity, let us do say that 40 feet is the average for containers.

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10,000 containers multiplied by the average of 40 feet equals 400,000 feet or 75.7575 miles or 121.92 kilometers. In 50 years, that means 3787.8787 miles or 6,096 kilometers. That is the distance between Anchorage, Alaska and Mexico City. Imagine one continuous line of containers stretching that entire distance!