An article was just forwarded to us for our evaluation, and although no byline appeared at the beginning, the story’s introduction caught our attention. It began:

“Search continues for ways to reduce the number of containers falling off ships.”

We just had to read it. In spite of its brevity it wasn’t just an article, it was more of a study, and at the very end we saw the name “Peter Leach”. We’ve referred to Peter’s work in the past, because he’s so good at what he does, and this piece is no exception.

“The P&O Nedlloyd Mondriaan was steaming off the coast of the Netherlands,” he began, “with its decks stacked high with containers from the Far East on Feb. 9, 2006, when it was hit from astern with waves driven by winds of force 8 to 9 on the Beaufort scale. As the vessel rolled with the waves, 59 loaded containers tumbled overboard.”

On its return trip to the Far East this same vessel, Peter reported, lost another 50 containers in the Bay of Biscay. On the same day and in the same storm at about the same location, Peter wrote, the CMA CGM Otello also lost 50 containers. Peter went on to say that these three incidents were among the first of a mounting tally of containers lost overboard during the last two years.

“In 2006 and 2007,” he states, “there were ‘significant’ incidents where at least 36 ships lost a total of more than 1,600 boxes overboard. The full extent of the problem is unclear because there’s no central repository for the data, and many shipping lines understandably aren’t eager to publicize lost containers.”

Several maritime organizations here and abroad have begun studying the problem, and although numerous possible causes of these losses have been proposed, no one has the come up with an answer. It could very well be that those same shipping lines that “understandably aren’t eager to publicize lost containers”, are also not eager to admit that today’s box ships just can’t cut the mustard.

Recalling that Malcom McLean was kept on a back burner for much too long a period of time by the recalcitrant maritime industry, none of this comes as a surprise. Eventually, our patented container ship design will be seen as the solution to all of the problems inadvertently spelled out as “possible causes” in those studies Peter talks about, and more than likely, additional shortcomings will surface as new studies are undertaken.

But for now, let’s look at some of the questions treated in Peter’s article. “Is it the design of the new, larger ships? Or overweight containers? Or a sudden run of bad weather? Or the failure of the twistlocks that are supposed to hold the containers in place on deck? Or the cumulative motion of the waves, which causes parametric rolling by ships?” Peter asks.

“Our concern is that there appears to be a trend of near-catastrophic losses of containers stowed on deck of container ships,” said James Craig, president of the American Institute of Marine Underwriters.

Harold Krill, the managing director of Reederei Blue Star Line said the problem with the P&O Nedlloyd Mondriaan may have been caused by the vessel’s design. He cited the very high G-forces on the main deck levels in the stack behind the superstructure, and noted that the lost boxes in both the P&O Nedlloyd Mondriaan and in the CMA CGM Otello had been stowed immediately aft of the ships’ superstructure.

But Mr. Krill said that he thinks a more likely cause of these recent incidents is heavy containers loaded atop lighter ones. “There are more heavy containers being loaded on top of light containers because of the last moment order when vessels with fixed schedules have a closing window of a few hours before departure when the last cargo can be booked,” he said. “When you look into the last two years, we have more (capacity) available than cargo because there are many deliveries of new vessels that are bigger and bigger. Of course, the liner operators like to have as many containers as possible loaded on board these vessels to offset the losses due to increasing fuel costs.”

[Actually, fuel costs have little bearing on the liner operators wish to load as many containers as possible. It’s the 75 to 80 percent break-even point on these “bigger and bigger” vessels that has become the determining factor. And isn’t that why vessel sharing agreements have come about?]

Avoiding improper weight distribution would seem to point to a rather simple solution, the article states: weigh all the containers before they are loaded on board so that their weight can be verified and they can be loaded properly … But, some object, this would cost money because longshore unions might demand additional personnel to weigh containers. Advocates of weighing containers, however, say the cost could be offset in part by the revenue stream that would be generated by container lines billing shippers for excessive weight.

[Our patented system would require no weighing of containers simply because each container sits on a carriage and not upon the container below it. Therefore, there would be no added cost to be “offset in part by the revenue stream …” — the stream that flows right down to the consumer.]

“In the incidents involving P&O Nedlloyd Mondriaan, Reederei Blue Star Line argued that the loss of containers was not caused by the failure of the twistlocks that secured the containers, but that one of the containers on the lower tier had collapsed, causing the other containers to topple off.”

[Again, regardless of weight and positioning, no container in our patented design exerts a force on containers beneath it. Full support is provided by each container’s individual carriage.]

What about that “sudden run of bad weather”, though? A cursory examination of our patented container ship design will reveal a revolutionary main deck and hull structure. Multiple transverse and longitudinal members, never before incorporated in cargo ships, impart a measure of stability and seaworthiness found only in warship-type vessels.