At least 76 shipping containers fell from a Maersk cargo ship underway off the Outer Banks in early March, adding to the debris problem in the world’s oceans.
The boxes fell from the 1,063-foot Maersk Shanghai on March 3 some 17 miles off Oregon Inlet, N.C., during a “heavy roll,” the U.S. Coast Guard said. Nine days later, just two containers remained afloat. The other boxes are presumed to have sunk.
“Those two containers are still floating, they are still at the surface, and as of now they have been pushed by wind in an easterly direction and they are 120 to 130 nautical miles offshore,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Corinne Zilnicki, who is based in Portsmouth, Va.
One of the missing containers carried sulfuric acid. The Coast Guard said the chemical dissolves in salt water, posing no threat.
Depending on the source, between 1,500 and 10,000 shipping containers fall overboard each year, often in shipping lanes used by recreational boaters. These containers and other unidentified floating objects, or UFOs, have been a recurring problem for voyagers as well as competitors in major sailing events.
During the 2016-17 Vendee Globe, for instance, at least six sailors reported striking unidentified floating objects.
The two floating containers off North Carolina have been lighted and are being tracked by satellites, and the Coast Guard is warning mariners via regular radio broadcasts, Zelnicki said. Maersk is working with contractors to locate sunken containers using side-scan sonar.
As of mid-March, she said there was no evidence the floating containers had impacted any commercial or recreational vessels.