In early May, the Coast Guard rescued a solo sailor whose vessel flooded after hitting an unknown object in open water some 60 miles east of Charleston, S.C.
The unidentified sailor contacted the Coast Guard from his life raft via satellite phone at about 2040 on May 4. The agency dispatched an MH-60 helicopter crew from Air Station Savannah, which hoisted him to safety at about 2200 that night.
He was described as being in good condition after the rescue. His 56-foot sailboat Fine Ally sank.
The case remains under investigation and details remain hazy. The Coast Guard is not certain what the vessel hit, according to a spokesman, who said investigators are still trying to gather details about the vessel’s location and other factors.
Unidentified floating objects present a real risk to offshore sailors. For instance, six competitors retired from the 2016 Vendee Globe around-the-world race after hitting unidentified floating objects (also known as UFOs).
Shipping containers are perhaps the most serious type of UFO. The World Shipping Council (WSC) issued a report last year estimating about 1,390 containers fall off ships each year, out of roughly 130 million transported annually.
Those figures show a decline compared to a similar report from 2014, and a substantial reassessment compared to earlier speculation that 10,000 containers or more went overboard each year.
“Although the number of containers lost at sea represents a very small fraction of the number of containers carried on ships each year, the industry continuously strives to reduces those losses,” John Butler, WSC president and CEO, said in a statement last year. “The latest report shows that the average number of containers estimated to be lost each year is down from the estimates reported in 2014. This is an encouraging sign.”
In March, at least 76 containers fell from the 1,063-foot Maersk Shanghai nearly 20 miles off the Outer Banks, N.C. Within nine days, all but two boxes were presumed sunk, the Coast Guard said at the time, noting that the remaining two were lighted and being tracked by satellites.
Asked about a possible connection, the Coast Guard said it was too soon to discuss any possible cause given the ongoing investigation.