Nappies, sanitary products and surgical masks are washing up on NSW beaches after a ship lost at least 86 shipping containers in rough seas off Newcastle.
A Liberian-registered ship bound for Port Botany, south of Sydney, lost the containers after being struck by high winds and a heavy swell en route from Taiwan. Another 30 containers were reported to be severely damaged.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has issued navigational warnings and asked other vessels to report if they see shipping containers floating just below the surface of the South Pacific Ocean.
Shipping containers have already been reported to be drifting south of Port Stephens, just north of Newcastle, an AMSA spokesperson told The New Daily.
While the containers do not represent a threat to larger vessels, a collision with a thin-hulled yacht can — and often has — lead to disaster.
A helicopter scoured the coastline on Saturday for the 12-metre containers while nappies, surgical masks and plastic containers are among the first debris to wash up on Jimmys Beach and Rocky Point.
“Likely many of the shipping containers have sunk, but some float low in the water, with vessels able to see them and report them to the AMSA,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the containers went overboard at midnight on Thursday, but the operator did not report the incident to AMSA until 11am on Friday.
AMSA sent an aircraft past the vessel on Friday to capture vision of the damage and pollution offshore and planned to send inspectors on board once the ship berthed.
The Liberia-registered ship, the YM Efficiency, is still sailing on its way to Port Botany and is expected to dock on Sunday.
Operator Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation Australia managing director Steven Ka told The New Daily all parties were working to get the vessel into Port Botany as soon as possible.
“As far as we have heard from the master of the vessel, some containers were falling overboard,” Mr Ka said.
Mr Ka said fortunately all of the crew on the YM Efficiency were safe, nobody was hurt and there had been no significant damage to the vessel.
“So she is still sailing on the way to Port Botany,” he said.
Mr Ka could not confirm the contents inside the shipping containers, but said they were “full” of “all kind” of items and “so far we know there are no dangerous cargoes involved”.
The Australian Associated Press reported the company is informing customers and discussing the next steps with its insurer.
It is thought that somewhere between four and 27 shipping containers are lost in oceans around the world each day, according to BBC nature documentary series, Blue Planet II.
UK newspaper The Telegraph reported shipping containers can take up to two months to sink, while refrigerated containers can be buoyed in the water for longer due to internal insulation.
Contents of shipping containers can pollute the ocean and waters with hazardous chemicals or materials, but food, clothing and even toys have also been found on beaches around the world.
In 2006, thousands of bags of Doritos crisps washed up on the sands of the North Carolina Outer Banks and LEGO pieces continue to wash up on the Perran Sands in Cornwall in the United Kingdom after a container ship full of toys was hit by a wave in 1997.
In another incident, 29,000 plastic yellow ducks, known as the ‘Friendly Floatees’, red beavers, blue turtles and green fogs lost in the Pacific Ocean in 1992, were sited at beaches in the United States, South America, Europe and Australia.