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Agencies Look For Lost Cargo Containers

Reprinted from Outer Banks Voice

The Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency are monitoring the tracking and assessment of about 76 stray cargo containers that were lost last weekend off Hatteras Island.

Last Sunday, the cargo ship Maersk Shanghai alerted watchstanders at Sector North Carolina’s command center that they lost about 70 cargo containers during a heavy roll about 17 miles east of Oregon Inlet.

Maersk later confirmed 76 containers were lost in the high winds and seas from the nor’easter, including one carrying about 5,900 pounds of sulfuric acid.

There were no indications any containers of sulfuric acid have surfaced or washed up on shore and no other hazardous materials were reported in the containers, according to a Coast Guard news release.

Officials say that if the sulfuric acid leaked it would be quickly diluted and neutralized by salt water.

Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City crews, Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft crews and aircraft crews contracted by the shipping company have conducted multiple overflights, locating nine containers on the surface.

Only two of the sighted containers remain floating and have been designated hazards to navigation.

“Our main priority is ensuring the safety of navigation in the area and addressing potential environmental impacts,” said Coast Guard Capt. Bion Stewart, commanding officer, Sector North Carolina.

The owners of Maersk Shanghai contracted a salvage company to place tracking devices and lights on the containers.

The Coast Guard continues to issue Safety Marine Information Broadcasts to inform boaters of the positions of the known containers.

Maersk has also developed a plan to use side-scan sonar to locate the submerged containers to determine their risk to safe navigation and environmental impact. Weather and sea conditions will determine how quickly they are able to effectively survey the area.

Plans developed by Maersk to ensure safe navigation and minimize impact to the environment and marine life will be approved by the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency prior to execution.

“We are working with NOAA, the EPA, the National Park Service, state and local emergency management and the responsible party to reduce navigation and environmental hazards as quickly as possible,” said Stewart.

Mariners are reminded to notify the Coast Guard of container sightings at 910-362-4015 or on VHF-FM channel 16.

This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice, a digital newspaper covering the Outer Banks. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Voice to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast.

About the Author

Sam Walker

Sam Walker is the news director of Max Radio of the Carolinas and a staff writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."