099 - Location, Tracking and Salvage support of lost shipping containers at sea

099 - Location, Tracking and Salvage support of lost shipping containers at sea


Each year 226 Million container boxes are shipped. About 1600 boxes/year (0,002%) are lost at sea. The boxes are afloat for days to weeks before they are sinking & grounding. The reasons can be traced to top-heavy container stacks (unstable), increasing bad weather (storms) by climate change and time pressure on ship crews (higher on the supply-chains after COVID). The number of boxes lost at sea seems to be small. However: 

  • Economic loss of $ 90 M in cargo value 
  • Contaminate the ocean and beaches, partly with dangerous goods 
  • Collision danger for smaller vessels (safety issue) 
  • Negative effect on sea-life 
  • IMO sub-committee on the Carrying of Cargoes will focus on this issue. However, no specification of “Tracking and Tracing Devices” elaborated so far. 

The objective of the activity is to study, design and develop a location and tracking system for lost containers at sea based on PNT-infrastructure (GNSS, MEO-SAR) plus IoT based PNT-COM package (Tracking & Tracing Device). On of the main innovations is to address the primary problem area: L-Band antenna could be under water (~2m), which causes high absorption loss in RF. It is highlighted that the German Ministry of Transport (BMDV) expressed their interest for the activity. 

The tasks to be performed shall include: 

  • Study the issue of lost containers, consider absorption of RF-Signals in seawater as function of frequency and penetration depth, establish contact to IMO, discuss possible directions of solutions: 
    • Detect loss of cargo effect with accelerometer and last GNSS up-date and fuse with sea-surface current model, 
    • Use of redundant (4) antennas or 4 GNSS-IoT’s on a container, 
    • Use of mass market MEO-SAR buoy. 
  • Establish low-frequency tracking transmitter to support salvage, build-up an experimental system, conduct tests in the North Sea. 

The main outputs of the activity will consist of: 

  • Survey and understanding of the problem, realistic directions, IoT design, first experimental result in sea water