I have a phrase - "It doesn't matter how good your brakes are - you'll still be glad you had an airbag!"
The Containerised Shipping
Industry have recently "tightened up" on the loading and stowage of containers - however boxes continue to fall off ships. As you mention, a couple of weeks back 45 were lost
from Maersk Salina in the Bay of Biscay alone - and Maersk are one of the more responsible Shippers.
It's thought that half of the containers lost
at sea sink immediately due to weight or damage.
The remaining containers can float around for days, weeks or months waiting to be hit by ships/boats or broken up on rocks and spill their contents all over the place. There is generally little incentive for anyone to be out there salvaging them.
I have heard about these mythological "dissolving plugs" but never come across a company either making or using one. I can't imagine that such a thing would overcome the main problem of accidental activation in high seas, a storm or even high humidity (let alone be able to automatically reset itself afterwards).
Companies need a fit-and-forget system that will last, without maintenance
for up to 20 years.
The comment about styrofoam packaging is a fair one - obviously only containers that can sink, will - but a great deal of them do float for long periods of time due to trapped air pockets, particularly if up-ended, or upside down.
I have a solution to a large portion of the problem of hazardous floating containers.
It's a simple valve, fitted to the container that scuttles it once in the water. It costs a couple of US$ (a new 20ft container costs about $3500-$4000 to manufacture) and has recently been finalist in a couple of Lloyd's List Awards for Innovation and Safety
Shipping Companies are falling over themselves to be Second in the race
to fit it as standard and so take-up is currently glacial!
The problem is that it is seen as an altruistic item to fit whilst there is little to no liability or cost to the Shippers when they leave these containers floating randomly in their wake all around the world's oceans.
Sadly, unless there is new legislation requiring something be done, I fear most Shippers will probably only come around to the logic of fitting such a device once there has been a high profile tragedy involving a floating shipping container. It's possible Robert Redford's new film "All is Lost" might raise the profile of the issue.
"Great solution to the problem, but why would we need it - we never lose containers at sea" - followed by a wink - is the currently the reaction of some of the biggest companies in the industry! A Revolution in Marine Safety - Container Sinka