Millions of dollars worth of cigarettes have already washed up on shore after hundreds of Maersk shipping containers fell off a ship during a particularly rough storm earlier this month.
It's the largest recorded number of containers ever lost overboard in a single incident, according to CNN.
The Svendborg Maersk began losing its cargo near Northern France when 30-foot waves and winds of nearly 70 miles per hour began battering the ship in early February. By the time the boat docked in Spain last week, around 520 containers were unaccounted for.
Maersk says none of the containers held dangerous materials; by their count, 85% of the lost containers were empty and "others included such dry goods as frozen meat."
But even the losses of containers containing benign products have had lasting impacts:
These rogue containers can pose a danger to shipping and pollute the environment. In 2006, thousands of bags of Doritos chips washed up on the beaches of North Carolina's Outer Banks — much to the delight of local gulls — after the container carrying them split apart in the Atlantic. More famously, in 1992, a container broke apart off the coast of Alaska, and 29,000 plastic ducks and frogs escaped. They've been washing up as far away as Scotland and Japan ever since.
And it hasn't taken long for some of the lost items to reach shore — more than $5 million worth of cigarettes, including Marlboro Reds and Marlboro menthols, washed up onto English beaches in the last few weeks. The container they came from held an estimated 14 tons of cigarettes.
Maritime authorities are on the lookout for floating containers — apparently the insulation in refrigerated shipping containers allow them to float for a few months — but most have already sunk to the bottom of the ocean. At least 13 have been recovered so far