FIGURE 4 Major ocean currents. Note: (1) Alaska, (2) California, (3) Peru, (4) Brazil, (5) Gulf Stream, (6) Benguela, (7) Agulhas, (8) Kuroshio.


On any day, hundreds of container ships cross the oceans. Major trade routes lie between Asia and the west coasts of North and South America in the Pacific and between Europe and North America and South America in the Atlantic. A modern container ship carries hundreds of 40-foot-long steel containers on deck. When battered by rough seas or struck by large waves, containers can be knocked into the sea, where they are floating hazards to navigation.10

An incident of this type occurred in May 1990, when the container ship Hansa Carrier lost 21 containers overboard during a storm in the middle of the Pacific, roughly midway between the Aleutian and Hawaiian Islands. These containers were full of Nike brand athletic shoes, and according to estimates, 80,000 shoes were dumped into the ocean.11

Remarkably, they floated and were carried in an easterly direction by the prevailing North Pacific Current. About six months later they began washing ashore on the coasts of Vancouver Island and Washington State, roughly 1,400 nautical miles from the point where they had entered the water. They were in surprisingly good condition after their long voyage, and enterprising beachcombers began collecting them.

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