6 Crazy Things Found Inside Shipping Containers

Container Ship

Containers sometimes get lost on their way from one place to another, and sometimes, what’s inside when they’re found can tell a strange story.

Shipping containers are one of the most efficient ways to transport goods, and there are millions of them in circulation in the world today. Every once in a while, a container will wind up somewhere it wasn’t meant to be. However, their durability means that whatever’s inside them is often preserved.

As a result, people have found some crazy things inside shipping containers. Here are six stories of how these objects were lost, and what happened when they were found:

1. Plastic Bath Toys


The bath toys that washed up on beaches the world over weren’t exactly found inside shipping containers, although they did come from one. Still, their legacy is too impactful and too interesting not to mention.

The toys came from a Chinese manufacturer for The First Years, Inc. Dubbed “Friendly Floatees”, they included yellow ducks, green frogs, red beavers, and blue turtles. There were 28,800 Floatees in a container that was lost when a container ship, the Ever Laurel, encountered a storm in the North Pacific Ocean on January 10th, 1992.

The incident provided a unique opportunity for Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and James Ingraham, who were working on an ocean surface current model at the time. They’d previously been tracking flotsam movements by releasing 500-1000 drift bottles, but the unprecedented release of 28,800 objects into the ocean at one time offered significant advantages.

Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham were successfully able to predict the Floatees’ arrival in Washington State 1996, and have predicted that they would become trapped in the Arctic ice pack until it reached the North Atlantic ocean. Once there, they say, the ice pack will thaw and release more Floatees to arrive on beaches in the U.K.

2. A Bond Car

James Bond's Lotus Esprit could turn into a submarine. It also turned the man who found it into a millionaire!

James Bond’s Lotus Esprit could turn into a submarine. It also turned the man who found it into a millionaire!

Remember the amphibious Lotus Esprit that James Bond and Anya Amasova used to escape from Jaws’ henchmen in The Spy Who Loved Me?

A twist of fate put the vehicle that starred in that iconic chase scene into the hands of a Long Island contractort. He bought a container for $100 back in 1989. Inside, he and his brother discovered a “lump of blankets”, concealing a white sports car without wheels and with a dented roof.

The Ian Fleming Foundation later authenticated the car. “They had no idea how valuable their discovery was,” said Doug Redenius the organisation’s co-founder.

The car was sold at auction on September 9th, 2013. The buyer was concealed for a time, but the next month it was revealed that Elon Musk, the billionaire technology entrepreneur who founded Tesla, had purchased it for £616,000–nearly $1 million U.S. dollars. It is said to be fully functional in submarine mode, but cannot be driven on land.

3. Tear Gas Lipstick

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The tear gas lipstick that was found in a shipping container in December of 2013 sounds like a James Bond gadget, but it was the real deal!

The lipstick tubes were part of a major shipment of illegal weapons that arrived in Sydney in shipping container. The shipment included several other Bond-esque weapons, including electronic stun guns disguised as iPhones and replica pistols.

Police allege the items were destined for sale at public markets around Sydney. A 49-year-old woman was arrested in connection with the shipping container’s contents, and has been charged with importing tier two prohibited goods.

4. A Harley Davidson


Following the Japanese Tsunami of 2011, lots of cargo was lost. One shipping container even wound up in Canada!

Peter Mark of British Columbia was driving his ATV along the beach on April 18th, 2012, when he stumbled upon the container, which had ripped open. Inside, he found golf clubs, camping equipment, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The motorcycle was damaged, but still discernible as a Harley, and the license plate showed it had come from Miyagi Prefecture – one of the areas most affected by the Tsunami. The Kuroshio ocean current runs in an almost direct path from Japan’s east coast over to North America. It passes right by the islands of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, where the container was found. 

As of the most recent report, the Japanese consulate in Vancouver were still trying to track down the items’ owner.

5. A Stolen VW Bus


A VW Bus that was stolen in Spokane, Washington in 1974 turned up–where else?–inside a shipping container. The container was being shipped from an Arizona restorer to a buyer in the Netherlands when customs agents discovered it during a routine inspection.

The Bus was recently restored to like-new condition, and has been valued at USD $25,000. Allstate settled the original owner’s claim for a total of $2,500 which, when accounting for inflation, is still less than half of its present-day value.

Spokane police were unable to find the original owner and the search for the thief is ongoing, but the restorer is not a suspect.

6. A Functioning Ecosystem

Eels Living In A Tire

Marine life can make their homes in all kinds of places – including inside shipping containers!

The original contents of the container in question–1,159 steel-belted radial tires–wasn’t so exciting. What scientists from California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) found when they looked inside it is a different story.

The container fell off the container ship Med Taipei during a storm in Feburary of 2004, along with 14 others. While surveying Monterey Bay with the remote-controlled submersible “Ventana”, MBARI found it four months later, resting upside down 1,300 meters below the surface.

When MBARI returned to the sunken container in March of 2011, what they found prompted them to launch a study of how lost shipping containers can affect the environment. Images sent back by cameras on the remotely operated underwater vehicle “Doc Ricketts” revealed that the container had become host to an entire functioning ecosystem in the form of an underwater reef.

The settlement that the owners of the Med Taipei have since paid a settlement to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The money is currently being used to fund research into the impact this container has had on deep seafloor ecology.

Which of these items found in shipping containers did you find the most surprising?

Have you heard any other interesting stories of lost and found objects?

Share them in the comments!

Images courtesy of Jim Bahn, Iain Wanless, and prilfish