Title:
Sea containers including at least one dissolvable and/or pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug and/or vent
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Certain example embodiments of this invention relate to sea containers. More particularly, certain example embodiments of this invention relate to a sea container including an interior region suitable for storing one or more movable goods. At least one sacrificial plug is located in a first side of the container. At least one vent is located in a second side of the container. The at least one sacrificial plug and/or the at least one vent is/are suitable for allowing water to enter into and/or air to exit out of the sea container. The at least one sacrificial plug and/or vent may be a pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug. Alternatively or in addition, the at least one sacrificial plug and/or vent may be dissolvable (e.g., dissolvable in water). Thus, when such sea containers fall off of a ship, they may provide a suitable window for recovery but also reduce the likelihood that damage will be done to other ships.



Inventors:
Skulnick, Steven L. (Bat Cave, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/705605
Publication Date:
08/28/2008
Filing Date:
02/13/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65D59/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
MCKINLEY, CHRISTOPHER BRIAN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NIXON & VANDERHYE, PC (ARLINGTON, VA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A sea container including an interior region suitable for storing material(s), the sea container comprising: at least one sacrificial plug located in at least a first side of the container; and wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is designed to allow water to enter into the sea container so as to allow the sea container to sink when the sea container becomes at least partially submerged in ocean water.

2. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the sea container further includes at least one air vent located in a second side of the container that is different than the first side.

3. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the sacrificial plug comprises one or both of: (a) a pressure-sensitive plug that opens to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug reaches a predetermined pressure underwater, and/or (b) material that dissolves or otherwise disintegrates in salt water so as to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug becomes located underwater in salt water.

4. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the sacrificial plug comprises a pressure-sensitive plug that opens to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug reaches a predetermined pressure underwater.

5. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the sacrificial plug comprises material that dissolves or otherwise disintegrates in salt water so as to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug becomes located underwater in salt water.

6. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the container comprises first and second of the sacrificial plugs.

7. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the sea container's exterior is ribbed.

8. The sea container of claim 7, wherein the ribs are disposed substantially perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the sea container.

9. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is a pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug.

10. The sea container of claim 9, wherein the pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug is configured to blow out under a predetermined pressure.

11. The sea container of claim 9, wherein the pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug is configured to blow out at a predetermined depth.

12. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is formed from a dissolvable material that is adapted to dissolve in at least salt water.

13. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is dissolvable after a continuous period of contact with water.

14. The sea container of claim 1, wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is located on at least a bottom side of the sea container.

15. The sea container of claim 2, wherein the at least one vent is located on a front side and/or a back side of the sea container.

16. A sacrificial plug for use in a sea container, the sacrificial plug comprising material and/or design suitable to cause water to enter into and/or air to exit from the sea container, thereby causing the sea container to sink when the container falls off a ship into salt water.

17. The sacrificial plug of claim 16, wherein the sacrificial plug is a pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug.

18. The sacrificial plug of claim 16, wherein the pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug is configured to blow out under a predetermined pressure.

19. The sacrificial plug of claim 16, wherein the sacrificial plug is formed entirely or partially of a dissolvable material.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

Certain example embodiments of this invention relate to sea containers. More particularly, certain example embodiments of this invention relate to sea containers that include at least one plug and/or vent suitable for causing the sea container to eventually sink after its has fallen overboard from a ship or vessel.

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF EXAMPLE EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

Shipping creates, freight containers, and the like typically are used to ship goods around the world. In particular, sea containers often are loaded onto large ships or barges, and they often are stacked one on top of another. Such sea containers have been used to cheaply and efficiently send a wide variety of goods among and between disparate locations. Various improvements have been made to standard sea containers, sea container storage/location techniques, and sea container securing mechanisms, as set forth in, for example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,884,794; 6,077,019; 6,089,802; 6,789,987; and 7,096,811, the entire contents of each of which are hereby incorporated herein by reference.

Unfortunately, sea containers have been known to fall off of ships. This may happen when sea containers are not properly stowed, through the negligence of personnel aboard the ship, because of rough or stormy waters, etc. As a result, the goods in the sea container may be damaged and/or forever lost.

Perhaps surprisingly, sea containers typically are at least partially buoyant. Thus, once a sea container falls overboard, the sea container may float at or somewhat below sea level, similar to the way in which icebergs float at or somewhat below sea level. Indeed, sea containers may travel many miles based on currents and other salient conditions. This at least partial floatation sometimes makes it somewhat easier to locate and/or recover lost sea containers, insofar as it typically is easier to locate and/or retrieve a sea container from at or near sea level than from the ocean floor. It has been found that some sea containers after falling off of a ship can float for as long as ten years or more, depending on the cargo. However, this sort of floatation may be hazardous to other ships. More particularly, in addition to the damage and/or loss of goods caused by the sea container falling overboard, sea containers in the water threaten the safety of other ships navigating the same and/or other waters. Indeed, another ship unaware of, or unable to avoid, the sea container may strike it, thereby causing damage to and/or sinking the ship.

Thus, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that there exists a need for sea containers that provide a suitable window for recovery that also reduce the likelihood that damage will be done to other ships.

In certain example embodiments of this invention, there is provided a sea container including an interior region suitable for storing material(s), the sea container comprising: at least one sacrificial plug located in at least a first side of the container; and wherein the at least one sacrificial plug is designed to allow water to enter into the sea container so as to allow the sea container to sink when the sea container becomes at least partially submerged in ocean water. Note that the word “sink” as used herein covers situations where the container is caused to move downward in the water further away from the surface of the water, either to the bottom or possibly not all the way to the bottom.

In certain example embodiments of this invention, the sacrificial plug comprises one or both of: (a) a pressure-sensitive plug that opens to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug reaches a predetermined pressure underwater, and/or (b) material that dissolves or otherwise disintegrates in salt water so as to permit water to enter into the sea container when the plug becomes located underwater in salt water.

In certain example embodiments of this invention, there is provided a sea container including an interior region suitable for storing one or more movable goods. At least one sacrificial plug may be located in a first side of the container. At least one vent may be located in a second side of the container. The at least one sacrificial plug and/or the at least one vent may be suitable for allowing water to enter into and/or air to exit out of the sea container.

In certain other example embodiments of this invention, there is provided a sacrificial plug for use in a sea container. The sacrificial plug may be suitable to cause water to enter into and/or air to exit from the sea container, thereby causing the sea container to sink.

The at least one sacrificial plug and/or vent may be a pressure-sensitive sacrificial plug. Alternatively or in addition, the at least one sacrificial plug and/or vent may be dissolvable (e.g., dissolvable in water, salt water, etc.).

These aspects and embodiments may be used separately or applied in various combinations in different embodiments of this invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other features and advantages may be better and more completely understood by reference to the following detailed description of exemplary illustrative embodiments in conjunction with the drawings, of which:

FIG. 1 is a partial perspective view of a conventional sea container;

FIG. 2 is a view of the bottom of a sea container in accordance with an example embodiment;

FIG. 3 is a front and/or back view of a sea container in accordance with an example embodiment; and,

FIGS. 4a-4d illustrate a scenario in which a sea container including at least one sacrificial plug falls off a ship and subsequently becomes submerged at least partially in water and sinks, in accordance with an example embodiment of this invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXAMPLE EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

As used herein, the term “sea container” is intended to encompass various cargo and freight containers including, but not limited to, sea containers often referred to as “Matson” and/or “Sea Land” containers, as well as those sea containers covered by relevant ISO standards. Indeed, over 90% of the world's shipping occurs using containers sized in accordance with ISO/TC 104 standards. One standard container size that is used as a unit of measure is the 20-foot length container and, thus, the 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) is the basic unit of measure, as set forth by ISO/TC 104/SC 1 in, for example, ISO 668:1995 and its amendments (e.g., ISO 668:1995/Amd 1:2005 and ISO 668:1995/Amd 2:2005). There also are standardized containers with lengths of 10, 30, 40, and 45 feet. The containers also have been standardized to a width of 8 feet and a height of 8 or 8.5 feet. The contents of these standards are hereby incorporated herein by reference.

Referring now more particularly to the drawings, FIG. 1 is a partial perspective view of a conventional sea container 10. The conventional sea container 10 includes two sidewalls 16, a top 14, a bottom, and front 12, and a back. Together, these six faces define an interior into which goods are loaded for transport. Although not shown, the conventional sea container 10 may be ribbed (e.g., along the top 14, the sidewalls 16, and/or the bottom), for example, with the ribs running substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the sea container. The front 12 may be hinged or otherwise openable and closeable. The conventional sea container 10 is substantially regularly prism shaped so as to have a highly modular design, suitable for efficient loading, stacking, and transport of the same.

FIG. 2 is a view of the bottom 20 of a sea container in accordance with an example embodiment. The bottom 20 of the sea container includes a sacrificial plug 22. In certain example embodiments, if the sea container falls off of a vessel, the plug 22 may be sacrificed, thereby causing the sea container to fill with water. In turn, this will cause the sea container to sink to a depth where the risk it poses to the navigation of the waterway will be reduced. As shown in FIG. 2, the plug 22 is located in the lower part of the container under the fifth wheel plate, proximate to the front-side 26 of the container and away from the doors (e.g., the backside) 24 of the container. In FIG. 2, the container is shown being ribbed, although the present invention need not be ribbed in this way.

Another plug may serve as a “vent,” thereby facilitating water entering into enter and air exiting out of the container. This vent may be located in a location different from the sacrificial plug 22, such that water enters via one side of the container and air exits via a different side. For example, FIG. 3 is a front and/or back view 30 of a sea container in accordance with an example embodiment. As shown in FIG. 3, vent 32 is located proximate to the top edge 34 and away from the bottom edge 36 of the container.

Although FIGS. 2 and 3 show one sacrificial plug 22 and one corresponding vent 32, the present invention is not so limited. For example, multiple sacrificial plugs and/or vents may be provided. Moreover, such sacrificial plugs and/or vents need not be provided on the same or opposing sides. For example, one or more sacrificial plugs may be provided on the top, bottom, and/or sides of the sea container, while one or more vents may be provided on the front and/or back of the sea container. It will be appreciated that various combinations of locations for one or more sacrificial plugs and/or vents may be used in connection with certain example embodiments.

The sacrificial plugs themselves may be formed from any suitable material and may work in any suitable fashion. For example, in certain example embodiments, the sacrificial plugs may be formed from a dissolvable material. In particular, in certain example embodiments, the sacrificial plugs may dissolve when they come into contact with water over a period of time (e.g., one to two days), thus allowing a chance to recover the errant container. Accordingly, rain, incidental splashing, and the like may not cause the sacrificial plugs to dissolve, or may not cause complete dissolving (e.g., may cause only partial dissolving). By way of example and without limitation, the sacrificial plugs may comprise one or more of an unfired ceramic clay, heat-treated sodium bichloride, solid sodium chloride, solid calcium chloride, soaps, or any other material which will dissolve. These and/or other materials may be appropriate for salt and/or fresh water dissolving.

However, in certain example embodiments, the sacrificial plugs may be formed from a material not readily dissolvable by fresh water. Thus, rain and the like incidentally deposited on the plugs may not affect them. Materials suitable for dissolving (e.g., corroding) in salt water and not (or to a lesser degree) in fresh water include, for example, materials that tend to be more active (e.g., anodic) and thus high on the Galvanic Table. Such materials may include, for example, magnesium and magnesium alloys, zinc, beryllium, aluminum and aluminum alloys, cadmium, and the like.

Certain other example embodiments may include pressure-sensitive plugs in place of, or in addition to, dissolvable plugs. For example, when the sea container enters the water and/or begins to sink (e.g., to a depth of, for example, 8-12 feet), the water pressure may effectively blow out the plug, causing water to enter the container and the container itself to sink. Such pressure sensitive sacrificial plugs may be formed from any suitable material, including lightweight materials such as PVC, clays, etc.

FIGS. 4a-4d illustrate a scenario in which a sea container including at least one sacrificial plug falls off a ship and subsequently sinks, in accordance with an example embodiment. In FIG. 4a, a ship 40 is loaded with multiple sea containers 42, each including at least one sacrificial plug. In FIG. 4b, one sea container 44 is separated from the palate of sea containers 42 on the ship 40, and falls into the water 46. As noted above, conventional sea containers will float at or somewhat below sea level. This may be the case, at least temporarily, for the improved sea containers of certain example embodiments. Indeed, as noted above, the improved sea containers of certain example embodiments may float for a period of time to allow for reasonable recovery efforts. However, once the sacrificial plugs are sacrificed, the containers will sink, thus helping to reduce the likelihood that such sea containers will damage other ships. Thus, assuming that the sea container is not recovered, FIG. 4c shows the sea container 44 having a blown-out sacrificial plug. As a result of the sacrificial plug being sacrificed, in FIG. 4d, the sea container is lost at sea 46.

Both the dissolvable plugs and the pressure-sensitive plugs may be pre-formed and/or pressed into holes, which may be pre-cut in the sea container. It will be appreciated that the sacrificial plugs and the “vents” may be formed from the same material. Alternatively or in addition, the vents may comprising one or more openings, holes, or gaps in the sea container, with the same being suitable for allowing water to enter into and/or air to exit out of the sea container.

Note that the word “sink” as used herein covers situations where the container is caused to move downward in the water further away from the surface of the water, either to the bottom or possibly not all the way to the bottom. Thus, when a container sinks herein, it may or may not make its way to the bottom of the ocean or the like, but in any event does make its way far enough below the surface so that it is not a hazard to at least most ships passing by. If a container is permitted to fill with water, it may sink all the way to the bottom of the ocean or the like, or alternatively may sink far enough below the surface of the ocean or the like so that it is no longer a hazard to at least most ships passing by.

While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiment, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.