Rubber ducks jump ship and head for America

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The Independent Online
AMERICANS LOOKING to get ahead with a little early Christmas shopping could do well to head down to the beach, as millions of toys are expected to wash up on the west coast.

Rubber ducks and other plastic toys, Christmas lights and artificial trees are among the cargo washed overboard in a massive storm last October.

Scientists have estimated it will take about 10 more months for the contents of hundreds of containers to reach land.

Tropical storm Babs descended on one of the world's largest container ships, the 906ft APL China, which was bound for Seattle, carrying a consignment of Christmas goods in 366 containers. Barometric pressure dropped so rapidly that the storm developed into a "meteorological bomb", driving 100mph winds and 60ft waves and ripping the containers from the ship's deck.

Two more ships, carrying consumer goods from China to Los Angeles, were caught in the storm. Together they lost a further 45 containers.

"Fortunately no one was hurt but Babs destroyed an enormous number of containers, the biggest loss in one incident," said Curtis Ebbesmeyer of the US National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.

Precise details of what each container held are subject to legal wrangling over insurance claims, but it is believed they include 15,000 trainers and an assortment of plastic toys.

Jim Ingraham, a scientist with the US fisheries service who has developed a computer model of Pacific Ocean currents, estimates that October or November is the most likely time for beachcombers to see the first toys wash ashore.

Dr Ingraham used previous spills to refine his model of ocean currents. One of the most informative was a spill of 29,000 bath toys, including yellow ducks and blue turtles, which were lost in 1992 and took 11 months to travel from the mid-Pacific to North America.