It’s now five days since 83 loaded shipping containers fell off a Sydney bound cargo ship off the New South Wales coast during wild weather.

Loads of rubbish have been collected by volunteers who are dismayed at the state of their pristine beaches. Concerns are also being raised for the safety of marine life in the affected areas, including turtles, sea birds, dolphins and whales. The NSW Greens have called on the state government to accelerate the clean-up to avoid further damage.

YM Efficiency, a Liberian-registered vessel operated by the Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation, encountered heavy seas and it appears that this has caused the ship to roll heavily, causing the containers to come off. A further 30 shipping containers have collapsed, but remained on deck, according to Steven Ka, managing director of Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp.

Mr Ka stated that the affected containers had not stored any hazardous material or dangerous goods. He said the ship itself had not suffered any damage, but deck fittings would need to be restored.

A massive clean up lies ahead as more and more debris continues to float ashore. Nappies, sanitary products and surgical masks were part of the first wave of wreckage that was washed up on New South Wales beautiful beaches.

Locals are working together to clear the rubbish coming in, but they admit that they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. They say it’s devastating to see their beaches in such a condition and that it’s likely to take several months before all the debris is cleared from New South Wales’ waters.

So far containers of emu oil, toilet-paper packaging, car parts, thousands of red foil lolly wrappers, jars, packaged food and clocks still in their packaging have been collected from the affected beaches.

Gabrielle Upton, the NSW minister for Environment, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the state’s Roads and Maritime Services agency and the NSW Environment Protection Authority were working together with local councils to ensure all debris was cleaned up.

The ship’s owner, Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation, is coordinating the search for containers. Local company Varley has been engaged by the ship’s insurer and has put out skips for locals to dispose rubbish they collect and are using a helicopter to locate the debris still floating out at sea.

Angus Mitchell, Roads and Maritime Services executive director, said that marine rescue authorities sighted four containers about one kilometre off Hawks Nest on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Mitchell said that it’s likely the containers were damaged before they even fell into the water, as they often fall on each other before they go overboard. He said that while it was not uncommon for shipping containers to fall off a ship at sea, it was rare for it to occur so close to the coast.

A serious maritime warning remains in place for Sydney’s coastline and boaters are being warned via marine radio to keep a sharp lookout for the 40-foot containers. The dispersed containers themselves, and the cargo they contain, including building supplies, now pose a hazard to other marine craft along the coast. Any sightings should be reported to a marine rescue base.