PORT ANGELES — About 40 shipping containers tumbled into the Pacific Ocean in rough seas west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca entrance Friday, authorities said.

The containers broke free of their lashings and went overboard about midnight early Friday, as a commercial shipping vessel listed heavily to one side, said Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier, public affairs officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest.

The ship, which was headed inbound to Vancouver, British Columbia, instead rerouted to Victoria, B.C., Strohmaier said. Its crew has since been taking inventory and trying to figure out exactly how many containers were lost and what was inside of them, he said.

“Right now, we don’t know what was in them,” Strohmaier said. “They’re still out there. We cannot salvage them. Obviously, it’s too dangerous to send anyone out there to get these in this weather. We’re just monitoring them at the moment.”

At about 10 a.m. Friday, a Coast Guard helicopter from Port Angeles flew over the area about 43 miles west of the entrance of the strait to look for the containers. Once about 35 to 40 were spotted, the chopper crew “dropped a marker down to keep tabs on them, and it will ping back to the command center and give us a GPS fix,” Strohmaier said.

Photos from the helicopter captured containers, with one group of three linked together, floating in the water, a Coast Guard tweet showed. The containers have been drifting to the north with the wind, Strohmaier said.

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“We’ve been sending out radio broadcasts to tell everyone in the vessels out there keep a sharp lookout,” he added.

Multiple vessels are now hunkered down in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as the storm advances, trying to wait out the worst of it, Strohmaier said.

“There’s just a lot of vessels out there — five to 10 just came in today — and we’re trying to get them inside the straits where it’s not so choppy,” he said.

The Coast Guard will investigate the matter with their Canadian Coast Guard counterparts to try to determine what, if any, other factors contributed to the loss of cargo. They’ll also try to see to it that the containers are removed from the strait as quickly as possible, Strohmaier said.

“We’re going to rely on commercial companies to help us out, if they can withstand the storm,” he said.

Staff reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.