More than 15,000 pairs of Nike basketball shoes are drifting in the Pacific Ocean towards Alaska after falling from a container ship off the coast of Northern California, an oceanographer said on Monday.

Dr Curtis Ebbesmeyer said the laceless sports shoes were in three containers spilled from a ship in a heavy storm shortly before Christmas and are now bobbing their way up the coast towards Anchorage.

He told the Anchorage Daily News the flotilla of Nikes are moving at the rate of 18 miles a day and estimated they could travel as far as 1,600 miles by the time the Davidson Current eases later this year.

Oregon-based Nike confirmed the Indonesian made shoes were being shipped from Los Angeles to Washington when they were washed overboard by huge waves.