Commercial shipping is a dangerous industry. Workplace injuries are far more common aboard fishing vessels, container ships and other commercial ships than in offices lined with cubicles. But recent signs suggest companies are making their ships safer for officers and crew.
The insurance giant Allianz recently explored these changes in its most recent Safety & Shipping Review. Based on the data from 2019, the insurer found impressive reductions in total ship losses. In other places, the industry still had a lot of room to improve.
Ship losses hit record lows
This is the headline item for the report. Understandably, it’s big news for those in the insurance industry. In 2019, the industry saw an impressive drop in the number of lost ships. There were 20 percent fewer ships lost at sea in 2019 than in 2018. And this represented an impressive 70 percent reduction in total ship losses over a span of 10 years.
Naturally, this also represents key improvements for officers and crew. Their workplace is far safer when it’s much less likely to capsize, explode or otherwise fall apart.
The global health crisis continues to create risk
The report identified 10 ways the global health crisis continues to strain the shipping industry. Many of these also apply to workers stationed aboard offshore platforms. Among the various risks, the report highlighted:
- The increased risk of machinery failure due to the disruption of standard maintenance and service
- The increased risk of unsafe practices going unnoticed because there are fewer inspections
- Delayed crew changes place strain on workers and increase the odds of critical human errors
In many ways, the health crisis has exacerbated existing conditions more than it has created new ones. For example, the oil and gas industry were already under financial strain. In April, reporters questioned if such changes could lead to the sort of catastrophic explosion we saw 10 years ago with Deepwater Horizon.
Smaller shipping incidents continue to climb
While the number of the large, catastrophic accidents has plummeted, smaller incidents have risen. The report noted that total shipping incidents had risen by 5 percent while the number of shipboard fires had risen by as much as 13 percent.
There were nearly 200 fires reported in 2019, and the report pointed toward poor cargo reporting as a major problem. Many of the fires were started by chemicals and batteries that weren’t properly identified and stowed.
Car carriers and roll-off/roll-on ships among the most accident prone
Allianz reported that while cargo ships accounted for nearly one-third of all losses, there was a disturbing number of car carriers and roll-off/roll-on (ro-ro) ships lost on the year. The number of these ships lost in action climbed by 20 percent from the previous year.
Shipping companies need to mind these concerns
If you work at sea, you rely on your company, your officers and your fellow crew to keep your work conditions safe. That’s why these statistics matter. It’s also why it’s worth noting that the report pointed out a couple key concerns for the future.
The shipping industry must grapple with emission reductions and the incorporation of new technology. As with nearly every change, these present opportunities to make the world and the industry better—and safer—but may also lead companies and crew to cut corners. If they do, they may shortchange safety.