With more than 4,000 vehicles on board, the transport ship wrecked in the Bay of St. Simons Sound on the way to the port of Baltimore in September 2019 - the recovery took more than a year and was extremely costly
Photo: Stephen B. Morton / AP
International shipping is responsible for a good 90 percent of world trade.
For this reason, too, the safety of ships and traffic routes is of particular importance.
The good news: The shipowners had to complain about the loss of only 49 ships last year, which means that the number of total losses (2019: 48) has stabilized close to the "minimum level", reports the Allianz ship insurer AGCS in its report "Saftey & Shipping Review 2021 ".
For comparison: In 2011 there were still 98 ship losses to complain about, on average over the past ten years 88 ships with more than 100 gross register tons had been reported as total losses.
Also encouraging: The number of ship accidents fell last year by another 4 percent to 2703. AGCS sees one reason for the development in improved ship designs, improved ship technology and better risk management, among other things.
But the risks for one of the most important branches of the economy have by no means been eliminated.
Even if the Covid 19 crisis hit shipping relatively moderately - the maritime trade volume fell by only 3.6 percent in 2020, and container throughput has already exceeded the pre-crisis level again in the first months of 2021 - the pandemic nonetheless poses major challenges for shipowners and ship owners Crews:
With a view to the crews in particular, the study speaks of a "humanitarian crisis". At the end of March of this year, around 200,000 seafarers were still on board ships that could not return home due to Covid-19 restrictions. Mental fatigue and physical problems from suspended crew changes could have an impact on safety. In the face of such working conditions, recruiting new crew members would be difficult and could become a real problem if international trade increased.
Disruptions to important maintenance and repair work during the pandemic would have increased the risk of machine damage, says Justus Heinrich, head of AGCS shipping insurance in Central and Eastern Europe.
A lack of spare parts as well as insufficiently available shipyard space also increased the risk of accidents.
In the course of Covid restrictions, according to the study, legally required ship tours and port inspections could be delayed or possibly fail, defective equipment or practices that pose a risk to safety could thus remain undetected.
Covid-19-related delays in ports and problems in managing ship capacities have led to congestion and a shortage of containers, the authors of the study report.
In June of this year, around 300 cargo ships were waiting to enter overcrowded ports.
The time container ships spend waiting for port berths has more than doubled since 2019, which is also due to the size of the ships.
Big ships, bigger problems
Beyond the immediate risks of a pandemic, the blockade of the Suez Canal by the "Ever Given" once again focused attention on a problematic development: the shipping companies' urge for economies of scale and fuel efficiency means that ships are getting bigger and bigger, and the ports are not growing fast enough with. However, larger ships harbor special risks. Responding to incidents involving these giants of the seas is much more complex and expensive.
Even if the bottleneck of world shipping was blocked by the "Ever Given" for a few days and freight traffic between Europe and Asia stalled - the consequences of this accident were still comparatively manageable.
The wreck of the large car transporter "Golden Ray", which overturned off the US port of Brunswick with more than 4,000 vehicles on board in autumn 2019, could only be cleared in the spring of this year and cost several hundred million dollars.
It is hard to imagine how long it would have taken and how great the damage would have been if the approximately 18,000 containers on the "Ever Given" had to be reloaded onto other ships or vehicles.
More and more containers are going overboard
Even if the number of total losses in ships is low and the number of ship accidents is declining slightly, the number of container losses on the high seas is increasing significantly - to the highest level in seven years, AGCS notes. Crates wandering in the oceans pose a risk to the environment, but also a navigation risk for ships. More than 3,000 containers went overboard last year, and there were already more than 1,000 in the first quarter of this year. For comparison: According to the study, around 1,380 containers were lost on average over the past few years, with an average of around 6,000 container ships in operation.
AGCS sees a whole bundle of factors for the increase, some of which are intertwined: more extreme weather conditions, increasing freight rates, larger ships and, at the same time, incorrectly declared cargo weights, which can lead to the collapse of container towers on board.
The damage can quickly run into the tens of millions.
What is particularly noticeable is the "increase in expensive and complex damage in connection with larger ships".
Chemicals and batteries are increasingly being shipped in containers and pose a fire hazard if they are incorrectly declared or stowed.
There were around 200 reported fires last year, an increase of almost a sixth.