Vessel Losses: Is Shipping Resuscitating Its Record?

Graph: Clarksons Research

By Aiswarya Lakshmi

Safety at sea has improved significantly in the past
twenty years, with losses of large merchant vessels becoming a
relatively rare event, says a report from Clarksons

Whilst casualties appear to be more common among older and
smaller vessels, total losses seem to be on a downward
trajectory. Even as the world fleet reached its greatest ever
size, last year marked the fewest number of vessel losses on

Although major accidents will always hit the headlines, merchant
ships have in recent times been an extremely low risk form of
transport. Total 'losses', when vessels are permanently lost from
the fleet due to sinkings, groundings or other incidents, have
been on a downward trend over the long-term despite the growing

This has been supported by improvements in ship design, an
increasing number of port state control inspections and a decline
in the proportion of vessels above 25 years old. In 2016,
reported losses reached a historically low level of 54 vessels
and 0.2m GT, equivalent to just 0.02% of the start year fleet in
GT terms.

Looking at the statistics across the major vessel types, losses
have typically been greatest in the bulkcarrier sector. From 1996
to 2016 a total of 160 bulkers of 3.7m GT were reported as
casualties, accounting for 36% of the total in tonnage terms. On
average, bulker losses each year were equivalent to 0.09% of
start year bulkcarrier tonnage.

In comparison, the total volume of tanker and containership
tonnage reported as losses in the same period represented 9% and
5% respectively of total losses (totalling 143 tankers and 49
boxships). Average annual tanker and boxship losses in GT were
equivalent to 0.02% and 0.03% of the start year fleets in each

In the bulkcarrier sector, losses of larger ships have been more
common, with an average vessel size of 23,247 GT, against 6,181
GT for tankers. This is likely to have been supported by stricter
regulation on tanker designs since the 1990s as well as improved
vetting procedures.

Sectors with a large number of smaller units represent the
majority of losses in numerical terms. In general, smaller ships
account for a larger proportion of casualties, with the average
size of losses peaking at around 7,600 GT in 2000. 1,033 general
cargo ships were reported as losses from 1996 to 2016, making up
50% of the total in numerical terms.

Meanwhile, 184 vessels were recorded as losses in the same period
in the passenger and ro-ro sectors. Aside from a number of high
profile larger vessels such as the "Costa Concordia" and "Sewol",
the majority of these casualties were small passenger ferries,
predominantly in South East Asian waters.

The long-term trend of declining vessel losses appears to have
continued over the last few years. However, there is still a
significant degree of variation between sectors, with older and
smaller vessels also much more likely to become casualties.

Whilst risk very much remains a part of shipping, the last few
years appear to show that merchant shipping is still improving
its safety record, with the number of vessel losses continuing to

Feb 26, 2017

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