Preliminary figures compiled in March by the International Union
of Marine Insurance revealed that 2009 was a good year for the
global merchant shipping fleet, writes Michael King. The number of
total losses counted by IUMI across all categories of vessels over
500 gross tons in 2009 was 67, down 10% compared with 2008.
Although a definitive total will not be available until September
— and IUMI predicted that the 2009 figure would rise as new
data became available — the snapshot of shipping safety taken in
March was a positive one with total losses at their lowest level
However, with ships getting ever larger in most categories, the
reduction did not extend to actual gross tonnage lost. The 67
ships accounted for approximately 463,000gt, an increase of 25%
compared with 2008.
Cédric Charpentier, chairman of IUMI’s facts and figures
committee, said the total was at a “quite a low level when
compared with the period 1980–2008” and, expressed as a
percentage of the world fleet — important because the tanker,
bulk carrier and containership fleets are at record number of
vessels and deadweight capacity — underwriters expected to see
an improvement both in ship and tonnage losses.
Weather continued to be the major cause of total losses,
representing 43.2% of losses between 2005 and 2009.
Regarding serious or partial losses, the preliminary finds of
IUMI for 2009 were less positive. “Although there was an
improvement over 2008, the number remained at a high level.
This is the fourth highest total of serious losses reported in one
year out of the last 16. Indeed, we have seen a significantly
higher frequency of serious losses in the period 2006–2009 than
in any of the preceding years,” said Charpentier, who expressed
disappointment at the 2009 figures because shipping activity had
been reduced because of recession in key western economies.
Across the shipping sectors, machinery damage remains the
primary cause of major and partial losses, accounting for 35.21%
of the total between 2005 and 2009, followed by collisions/
contact and groundings. Weather represented only a small
proportion of incidents despite being the major cause of total
Turning to bulk carriers, the latest figures from Intercargo
reflect the overall improvement in shipping safety performance
and the reduction in claims received by insurers.
Using a ten-year rolling average, Intercargo found that 24 lives
and 6.6 ships per year were lost in the period 2000–2009. In the
previous decade the comparative figures were 78 lives and 14.5
In 2009 nine bulk carriers were lost resulting in the overall
loss of 39 seafarers. This compared to four vessels and 15 lives
lost in 2008, although it is worth noting that the dry bulk fleet
expanded by more than 200 vessels over the course of 2009 and
total bulk carrier detentions fell.
With the exception of a Great Lakes bulker lost while being
towed to a yard in Asia, last year’s bulk carrier casualties were
suffered by older vessels mostly defined as ‘domestic’ vessels and
generally plying intra-Asia trades away from the watchful
attentions of port state control regimes.
Although the bulk carrier total losses in 2009 were
particularly harsh in terms of lives lost, the overall performance
of the fleet in terms of safety was reflected in smaller claims
made from insurers.
The American Club told DCI that while it could not separate
bulk carrier claims from the total fleet, the Club had an
improving net loss ratio, which had fallen from some 85% in 2007
to around 55–60% at the beginning of 2010
Given that tonnage entered in the club for P&I risks is
dominated by bulkers, accounting for some 70%, it would appear
that the Club’s owners - 58% located in Europe, mainly in
Greece, 24% in Asia and 15% in the US – have made major
improvements in safety performance.
This picture also emerges elsewhere in the industry. Bulk
carriers account for over 25% of the North P&I Club’s mutual
fleet by tonnage and are the second most common type of ship
entered after tankers, but slightly ahead of container ships.
“In general terms bulk carrier claims in 2009 policy year were
fewer in number than the average for the past few years,” said
Tony Baker, North P&I club’s head of loss prevention.
“People claims on bulk carriers were lower by both number
and value in 2009.
“Cargo claims were lower in number but tended to be higher
in value than the average for the past few years. The exception
was cargo loss and wet damage claims which were lower in both
number and value. However there were a number of significant
admiralty claims in 2009 involving bulk carriers.”
Baker said the largest and most frequent claims related to
shipboard equipment were down to hatch covers. North P&I has
produced a loss prevention guide on the subject but said the
level of losses from defective or poorly maintained hatch covers
had showed no signs of diminishing.
North P&I said that the cost of failure of hatch cover leading
to a loss of watertight integrity far outweighed the cost of
prevention. North typically receives three or four claims a year
valued at $500,000 to $1,000,000 for water-damaged cargoes
resulting from hatch cover defects, as well as numerous smaller
claims. Almost all of these claims, said the association, could have
been prevented by small invests to replace defective rubber seals,
repairing minor steelwork or even just better cleaning of a
coaming before closing the hatch.
“Often a temporary repair can be carried out that will
alleviate the problem until more permanent repairs are possible,”
said the Association. “As long as the repair is such that it
remains effective during the remaining voyage, then there is
nothing wrong with this in principle.
“Regular inspections of the hatch covers, and regular
maintenance according to the hatch cover supplier’s operating
and maintenance manual should help to avoid surprises and the
need for emergency, temporary repairs.”