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Shipping losses continue to fall but not in SE Asia

ALMOST a third of shipping losses in 2017 - 30 in number - occurred in the South China, Indochina, Indonesia and Philippines maritime region, causing certain sections of the press to call the area the "new Bermuda Triangle". Certainly, losses were up but there is no real mystery as to why.

Losses in South-east Asia were actually up an apparently dramatic 25 per cent annually but major marine insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) said that this was driven by activity in Vietnamese waters. The major loss factors in South-east Asia are actually weather, busy seas and lower safety standards on some domestic routes. In particular, November 2017's Typhoon Damrey caused six losses. The area has been the major global loss hotspot for the past decade, hence the interest of some of the press.

While those looking for mystery behind the occurrence of so many accidents in this region will disappointed, they may be fascinated to learn that Friday, and even Friday the 13th, does statistically appear to be an unlucky day. Analysis shows that Friday is the most dangerous day at sea with 175 losses of 1,129 total losses reported have occurred on this day over the past decade. Friday the 13th really can be unlucky. Three ships were lost on this day in 2012 including Costa Concordia, the largest ever marine insurance loss. The unluckiest ship of the past year is a passenger ferry operating in the East Mediterranean and Black Sea region. She was involved in seven accidents in 12 months.

The mundane reasons for shipping losses, and the interesting nugget about dangerous Fridays, can be found in a very useful publication by AGCS. Safety & Shipping Review 2018 gives a comprehensive picture of shipping losses worldwide.

Away from Asia, the combined East Mediterranean and Black Sea region is the second major loss hotspot, with 17 losses, followed by the British Isles, nine losses.

There was also a 29 per cent annual increase in reported shipping incidents in Arctic Circle waters - 71 in number - according to AGCS analysis. This is likely to be a cause for concern to those involved in protecting the polar environment.

Good news

The major takeaway from the review is, however, good news. Large shipping losses have declined by more than a third over the past decade, according to AGCS.

There were 94 total losses reported around the shipping world in 2017, down 4 per cent year-on-year from 98, which is the second lowest in 10 years.

Bad weather, typhoons in Asia and hurricanes in the US, contributed to the loss of more than 20 vessels, according to the annual review, which analyses reported shipping losses over 100 gross tonnage (GT).

"The decline in frequency and severity of total losses over the past year continues the positive trend of the past decade. Insurance claims have been relatively benign, reflecting improved ship design and the positive effects of risk management policy and safety regulation over time," said Baptiste Ossena, global product leader, Hull & Marine Liabilities, AGCS.

Before we get too carried away, recent events such as this year's loss of the oil tanker Sanchi and the deaths of all of her 32 crew following a collision with bulk carrier CF Crystalis a reminder that things still can and do go badly and tragically wrong at sea.

So why do we still have accidents? "Human error continues to be a major driver of incidents," said Rahul Khanna, global head of Marine Risk Consulting, AGCS. "Inadequate shore-side support and commercial pressures have an important role to play in maritime safety and risk exposure. Tight schedules can have a detrimental impact on safety culture and decision-making."

To the non-specialist observer, there would seem to be the prospect of fewer losses and improved safety by taking away the human factor.

But AGCS has thrown cold water over that idea, commenting: "Legal, safety and cyber security issues are likely to limit widespread growth of crewless ships for now."

One of the reasons why this is unlikely to happen is that we would just be transferring the location of the person making a mistake. Or, as AGCS put it: "Human error risk will still be present in decision-making algorithms and onshore monitoring bases." That sounds like a very good reason for still having a real person on the bridge.