Top 5: Threats to ship safety

What are the five main threats to safety that can cause a ship to sink?
Flooding was identified as the leading cause of the loss of a Japanese ferry MV Sewol on 16 April 2014, 304 people, most of them school children, were
Flooding was identified as the leading cause of the loss of a Japanese ferry MV Sewol on 16 April 2014, 304 people, most of them school children, were
Graph courtesy of ASGC Allianze.
Graph courtesy of ASGC Allianze.
Hoegh Osaka aground outside Southampton.
Hoegh Osaka aground outside Southampton.
Fire is the third leading cause of ship's sinking, but is the greatest cause of loss of life
Fire is the third leading cause of ship's sinking, but is the greatest cause of loss of life
The collision between SS Stockholm and SS Andria Doria remains the most famous in maritime history
The collision between SS Stockholm and SS Andria Doria remains the most famous in maritime history
Mechanical failure accounts for the least number of vessel losses, but can be the lead cause of all four already mentioned.
Mechanical failure accounts for the least number of vessel losses, but can be the lead cause of all four already mentioned.

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According to research by AGCS Allianze, more than 1,600 commercial ships of more than 100 gross tons were lost at sea between 2002 and 2013. A report released by AGCS points to a number of causes of total losses for ship owners in the ten years leading up to December, 2013 and when ranked according to the greatest threats to shipboard safety, there are some surprises.



Foundering/flooding (vessels lost – 745)

This is a rather broad category and so naturally contains the highest number of vessel losses, it refers to ship’s that have been lost due to flooding alone rather than one of the other categories of risk that might lead to flooding (such as a collision). The two main reasons that a ship might flood (grounding, fire, collision and mechanical failure excluded) are due to heavy seas and cargo shifting.



Wreck/grounding (vessels lost – 312)

Typically, a ship’s captain or pilot strives to keep their vessel as far away from land as possible except when entering or leaving port, the exception to this was in January, 2015 when the pilot in charge of the Singaporean flagged car carrier Hoegh Osaka deliberately ran it aground outside the port of Southampton. The ship was leaving port when it developed a dangerous list to starboard due to as-yet unexplained flooding and the pilot’s actions are credited with saving the vessel. However, other instances, such as the loss of Costa Concordia in January, 2012, happen by accident and can be deadly. More than 30 people were killed when she struck rocks off the Italian coast and later capsized due to flooding.



Fire (vessels lost – 199)

At the time of writing the most recent fire at sea to make headlines was the blaze that started in the hold of container carrier Purple Beach off the coast of Germany. Carrying fertilizer, the fumes from the fire forced the evacuation of coastal areas due to the toxic air. In total, 199 ships have been sunk due to fire between 2002 and 2013.



Collision (vessels lost - 160)

In March this year, a container ship collided with an oil tanker outside Jebel Ali Port. The incident resulted in no serious injuries and both vessels were able to navigate under their own power to shipyards for repairs. The quick thinking of the mariners involved brought the vessels together head-on, a master mariner that Maritime & Ports Middle East spoke to, who was involved in the incident, said any other type of impact would have resulted in a “catastrophic” fire and environmental disaster.

Perhaps the most famous collision in maritime history resulting in the loss of a ship was that between the passenger liner Andria Doria and cargo-passenger ship Stockholm on July 25, 1956. Andria Doria, known then as the most beautiful ship ever built, was struck on her starboard beam, resulting in catastrophic flooding that caused her to overturn 11 hours later. Some 46 passengers and crew were killed by the collision itself, another 1,660 were rescued in one of the largest and most commendable rescue at sea operations of its kind.

Captain Calamai never accepted another command, and lived the rest of his life in sadness "as a man who has lost a son", according to his daughter. When he died, she said his last whispered words were “are all the passengers safe?”



Mechanical failure (vessels lost - 109)

Mechanical fire can cause fires, collisions, groundings and flooding and so it surprising that it is not a larger category in terms of the number of ships lost due to it in the last ten years. The only possible explanation for this oddity is that the great majority of mechanical failures, thankfully, don’t lead to the loss of the ship. Some mechanical failures have come close, however, while remaining entirely unreported for years, such as a hitherto unknown incident aboard the Cunard Line passenger liner QE2.

Back in 1980 during a crossing of the North Atlantic, routine maintenance in the famous ship’s engine room resulted in one of her overboard seawater valves collapsing. The engine room began to flood rapidly, and during a phone call to the bridge, the ship’s Chief Engineer at the time John Grant, famously told the captain that they were “in great danger of losing the ship”. It was not until May this year that the incident was brought to public attention.

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