When I read The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, one statistic that astonished me was that “two large ships sink every week on average [worldwide] ” according to Dr Wolfgang Rosenthal. The author, Susan Carson, suggests that the numbers are high, but that
“every year, on average, more than two dozen large ships sink, or otherwise go missing, taking their crews along with them.”
In a prescient comment, she says,
“imagine the headlines if even a single 747 slipped off the map with all its passengers and was never heard from again”.
In the wake of the MH370 loss, I thought it was worth seeing if ships were still disappearing at such a great rate. According to an annual analysis from insurer Allianz, 94 ships (over 100 gross tonnes) were completely lost in 2013. There are many reasons for a complete loss. “Foundering” (which means sinking or submerging) caused the vast majority of the big losses.
But the big question, is how many disappeared without a trace? Again, according to the report, there were 7 ships that were “missing/overdue” in the 11 years from 2002 to 2013.
Disappearing aeroplanes aren’t that common either – here is the list of all that have ever happened. Before MH370, there were two since 2002 – one of which was fairly clearly a theft (although it has never been found).
So my conclusion from reading the Lloyds/Allianz data (commercial data is generally the best source, given that it involves money) is that around just under one ship, on average, completely disappears without a trace every year. Spooky, but given that around 100 large ships are completely destroyed (mostly sunk) every year, it is not that many.