One of my most visited posts is about the likelihood of ships disappearing without a trace. Sadly it is getting renewed attention because a huge Korean cargo ship has disappeared off the coast of South America. So far only two of the 24 crew members have been found.
It is true that ships are far more likely to disappear than aeroplanes. In 2015, according to the definitive review, the Allianz safety and shipping review, there were 85 total shipping losses, which continued a downward trend from the past few years. But a total loss doesn’t mean that a ship disappears without a trace. In the ten years from 2006-2015, there were 1,231 total shipping losses of large ships (over 100 gross tonnes). Only three of those were “missing, overdue” – a less dramatic phrase than “disappeared without a trace”. Since 2002, there have been seven, but the last of these was in 2010. So on average once every two years, a large ship is lost without a trace.
But about half of them (614) were sunk or submerged. That’s just over one a week, a surprising number, and certainly more than makes the news.
In a special section, Allianz looked at losses from superstorms:
Weather has always posed a significant threat for mariners but “exceptional” weather events are becoming more commonplace, bringing with them safety risks for shipping and disruption to global supply chains.
Two hurricanes and bad weather were contributing factors in at least three of the five largest vessels lost during 2015. Bulk carrier Los Llanitos ran aground off the Mexican coast due to Hurricane Patricia, while extreme weather conditions due to Hurricane Joaquin have been put forward as the cause of the sinking of the El Faro off the Bahamas, which resulted in the loss of all crew. Meanwhile, gale strength winds led to the bulk carrier Goodfaith running aground in the Aegean Sea along the coast of Andros Island, Greece.
The report on 2016 isn’t out yet, it should be in the next few weeks.
Even the 2015 one is a reminder, though, that the 70% of global trade that is shipped around the world is still subject to risk; a risk that those who aren’t involved don’t hear much about unless something quite dramatic happens.
South East Asia is the current piracy hotspot; if you weren’t paying attention, you would probably think it was still Somalia, which has calmed down considerably since the peak in 2011.