Challenging safety assumptions with shipping data

State of Maritime Safety roundtable. Credit: IHS Markit

A review of recent maritime safety data trends led to a lively debate among industry experts at a special event hosted by SAS today. Participants at the State of Maritime Safety roundtable debated the importance of regulation, safety culture, and industry co-operation in raising standards at sea, as part of a wide-ranging discussion informed by IHS Markit data. The event was held at IHS Markit’s London headquarters and was sponsored by class society DNV GL.

Guy Sear, executive director, product management, at IHS Markit, kicked off the roundtable with a presentation that showcased safety data trends. Classic safety assumptions were challenged by the data, which then formed the basis of a lively discussion that followed among industry leaders, with participants from the UK Chamber of Shipping, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Inmarsat, the Nautical Institute, and V Group, among others.

One such assumption was that an increase in vessel age might correlate with a greater frequency of casualty incidents. The IHS Markit data for the period 2014–18 showed that there was no marked increase year on year in casualty incidents for vessels aged five years and above; however, for vessels under five years old, the number of incidents increased by 15 times. Incidents involving collisions as well as hull and machinery damage rose by 2.5 times over the same period.

Sear said that in the time period 2016–18, the number of incidents doubled for vessels under five years old. It was during this period that Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) began to be rolled out in new cargo vessels – participants at the roundtable debated whether the introduction of a ‘paperless’ navigation approach might have been a factor in these incidents.

Sear noted that from the data collected in 2014–16, there was a downward trend in casualties at sea. Casualties are categorised as an event that happen to a vessel that affects its ability to continue commercial operations. Sear drew attention to the data showing a spike in casualties from 2017 to 2018, citing a major increase in “contact” between vessels compared with all other incident types in both years.

World trade was taken into consideration to explain the upward trend in casualties at sea. During 2014–16, world trade stayed largely flat; however, there was an uptick of 4.3% in the year 2016 to 2017 and in that time, total vessel casualties increased by 10%. Potential explanations were discussed, such as lack of investment in vessels’ maintenance – especially with regard to bulkers, which were involved in the highest number of incidents – as well as the challenges of busier trade routes.

Finally, the Port State Control (PSC) data seemed to confirm the assumption that shipowners are more likely to improve vessel safety as a result of regulatory enforcement rather than through incentives. This appeared to be confirmed as the number of PSC inspections between 2014 and 2018 increased by 4%, the number of detentions decreased by 20%.

IHS Markit will publish its full findings and analysis of contemporary maritime safety data in the State of Maritime Safety report, which will be made available in early 2020.