Why Are We Seeing So Many Maritime Incidents Lately? (And How You Can Protect Your Cargo)

Over the past year, we’ve seen a considerable increase in the number of maritime incidents involving the loss of cargo, theft, kidnappings and containers falling overboard.

Several high-profile cases such as the APL England and ONE APUS container spills raise questions about whether the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the safety and security of the world’s cargo, vessels and their crew.

So, why are we seeing so many maritime incidents? And how can you be sure your cargo is protected from risks at sea? Below, we’ll outline some of the most significant incidents we’ve seen across 2020, why these incidents occurred and what your business can do to protect your cargo.

Maritime Incidents in 2020

We saw an uplift in all sorts of maritime incidents across 2020, and many of them made international headlines.

#1 ONE APUS container spill

One Apus spilled containers

In November 2020, the ONE Apus was sailing from Yantian, China to Long Beach, California, when it experienced bad weather near Hawaii and 1,816 containers fell overboard (including 64 dangerous goods containers). Many onboard were also rendered unstable.

The master of the vessel decided to abandon their journey to the United States and return to Japan.

It has been reported that insurance claims arising from the ONE Apus spill could rise up to $50 million, with an average FOB value being approximately $25,000 per box.

It is possibly one of the worst container disasters in recent history, following the sinking of the MOL Comfort in 2013 which saw the loss of 4,293 containers.

#2 APL England container spill

APL england container spill

In May 2020, the container vessel APL England was sailing from China to Melbourne when it encountered choppy waters approximately 70 kilometres southeast of Sydney. Over 50 containers fell overboard, and the shipmaster was charged with marine pollution offences.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detained the vessel and alleged that the container spill was because of inadequate cargo loading. According to a preliminary report published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in October, many of the vessel’s fittings (such as lashing eyes and lashing bridges) were not in good condition.

The master reported that 74 containers were damaged onboard the vessel – six were overhanging on the starboard side and three from the port. AMSA ordered the cargo operator to pay $22 million before releasing the ship from the Port of Brisbane. A major clean-up occurred after the spill, which saw dozens of surgical masks and other items wash up on Sydney beaches.

AMSA announced a focused inspection campaign on the proper stowage and securing of cargo containers in response to incidents where containers were lost at sea.

#3 Grounding of the MV Wakashio

MV Wakashio broken apart

A large bulk carrier, the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio, ran aground on a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius in July 2020. It leaked approximately 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil over a number of weeks, leading the Government of Mauritius to declare a national emergency.

The situation became much worse in August when the vessel broke apart. A tugboat operated by the Mauritius Port Authority towed the empty oil barge, but rough seas caused the barge and the vessel to collide. The tug boat then sank, and three crew members lost their lives.

It’s unclear why the vessel run aground. Some theories indicate the master unexplainedly adjusted his course whilst others state the crew were having a party and sailed closer to shore because they wanted WiFi.

Regardless of the reason, the damage estimated from the spill amounts to around $10 billion.

#4 Gulf of Guinea pirate attacks

pirate attack patrol

The Gulf of Guinea experienced a series of pirate attacks over the past year. The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that 135 crew were kidnapped from ships in 2020 – and the Gulf of Guinea accounted for over 95% of them (with 195 incidents of piracy / armed robbery reported to the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre in 2020).

In November 2020, the Liberian-flagged heavy lift vessel Zhen Hua 7 was boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, who then kidnapped 14 crew members – all Chinese nationals.

The vessel then headed to Sao Tome, a city on the small island of São Tomé and Príncipe, off the coast of Central Africa, being escorted by an Italian vessel. The pirates escaped with the captured crew members, and one crew member was found shot in the leg.

Earlier that month, another vessel in the Gulf of Guinea, the Singaporean freighter Torm Alexandra, was attacked by pirates. The vessel sent a distress signal and was subsequently rescued by the Italian navy. The pirates escaped with no abductees and all 21 crew members were reported safe.

The first three months of 2020 alone saw a reported 24% increase in pirate attacks and attempted pirate attacks.

Is COVID-19 contributing to maritime incidents?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a raft of new challenges for the shipping industry and the cargo it transports, and this may have played a role in contributing to maritime incidents.

The risks to your cargo imposed by COVID-19 may arise from several factors:

  • Crew change difficulties – new COVID-19 restrictions imposed at ports across the world has meant it’s been very difficult for crews to rotate (which is integral to their health and safety), leading to increased fatigue amongst seafarers. Over three quarters of marine incidents involve human error, so this is a warning sign for cargo security.
  • Stretched security management the surge in piracy across the Gulf of Guinea was arguably caused by poor security management amid nearby countries trying to prevent the spread of the virus. In the first half of 2020, the rise in piracy appeared to correlate with the virus spread and the stranding of ships amidst quarantine requirements.
  • Difficulty to access repair and maintenance equipment the coronavirus outbreak and its associated restrictions and lockdowns has made it exceedingly difficult for vessels to attain vital maintenance equipment such as spare parts and oils, leading to an increased risk to safe engine operations. Travel restrictions impeding the ability of engineers to access vessels for important repairs also impose an increased risk to vessel safety.
  • Increased demand – The pandemic brought with it unforeseen demand for PPE equipment as well as increased container volumes influenced by consuming spending. This demand has put more pressure on shipping lines to maximise vessel capacity and on shippers to accurately declare cargo weight for the safety of transportation. Should container weight declarations be incorrect, the load capacity of the vessel will be pushed to its limits.
  • Inability to dispatch fuel oil samples the introduction of IMO 2020, which placed a cap on sulphur emissions, has led many vessels to use blended low-sulphur fuels. These, however, require testing prior to being used. COVID-19 restrictions have meant it may be impossible (or very difficult) to dispatch these samples for analysis. If vessels consume these fuels before any testing, the risk of machinery damage increases.
  • Disruptions to inspections and surveys Social distancing and lockdowns across the world has caused delays to vessels obtaining the necessary surveys and inspections to ensure their operations are safe.
  • Falling oil prices the 2020 oil glut caused skyrocketing demand for floating oil storage. Over 200 million barrels of oil were being stored on tankers in May 2020, and many were just sitting around major world ports, not doing much. This unfortunately caused an increased risk of piracy, poor weather and – of course – the risk of loss, as oil stored for long periods begins to degrade.

Importance of marine insurance

There are many reasons why we’re seeing so many maritime incidents, ranging from improper stowage and poor weather to new COVID-19 restrictions.

The risks demonstrate how important it is to purchase a robust marine insurance policy that covers you in cases of theft, loss and damage.

With over 90% of global trade being transported across the sea, you’ll want to make sure you are covered for risks such as running aground, collisions, container collapses, natural disasters, piracy and political unrest.

At ICE, we offer marine insurance so that your cargo is covered at every step of its voyage. With our marine insurance policies, you can rest assured that you are covered for the full value of your cargo plus any general average levies that must be paid to the shipping line in the case of an incident at sea. Please get in touch with our team today to discuss the protection of your cargo.

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