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Grounding seen as biggest cause of bulk carrier losses

In the past decade grounding was cited as the single biggest cause for bulk carrier losses, according to shipowners’ association Intercargo

There were 128 lives lost in all bulker incidents in the 10 years to 2020, compared with 173 in the previous reporting period

GROUNDING was the single biggest cause of bulk carrier losses over the past 10 years.

Of the 34 bulker incidents’ that took place between 2011 and 2020, 17 were related to grounding, according to the latest report compiled by dry cargo shipowners’ association Intercargo, using data from the International Maritime Organization.

Of those, 13 full investigation reports are available, and an initial review of the reports revealed that “human error, both operationally and in navigation, contributed to nine of the casualties.”

According to the report, among the four casualties without investigation reports, evidence showed two of them, including the Wakashio (IMO: 9337119) “seem to have been caused by operational and navigational human error.”

“This leads us to believe that at least 11 of the 17 grounding incidents recorded were due to human error by the crew on board,” it added.

Last year, two incidents drew attention, namely the grounding of the 2016-built very large ore carrier Stellar Banner (IMO: 9726803) off the coast of Brazil, which resulted in a total constructive loss, and the Wakashio, which hit a coral reef off Mauritius, spilling about 1,000 tonnes of fuel into pristine waters.

Investigation reports for both are pending. 

In total, 20 of the 34 bulk carrier losses in the analysis have had investigation reports submitted to the IMO, Intercargo said. That represents 58.8%, while the average time taken from an incident to a report becoming available has been about 16 months.

Intercargo said lessons learnt and sharing of experience had “proven to be effective approaches to raise safety awareness and to deepen the understanding and knowledge of the existing rules, regulations and skills”.

“Focused training will prepare the crew with adequate knowledge and skills to handle a specific cargo and voyage type and enhance effective teamwork on board,” it said.

“Continued focus on safety awareness and understanding of safety measures helps to close gaps in understanding and reduces the potential for similar very serious marine casualties involving bulk and ore carriers.

“The industry should not shy away from making bold changes to ship design in order to further improve the safety and survivability of dry bulk vessels.”

The group said flag state casualty reports “must question and strive to alter existing” regulations and other conventions such as Safety of Life at Sea, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the IMO's International Convention on Load Lines, if crew lives are to be saved.

Of the 34 bulk carriers over 10,000 dwt that have been identified as lost, 128 crew members have lost their lives. That is, on average, 13 lives per year, with cargo failure, or liquefaction, accounting for the highest proportion, at 61, while loss of lives from four ships with unknown causes totalled 35.

That compares with 173 deaths in the preceding analysis period which ran from 2010-2019. 

Vessels amounting to 2.33m dwt, with an average age of 20.9 years, have been lost, which equates to an average of 233,000 dwt per year.

Losses due to flooding on four ships were also seen as significant.

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