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Human error a significant shipping industry risk: Analysis

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While overall shipping safety and the rate of ship losses have improved since the sinking of the Titanic, human error remains a significant industry risk, according to a report released Monday.

Other key challenges include the growing industry trend to “supersize” ships with fewer crew members who may be inadequately trained due to cost pressures faced by shipowners, Munich-based Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty said in a statement.

The report, “Safety and Shipping 1912-2012: From the Titanic to Costa Concordia,” is based on research from Cardiff University's Seafarers' International Research Center, Allianz said.

At the time of the Titanic in 1912, one in 100 ships was lost that year. In 2009, the most recent year available, one in 670 ships was lost that year, according to the report.

Other risks include increasing bureaucracy aboard ships, the continued threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia and whether there is adequate loss coverage in the event of an incident, Allianz said.

“Ultralarge ships pose challenges for insurers due to their sheer size and value, while others raise concerns on structural integrity and failure,” Sven Gerhard, global product leader of hull and marine liabilities for Allianz, said in the statement. “While scale alone does not make these ships riskier, the increased sizes introduce specific risks that need to be addressed, such as salvage and recovery considerations and emergency handling.”

Still, human error remains the most critical risk, Allianz said in the statement, noting that 75% of marine losses in the 1990s can be attributed to human errors such as fatigue, inadequate risk management, competitive pressures, and potential deficiencies in training and crew levels.

The report also notes that major shipping disasters have led to industry safety improvements, and the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized off the coast of Italy in January would be no different.