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Whether or not the increasing size of ships is reaching a point of diminishing returns, according to a new report by Allianz, which suggests the bigger-is-better mentality is only exacerbating safety issues.
Last year, demand for 7,000teu-or-less vessels reached such a fever pitch that owners were able to buy ships second-hand and repay their lenders in weeks through rates alone. But container lines have been haunted by safety issues related to ship size, Allianz says.
Allianz points to various problems, including practical issues underlined by container stack collapses, illustrated by the recent example of the Zim Kingston.
“Container loss can result from… misdeclaration, poor packaging and/or stowing… and sub-standard lashing equipment and corner castings,” said Capt Anastasios Leonburg, senior marine risk consultant at AGCS, adding: “The large size of modern containerships is also likely to be a contributing factor, as larger vessels behave differently at sea.
“Container stacks are exposed to huge forces on a modern containership, especially when a vessel experiences parametric and synchronous roll in rough seas.”
In other cases, the sheer size of vessels puts them at risk. The recent cases of Ever Given and Ever Forward, which both grounded, illustrate what one insurance representative described as “near misses” in terms of the damage which might have been done, despite the incredible costs incurred in salvaging and refloating them.
The insurance expert told The Loadstar that although he did not believe very large containerships to be inherently unsafe, the industry has proven happy to avail itself of the cost-efficiencies “without due consideration of the risks”.
He explained: “There are concerns over lean crews, a lack of sensors on board… and now we are seeing wilder and more difficult environmental issues with storms happening more frequently. There are challenges around these very large vessels that need careful monitoring and management.”
“They present an insurance nightmare if things go wrong. But aside from that, it may be that society will not be quite so lucky the next time around. At that point, from what we have seen, the industry is wholly reactive.”