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The International Shipping Accidentology

Updated on June 11, 2018

Shipping Accidentology

Accidentology refers to the scientific study of accidents, their causalities and their consequences. The term accidentology first used in 1968 by researchers at ONSER, the National Research Organization in the field of road safety, which became the INRETS (National Institute for Research and Studies of Road Safety) and finally the IFSTTAR (French Institute of Science and Technology of Transportation and Landscaping Networks).


The main offices in accidentology are the maritime accident investigation offices, which systematically receive all accidents by region of activity. The second actor in maritime accidents, attracted by the economic part, are mainly marine insurers. They look closely at the accident statistics and the causes of any incident, in order to assign risk factors for each type of vessel and each shipping line. In this same context, we find the United Nations body in charge of Trade Development (UNCTAD) with its vision of studying the impact of maritime accidents on international trade.

The study of accidents by type depends on one investigation office to another, according to the last result of the accident. They are also categorized with respect to causal factors, type of ship, age of vessel, geographical area, etc.

Maritime Accidents by Geographical Areas

Weather and maritime geographical distributions have a permanent dependency relationship. As a result, the geographical zones that are dangerous for navigation are mainly due to the weather, which is considered to be an aggravating factor, to which we can add the density of maritime traffic. By superimposing FIG. 9 which illustrates the regular maritime port-port lines in FIG. 10 on the statistics of maritime accidents by geographical location, it follows that the number of accidents is greater, the greater the number of ship crossings. and the waters are more confined. We can distinguish the Strait of Gibraltar and the neighboring areas of the North Maghreb, the Suez Canal and its access areas and especially the Channel and the North Sea for Western Europe.

Shipping Traffic
Shipping Traffic
Accident Distribution by Geographical Area 2014
Accident Distribution by Geographical Area 2014

Accidents by type of ships

By the type of goods to be transported, commercial vessels have different structures. Consequently, each structure has strong points and / or weak points depending on the navigation conditions. According to the statistics presented by the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) , bulk carriers are on average the ships most involved in very serious accidents, including the total losses of ships. The origin of the shipwrecks is mainly due to the corrosion and fragility of the structure, and this is due to the immensity of the holds to which we can add the shifting of the goods, causing the loss of stability.

Accidents by Type of Ships
Accidents by Type of Ships

Bulk carriers are the most exposed to accidents according to the analyzed data.

Accidents by causes

Causes of accidents leading to serious damage and often causing total losses of ships, which are classified in six (6) categories: Weather conditions, grounding, fire / explosion, machinery damage, collision / collision and damage of the structure. This classification makes it possible to identify the last cause leading to the loss of the ship. However, the tree can combine several of its causes or other external causes, such as the human factor that occurs in more than 50% of accidents. Following figure illustrates the frequency of redundancy of these causes for the period 2000-2014, where the machine damage factor is predominant, despite the technological and regulatory progress recorded during the last decade.

Maritime Accidents by Causes
Maritime Accidents by Causes

Machine damage is preponderant and represents 35% in comparison with other causes : loss of ships, followed by grounding which has increased during the same period and amounting to 28%. Collisions and collisions remain in the third position, representing approximately 20% of all cases for the period concerned.

Maritime Accidents According to Ship Ages

The age of the ship is a determining factor in the probability of occurrence of very serious accidents. In reality, this parameter is an index of the general technical condition of the ship under which several vulnerabilities are inscribed, such as: advanced corrosion of areas that are difficult to inspect (bulk carriers, oil tankers, etc.). Metal fatigue and probable deformation of the keel due to movement / load work, condition of machinery and pipes.

Maritime Accidents by Age of Ships
Maritime Accidents by Age of Ships

The figure ,clearly shows the high number of total losses and severe accidents for vessels over 25 years of age.

Accidents by flag of Ships

This angle of vision of the accidentology, informs us about the commitment of the flag States in the application of the IMO safety instructions and the state of vigil on the follow-up of their ships under respective jurisdiction.

With the creation of flags of convenience and the economic registration of vessels in the Open Register system, new practices have been introduced to reduce the operating costs of vessels and a lack of investment in safety equipment and which have been notified concerning shipowners registering their vessels outside their flag States on one side and the lack of rigor and / or non-commitment of certain States, on the other hand with the security policy of the IMO. The figure below clearly shows the losses by flag State and are important for open-label flags, representing the period from 1997 to 2011.

Ship losses are more important for states with freely register and become targets for controls and inspections under existing instruments.

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