New report explores causes and prevention of container loss and damage

BY THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE 09-29-2020 07:12:49

A new loss prevention report from The Swedish Club is again calling attention to the reasons behind the loss and damage of containers at sea. Despite the container industry being well regulated and highly regarded, the mutual marine insurance company notes that containers are still lost overboard. It is seeking to provide statistics and insights into specific cases to deliver hands-on advice for preventing such losses.

“Even a small number of containers lost overboard can pose a serious danger to shipping and the environment,” says Lars A. Malm, Director, Strategic Business Development & Client Relations at The Swedish Club. “In Container Focus we have used case studies to highlight common and avoidable errors and provided simple to follow advice to prevent them. However, unlike other of the club’s loss prevention guides, in the case of container loss, the statistics that we have analyzed fail to tell the whole story.”

They point out that one of the most serious issues, misdeclared cargo, is the most difficult to translate into data and more importantly, identify the party that cause such damage to the industry. Nonetheless, they point out that it can lead to major losses and put both the ship and its crew in danger.

According to The Swedish Club, many of the issues raised in the report occur time and time again, despite the fact that lost containers can be costly. They report that the average container vessel cargo claim was $52,000 over the past five years. They focused on 230 claims filed between 2015 and 2019 with at least $5,000 in value. 

The most frequent types of claims were for wet or temperature damage. They report that containers lost overboard only account for four percent of the claims, but over 10 percent of the costs.

Among the most common causes cited for accidents, according to the report, is sailing through heavy weather and the failure of the ship to reduce speed and alter course to lessen the effects of the weather. Heavy weather, of course, is the most frequent cause of containers being lost overboard, being cited in half of all claims as the reason a container is lost and contributing to 80 percent of the financial losses. They point out that weather remains a significant issue in losses despite the widespread availability of sophisticated weather routing systems.

“The excessive forces that are applied to the structure of a vessel in extreme conditions can lay bare errors that have been made when loading the cargo on board,” Malm adds. “The immediate cause may seem to be poor navigation but in fact often the root cause lays in port.” 

As with other reports, they emphasize the importance of following the stowage plan and proper training of the crew. They say the master of a vessel should not allow loading to commence until the stowage plan has been checked, including stack weights. They recognize that the weight of the containers is one of the biggest concerns, nothing that under SOLAS it is the shipper’s responsibility. They note that it is difficult for the shipowner to know the weight of every container, but recommend using the weight as measured at the terminal.

“When we look at many cases, we must question the quality of training received by all involved in the logistics chain,” says Malm. “Reluctance by crews to reduce speed or alter course to avoid heavy weather; poorly stuffed containers; containers not secured in accordance with the Cargo Securing Manual (CSM); lashing strengths not checked against the loading computer’s lashing module; excessive GM – all these factors can be avoided with good seamanship and proper training.”

The report explores planning, loading and stability, lashings, and provides advice on dealing with heavy weather. Case studies show the extent of the problems that can be revealed by heavy weather. They also explore both maintenance and the proper use of lashing equipment while seeking to deliver hands-on advice for preventing losses.

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