With newbuilding large containerships proliferating, both insurers and salvors have been expressing their concern at the insured risks involved with these huge ships. Last week the global insurer Allianz suggested that the arrival of “supersized” container ships ought to force insurers to look closely at the consequences to them, should such a very large vessel be lost, along with its cargo.

It worth noting that fears about the values put at risk as ship sizes have escalated are nothing new and possibly as old as marine insurance itself. Certainly, in recent years, with the rapid increase in ship size, the warnings about ships “being too big to insure” and “having too many eggs in one basket” have regularly featured in addresses by figures in the insurance industry. The insurer did, however, point out that total losses had reduced by some 20% last year to just 94 vessels, which perhaps puts the fears into some sort of perspective.

This week sees the Associate Members Day of the International Salvage Union which significantly, has an agenda largely devoted to containerships and the difficulties of salvaging them should they get into trouble. Salvors have, in the past, expressed concern about the problems of lightening large, gearless container vessels in order to re-float them, while a number of accidents have highlighted the problems of fire extinguishing if containers catch fire.

It is clear that there is still concern about the accuracy of container manifests and the ISU is currently debating whether it should add its voice to those demanding a more rigorous regulation of contents’ declarations.

There have also been doubts expressed about the resilience in containership structures to various types of accident, not least the means of coping with flooding in the event of the primary barrier becoming breached. Experienced salvors have suggested that containerships are the most difficult of all ships to save and recent accidents where ships have eventually become total losses would seem to endorse this view.

It has also been a concern that with the very large ships, there may be no suitable lifting equipment able to cope with very high container stacks in the vicinity of a wreck and valuable time will be lost in sourcing suitable floating cranes. In the case of the Rena, which was wrecked on the coast of New Zealand, weeks elapsed before a suitable floating crane could be towed down from South East Asia.

Rena, of course, was a small vessel in comparison with the bulk of the deep sea containership fleet and although New Zealand might be both remote and ill-served with heavy floating plant, it has been pointed out that there are many places around the deep sea liner routes which suitable lifting equipment may be few and far between.

Author: The Watchkeeper                       Source: BIMCO