Canadian Underwriter

How COVID-19 impacts maritime risk

June 9, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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Restrictions imposed on international travel to limit the spread of COVID-19 may be a concern for merchant shipping because crews could be overdue for a rest, Allianz Global Commercial Specialty suggests in a recent paper.

“Due to closed international borders there are limited workable options for crew repatriation and in many cases crews have continued working on board months after their normal tour of duty is completed,” AGCS said in Safety of Maritime Assets – Tugged by a Pandemic, released May 28.

In the paper, Munich-based AGCS describes how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting risk management of shipping. “It is estimated that 75% to 96% of marine incidents can involve human error and fatigue is one of the major underlying causes,” said AGCS.

“Adjustments in work and rest hours offers effective fatigue management,” stated Captain Nitin Chopra, senior marine risk consultant at AGCS, in a press release May 28 on maritime risks arising from the coronavirus.

Other possible risk mitigation measures include hiring local crew members and co-operation among crew management companies.

Fatigue is on the watch list for Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which investigates incidents in rail, aviation, pipeline and maritime sectors. TSB’s watch list includes issues that TSB investigators say pose the greatest risk to Canada’s transportation system.

Since the early 1990s, the TSB has identified sleep-related fatigue as a contributing factor or a risk in at least 28 incidents in the maritime sectors, as well as 34 in aviation and 31 in rail, TSB reports

“In the shipping industry, fatigue is linked to the intensive nature of the business: long and irregular hours of work over extended periods, brief or interrupted sleep, rapidly rotating shifts, high workload, and social isolation,” explains TSB.

In the example of merchant shipping, there is an additional risk associated with prolonged periods of lay-up, which is when a company takes a vessel out of service and anchors it.

“The lay-up plan should present a clear picture of risks specific to the location and the type of vessel, such as exposure to storms, for example,” AGCS advises. “There have already been reports of a considerable number of large cruise ships being temporarily laid up around the US East Coast, with the onset of the hurricane season in the North Atlantic creating potential risks for these vessels if they can’t be moved out of harm’s way quickly.”

A lay-up plan should also include details on maintaining main machinery and nautical equipment, fire-fighting arrangements and the availability of tugs.

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