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European safety stays on course

12 February 2024

Encouraging downward trends in onboard accidents have been identified by the latest annual report from the European Maritime Safety Agency. Lucy Chapman reviews the data

The maritime industry still seems to be on the right track in improving seafarer safety, according to recently published data from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

Issued towards the end of 2023, the latest Annual Overview of Marine Casualties and Incidents provides a detailed analysis of maritime safety within EU member states or involving EU-flagged vessels during 2022 The report also compares the 2022 figures with previous years, dating back to 2014, in order to identify trends.

The aim of EMSA's yearly report is to enhance maritime safety, prevent pollution, and reduce the risk of future incidents by investigating the root causes of accidents at sea.

Key findings

The report highlights a reduction in various accident indicators in 2022 compared to the previous year. After a dip in maritime traffic in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 saw a resurgence in activity, particularly in cruise ships and ferries, returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, so it is striking that the increase in vessel movements did not correspond with an increase in onboard accidents

In 2022, a total of 2,510 marine casualties and incidents were reported, representing a reduction of 182 compared to 2021. The total number of marine casualties and incidents reported between 2014 to 2022 was 23,814, with an annual average of 2,646. After a peak of serious casualties reported in 2018, there has been an overall decrease in the annual average of occurrences, ships lost, fatalities, and injuries.

Casualties and incidents in different sectors

The report breaks down the data by ship type, revealing that cargo ships and fishing vessels experienced a decreasing trend in the number of casualties and incidents. Passenger ships and cargo ships had the highest average ship occurrence indicators, with 201 and 152 respectively.

From 2014 to 2022, 'internal waters (port area and other)' accounted for more than half of reported marine casualties and incidents, followed by 'territorial sea' and 'open sea.' Geographically, EU waters in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea reported the highest number of occurrences.

Marine casualties and incidents for the period 2014-2022, organised by navigational area and ship type. Image: EMSA

Reduction in incident investigations

EU member states' investigative bodies launched 1,090 investigations from 2014 to 2022, with 909 safety investigation reports made public. However, in 2022, there was a notable decrease of more than 21% in the number of investigations compared with the preceding years.

In terms of consequences, the report highlights a significant reduction in the number of ships lost, damaged, and considered unfit to proceed in 2022 compared to previous years. There was also a decrease in reported pollution incidents, with a notable reduction in pollution by cargo.

The human element as a contributor to incidents

The report underscores the crucial role of the human element in maritime incidents. Over the period from 2014 to 2022, 59.1% of accident events involved human action, and 50.1% of contributing factors were related to human behaviour.

When considering both human action events and human behaviour contributing factors, the human element played a role in 80.7% of investigated marine casualties and incidents across all ship types.

Fatalities and injuries

Examining the human toll, the report notes a decrease in fatalities in 2022, with 38 recorded, the lowest annual total since these analyses started in 2014. Crew members represented 65.8% of the victims, with 'slipping/stumbling and fall' and 'fire/explosion' identified as the main events resulting in fatalities.

Evolution of fatalities, organised by category of the person on board. Image: EMSA

Injuries also saw a decrease in 2022, with 597 reported, the lowest in the entire 2014-2022 period. The main events resulting in injuries were 'loss of control' for occurrences with persons and 'loss of control-loss of propulsion power' for occurrences with ships.

The report provides insights into the environmental impact of marine casualties, highlighting a significant decrease in reported pollution incidents since 2019. The influence of the human element is pervasive, with shipboard operation being the most important contributing factor to accidents.

Safety recommendations

Evolution of safety reccomendations and actions taken, organized by focus area. Image: EMSA

EMSA issued a total of 2,488 safety recommendations and actions taken from 2014 to 2022, with 45.4% of them focusing on ship-related procedures. The report emphasises the need for continued efforts to improve maritime safety, reduce pollution, and enhance overall environmental sustainability in European waters.

The EMSA Annual Overview of Marine Casualties and Incidents 2023 is available here.


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