Ocean giants

25 Мар

В статье поднимаются практические проблемы, связанные с судами-гигантами. В частности, затронуты вопросы спасания на море, общей аварии и страхования, связанные с гигантскими судами-контейнеровозами.

Martyn Haines asks if ultra-large container ships will turn out to be a shipper’s dream, but a nightmare for insurers and salvors.

With bunker prices remaining prohibitively high, and with shippers eager to minimise the carbon footprint of their supply chain movements, shipowners are increasingly looking to purchase vessels with greater cargo capacities and engine efficiencies to reduce the cost per tonnage of goods carried. In an overcrowded market, economic forces will inevitably dictate that those operators able to offer more competitive freight rates will be the preferred choice for shippers, although service and reliability must not be overlooked. However, such ocean behemoths carry with them equally risks for Hull and Machinery (H&M), cargo and Protection & Indemnity (P&I) insurers.

A new age of ultra-large vessels

Maersk is currently awaiting delivery of the first of 20 Triple-E’ vessels being built by Daewoo Shipbuilding. Due in July 2013, these new container ships will be 400 metres long, 59 metres wide and 73m depth, and will be capable of carrying 18,000 teu. They will realise considerable reductions in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption per container by utilising slow steaming methods. Given that fuel savings from modern engine and hull designs will ultimately be relayed to shippers in the form of reduced freight rates, the upward trend in the size of container ships is set to endure up to the maximum ship dimensions dictated by the Suez Canal and Singapore Straits, key shipping lanes for the Asia-Europe trade.

Already, designs for 22,000 teu capacity vessels have been drawn up and port and terminal operators around the globe are investing in quay cranes and infrastructure support to accommodate the influx of Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCVs) entering the global container fleet. Shippers will reap the benefits of reductions in freight and their carbon footprint, but there is a growing concern for their customer base when deciding where to source their goods. It is not yet certain whether the scale of these increasingly large vessels will exacerbate and, ultimately significantly increase the expense, of dealing with container ship casualties. Further, with many of the fires onboard container vessels resulting from undeclared dangerous cargo it can be assumed that with more containers onboard, fire risk may also increase.

The incremental increase in the size of ships is not simply limited to cargo-carrying vessels; the largest passenger ship afloat today carries around 8,600 passengers and crew over 16 decks. As the grounding and subsequent salvage operation of the Costa Concordia has demonstrated, there are considerable difficulties in salving huge vessels and, in the event of a casualty in environmentally-sensitive waters, it remains to be seen whether suitable equipment and plans are in place to salve the cargo, limit pollution and rescue up to 8,600 evacuees.

Salvage concerns

Operating in times of uncertain economic conditions, salvors are unable to reinvest in specialised machinery and are having to utilise existing equipment and apply it to salvage operations of vessels of such enormous scales that were never contemplated when such equipment was manufactured, presenting significant technical and logistical challenges.

ULCVs are normally gearless and, therefore, unable to contribute to lightering operations. This means specialist equipment is required for salvage, including floating cranes with sufficient reach across the width of the main deck and scope to remove containers from the depths of the ship’s holds. While there is a greater likelihood of sourcing such equipment when a casualty occurs near a major shipping area, in remote locations the salvor’s ability to intervene is significantly reduced. As ULCVs can carry in excess of 17,000 cubic metres of fuel and lubricants, timely intervention to make the casualty environmentally safe or, in the event of an oil spillage, to commence clean up operations, is crucial to minimise environmental damage. With a successful salvage in doubt the priority will be the removal of the oil. Costs may be significant combined with the inevitable wreck removal costs.

Too big to save?

The challenges encountered by salvors dealing with the Rend, which grounded on a reef off the coast of New Zealand in 2011, highlight the difficulties of salvaging container vessels. Despite only having 1,368 containers onboard, many of which were subsequently lost to the ocean, salvors spent nine months removing the oil and remaining accessible containers due to the instability of the vessel which by then had long been declared a constructive total loss (CTL) by H&M underwriters.

Significant logistical and technical complexities would need to be tackled before commencing the recovery of up to 18,000 containers from a stricken ULCV. The vessel would, as time passes by, remain at the mercy of the ocean with weather conditions exacerbating structural problems. Conceivably this may cause H&M underwriters to declare the vessel a CTL, potentially leaving P&I insurers with the expensive obligation of dealing with wreck removal. The recovery and wreck removal projects of the MSC Napoli and MSC Chitra, container ships with capacities of 4,688 ten and 2,312 teu respectively, are prime examples of the huge costs involved, with the claims for both operations likely to exceed $200M each. Costs for the removal of a larger vessel would be correspondingly greater.

Given the insured values of these new ULCVs it would take significant damage for H&M insurers to declare a vessel to be a CTL. However, given the time and specialist equipment required to conduct a successful salvage operation on such a grand scale, H&M insurers and P&I insurers are wise to consider the increased risk that will inevitably accompany the salvage of such large vessels.

A General Average dilemma

Average adjusters, who typically handle at least three separate documents in addition to each Bill of Lading (B/L), face significant administrative challenges where a ULCV declares general average. Potentially, around 72,000 documents may need to be reviewed – even on the basis that only one B/L had been issued per container. Given that many containers would be jointly loaded and although some B/Ls would cover several containers, the average adjuster’s ability to determine the cargo onboard is significantly complicated by the myriad of documents to handle. Inevitably, this will result in the expenses of the general average statement constituting a greater proportion of the total average costs. With the cost of collecting general average security alone from potentially thousands of cargo interests possibly running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, the costs of declaring general average can quickly spiral.

Containers may need to be stored for a considerable period before receipt of the necessary average guarantees that enable release of cargo. Therefore it is possible that shipowners will choose not to declare general average. There may also be considerable commercial pressure not to declare general average to enable early delivery of the cargo.

Current insurance products would not be suitable for a catastrophic situation where general average costs are so high that they would exceed policy limits. One possible solution for shipowners may be to have separate general average insurance in place, whereby insurers would cover all costs beyond an absorption clause limit in the vessel’s H&M policy, subject to a stipulated limit. Significantly for shipowners, any such general average claim would not then be recorded against their H&M claims experience and therefore would not impact future premiums. In most cases, this policy, would be commercially beneficial for shipowners by reducing delays, cutting costs and preserving relationships with charterers and cargo interests.

However, with the concentration of cargo onboard ULCVs, policy limits would need to be equally large for a containership owner to avoid having to declare general average. The Swiss Re led Landmark Consortium is currently devising a policy providing US$500M general average cover. Should this type of policy enter the market, it would enable shipowners with such cover to sell this as a commercial incentive to shippers. Further, should such insurance become prevalent amongst shipowners it is possible that cargo premiums may in time soften given the reduction in risk of general average being declared.

A new challenge for insurers

Although shippers eagerly await the economic benefits of cheaper cargo movements on their balance sheets, insurers and shipowners alike are wise to assess the risks that will accompany these ocean giants. Given the enormous concentration of cargo on just one vessel and the likely number of insurable interests onboard, the exposure to a container ship casualty could leave cargo insurers seriously exposed to a significant number of claims. In the event of a casualty, salvors’ bills are likely to be as gargantuan as the ULCVs, meaning a salvage could very quickly turn into a wreck removal operation. Without the necessary specialist equipment there is a real risk that delays may hinder opportunities to prevent an environmental disaster.

It is possible, however, that ULCVs may fundamentally alter the way shipowners handle general average in the future. With an increasing desire to preserve commercial relationships in a tough market and reduce time being expensively wasted awaiting thousands of average guarantees from cargo interests, ULCV owners may now see specific insurance as a necessary panacea to declaring general average.


Captain Martyn Haines, Tom Gorrard-Smith


Seaways. – 2013. – February. – P. 10 – 11.