EMSA Reports a Decline in Marine Casualties in Europe

Overall casualties and losses fell in 2020, but fishing vessels show continued cause for concern

The bridge aboard the sunken fishing vessel Suzanne, which capsized and sank in 2020 (EMSA)

Published Dec 21, 2021 5:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Europe's maritime industry experienced a welcome decline in casualties in 2020, according to newly-released statistics from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

In its Annual Overview of Marine Casualties and Incidents 2021 report, EMSA says that last year appeared to have been a positive year, considering the decrease or stabilization in most indicators like number of occurrences, ships lost, fatalities or injuries. The report covers incidents involving vessels in EU waters, EU-flagged vessels abroad, and vessels of substantial interest to European countries. 

During the year, a total of 2,837 casualties were reported, representing a decline of 466 compared to 2019, when the industry experienced a total of 3,303 occurrences. By comparison, the five-year average betweeon 2014-19 was 3,282 casualties per year.

Though the decline in casualties last year was a positive trend, EMSA attributes the fall to the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the industry in terms of decline in traffic, suspension of cruise ship operations and disruption of ferry schedules.

“Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are very likely to have affected marine casualties and incidents, taking into consideration its significant impact on shipping in 2020,” said EMSA.

Human action continues to be the main contributing factor to marine incidents and accidents, accounting for 89.5 percent of all occurrences.

The 2021 report shows that after a peak of 110 very serious casualties reported in 2018 and a total of 81 in 2019, the number in this category fell to just 46 in 2020, a reduction of 43 percent.

A similar change in the number of ships lost was recorded. After an increase of 35 in 2018, a decrease in 2019 was recorded, with 22 ships lost. Only nine losses of ships were recorded in 2020.

Fatalities also declined last year. During the 2014-2020 period, 367 casualties resulted in a total of 550 lives lost. In 2020, 38 fatalities were recorded with 89 percent of the victims being crew members. “The main event resulting in fatalities was collision, when it related to a ship, and slipping/falls when it related to a person,” said EMSA.

Over the period 2014-2020, 6,921 injuries were recorded, corresponding to 6,211 occurrences. Again, crew members represent the main category of persons injured at sea with 81 percent of the victims.

In 2020, apart from fishing vessels, the number of all other types of ships involved in casualties and incidents indicated a reduction. Excluding individual variations, such as passenger ships in 2019 or service ships in 2018, such general descending trends were noted over the period 2014-2020, except for fishing vessels, where an overall increase was noted.

“The number of fishing vessels involved in a marine casualty has continuously increased since 2015 despite a limited decrease in 2018 while the continued increase of the fishing vessel occurrence indicator provided a negative view on fishing vessel safety,” observed EMSA.

With a total of 106, fishing vessels remain the category of ships with the highest number of ships lost over 2014-2020. In 2020, the number of occurrences involving fishing vessels continued increasing with the number of ships lost reducing to six (in comparison with 15 in 2019) and the number of injuries remained stable at around 220.

Almost half of the casualties that occurred on board a passenger ship involved ro/pax ferries. No passenger ship was lost in 2020 with the number of fatalities and injuries maintaining a decreasing trend.

In 2020, 1,386 cargo ships were involved in marine casualties or incidents resulting in 21 fatalities. During the year only one cargo ship was lost.