Even though the number of ships lost at sea has declined considerably in the past decade, the sinking of the El Faro near the Bahamas illustrates the risks that modern-day mariners still face.

In 2014, 75 large ships around the globe were declared “total losses,” a designation that could mean the vessel sank, ran aground, was damaged during a collision or suffered another catastrophic event. That is down from 110 total losses in 2013 and is well below the 10-year average of 127 ships per year, according to the 2015 Safety and Shipping Review analysis compiled by the international insurance and financial agency Allianz.

However, not all of those incidents resulted in the loss of life, and only three of the 75 losses in 2014 were designated as “missing/overdue,” which was El Faro’s status Monday.

An estimated 90 percent of global trade is transported by ship at some point. U.S. Customs ports handled an estimated 265 million metric tons – or 530 billion pounds – of trade loaded onto containers in 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Maritime Administration.

The largest number of fatalities last year were aboard ferries that sank, with some incidents involving hundreds of dead. The largest loss of life aboard a cargo ship last year occurred when the Panamanian-flagged Beagle III collided with the South Korean-flagged Pegasus Prime near Tokyo Bay, killing eight mariners, according to the Allianz analysis.

Bulk cargo ships, such as those carrying sand, accounted for 25 of the 75 losses last year, followed by 14 fishing vessels and seven passenger ferries. There were five roll-on/roll-off ships and four container ships lost worldwide last year. Overall, however, the number of “total loss” ships has declined over the decade, the report said.

“Losses declined by 32 percent compared to 2013,” Allianz wrote. “The 2014 accident year also represents a significant improvement on the 10-year loss average. Shipping losses have declined 50 percent since 2005, driven in part by a robust regulatory environment.”

At the same time, the carrying capacity of container ships has increased 1,200 percent since 1968, according to the analysis. The world’s largest container ship, the MSC Oscar, reportedly has enough capacity to hold 39,000 cars or 117 million pairs of shoes.

“However, the arrival of such ‘mega ships’ is accompanied by concerns about increasing risk, safety issues, salvage difficulties and therefore the potential for higher losses if a casualty occurs,” the report says. “These ships test port and canal capacity, as well as the skills of their crews.”


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