COVID-19: Idle vessels face new risks, Allianz warns

Supply chain and international travel restrictions have serious implications for the maritime industry and its insurers, according to a report issued today by Allianz.

While the threats faced at sea have reduced due to the number of vessels waiting at anchorage or being in lay-up, other risk challenges have replaced them, including the difficulty in relieving crews, resulting in growing seafarer fatigue -- a key cause of human error on board. Delays in inspections and maintenance or supply of oils have additional, potentially wide-ranging implications for technical safety.

“The increasing disruption and economic pressures caused by the pandemic also has serious risk management implications for the maritime community and insurers alike,” said Captain Rahul Khanna, global head of marine risk consulting at AGCS.

Although ships remain active through the coronavirus outbreak, many vessels have been impacted, leading to a number lying idle. A vessel is considered to be on lay-up when it is taken out of service and is anchored at a fixed location for a considerable period of time without undertaking any commercial activities.

“An unplanned lay-up can result in a prolonged recommissioning exercise that can last for months, even requiring docking. Comprehensive plans, including risk assessments covering storage and lay-up are crucial for ensuring the safety of vessel during the downtime and its subsequent return to service,” Khanna added.

Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult to effect crew-change on vessels. Border closures mean there are limited options for repatriation and in many cases crews have continued working on board for months longer than usual. Longer tours of duty, coupled with concern for families at home, can cause physical and mental fatigue among seafarers. It is estimated that 75% to 96% of marine incidents can involve human error and fatigue is one of the major underlying causes.

Classification societies are also facing difficulties in arranging attendance for scheduled surveys, which is affecting the validity of classification and statutory certification of vessels.

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