IUMI: Major Vessel Loss Trends

Major vessel loss frequency and cost trends pressure marine underwriters.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 3 min read

Marine insurers are under pressure from the simultaneous trends of rising claims in energy and a declining premium base. They are also vexed by increased cargo-accumulation risk both on-board vessels and in port.

Those were the main messages from the annual spring meeting of the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) held earlier this month in Hamburg. Speakers and statistics indicate those trends will continue to challenge marine underwriters for the foreseeable future.


Broadly, the frequency of major vessel casualties rose again in 2016 for the second consecutive year. They had enjoyed a year-on-year decline until 2015 when they recorded a sharp upturn which was continued in 2016.

Conversely, the trend in total vessel losses from 2000 onward continued its downward trajectory through to 2016 notwithstanding a minor uptick in 2015.

In general, many markets reported a reduction in frequency of claims but an increase in the average cost of the claim.

In energy, there was a significant drop in offshore activity with very little infrastructure spending. Concerns were raised over re-activation of rigs after a prolonged period of lay-up and the potential impact on attritional claims activity. However, the current spate of rig scrapping should improve the general age profile of the mobile fleet.

In general, many markets reported a reduction in frequency of claims but an increase in the average cost of the claim.

In cargo, the new generation of ultra-large container ships is now capable of carrying 20,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, the standard measure of container capacity). While there are some 20-foot containers in service, the vast majority are the 40-foot units roughly equivalent to a single truck trailer.

Although cargo value varies widely from consumer disposables to antique cars, IUMI estimates that the 20,000 TEU capacity puts a potential cargo value for a single ship at close to $1 billion.

That represented a significant risk for cargo underwriters that continued to increase. Put in context, MSC Flaminia, which suffered a fire in 2012, carried about 3,000 containers (6,000 TEU) at an estimated cargo value of $115 million.

Accumulation risk in ports, particularly Chinese ports, was thought to be even greater. It was estimated that the value of cargo throughput at Shanghai could reach $1.6 billion a day; Shenzhen $681 million; and Tianjin $477 million.

The explosion at Tianjin in 2015 also resulted in a significant loss but might have been much worse. The total cargo estimated to be on board the 754 ships in the port on the day of the incident would have amounted to more than $53 billion.

“It is not surprising that these trends of decreasing frequency but greater claims are continuing,” said Lars Lange, secretary general of IUMI.

“We have had several years of limited shipyard capacity while a lot of new building took place. So there was a real fight for capacity. That may have led to a situation where repairs had to be done at yards farther away [or postponed].

There were also high steel prices, and that has had an effect on repair costs. Neither of those is the case anymore. Quite the opposite, now yards have too much capacity. But that change will take time to work through the fleets.”

“No one has a crystal ball, but conditions in the industry seem to be stable. Fleets overall are aging slightly. There is a reduction in container ships as a result of overcapacity, so older vessels are being scrapped.” – Lars Lange, secretary general, IUMI

Lange added that “as insurers, we are experienced in dealing with risks.” In contrast, he said, the shippers and the companies operating the vessels are having to balance their ability to manage risks against their willingness or ability to transfer risk.


Beyond making quotes and writing policies, Lange said, “we add value to our clients when we can make recommendations.”

While Lange is not surprised that the trends are continuing, his sense is that they may start to moderate.

“No one has a crystal ball, but conditions in the industry seem to be stable. Fleets overall are aging slightly. There is a reduction in container ships as a result of overcapacity, so older vessels are being scrapped,” he said.

In other segments there is less overcapacity, so fleets are stable to slightly aging.

Overcapacity is actually a bigger challenge for underwriters than for ship lines, according to Lange.

“Ideally premiums would rise when business is stronger for the ship lines, but in practice that is not the case — generally because of the highly competitive nature of the market.

“It is always a challenge for insurers to increase premiums. We don’t see premiums rising now as was the case 10 or 15 years ago.”

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?


We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?


I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?


Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.

Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]