New Articles

Preparing for Rough Waters: How to Handle Freight Lost in a Vessel Accident

vessel accident february

Preparing for Rough Waters: How to Handle Freight Lost in a Vessel Accident

Maritime insurance executives estimate that 3,000 containers have been lost at sea over the past few months alone. Compared to the 1,382 containers on average lost per year between 2008-2019 as reported by The World Shipping Council, that’s a big jump. What’s the reason for it?

As you may have expected, there’s not a simple, all-encompassing answer, instead, there are multiple variables at work. The good news is, there are steps you can take to help prepare for any delays or disruptions that result from a vessel accident. As a platform that works with the many different vessel operators to move our customers’ goods, we share some key things to know.

Why are vessel accidents increasing?

There are more containers on the water than ever

Over the years, vessels have increased in size and capacity. As such, they move more containers and can stack them higher. Add in the high demand for ocean service over the past few months and a decrease in blank sailings that would typically remove capacity, there are more vessels and containers out on the water.

Poor weather and high stacks of containers don’t mix

While vessels generally avoid storms, going through a relatively bad weather cell can happen. Ocean vessels are designed to roll in motion with the waves, however powerful waves caused by bad weather combined with high stacks of containers can change this rolling motion. In these situations, vessels undergo a synchronous and parametric rolling, which often causes vessels to tip at angles that displace higher stacked containers.

What are carriers doing about vessel accidents?

Ocean carriers are looking for ways to optimize how they block and brace containers to minimize accidents – including continued rigor around weight distributions, misdeclarations, improper packing and storage planning. There is also research being done into how technology can help sense container movement, allowing for faster reactions.

How to prepare for a vessel accident

Until your freight has been involved in a vessel accident, you may not be aware of the process or overall impact on your supply chain. Although vessel accidents are unplanned and usually unpredictable, there are steps you can take before you ship so you’re not scrambling when you get the news your freight was involved in an accident. Here’s what you need to know.

Have a backup plan to deal with delays

For starters, even if your freight is not lost at sea, you’re still likely to experience significant delays. For example, a recent maritime accident in December 2020 resulted in freight being held in Japan. In this case, each container (that was not damaged or lost at sea) needs to be unloaded and transshipped to another vessel for transportation. Access to the unimpacted containers can also take a while as the unloading and inspection of damaged containers might need to take place first.

Consider purchasing maritime insurance

One of the avenues to help protect your company financially is through maritime insurance. Cargo insurance is not a requirement, but as events like vessel accidents are usually outside of the carriers’ liability, insurance can provide added protection for your freight. With a cargo insurance policy, you are covered for unexpected losses.

Develop a resilient supply chain strategy

Unfortunately, insurance only applies to the value of lost freight. It cannot help you overcome delays, transload freight, or expedite new orders to realign inventory levels and ensure adequate stock is where it’s needed most. That’s where supply chain resiliency comes in. Rather than wait until you’re impacted by a vessel accident, now is the time to develop a plan that helps you minimize the impact to your business and allows you to continue serving customers.

Rely on a provider with a global suite of services

We recently had a customer impacted by a vessel accident. While their freight was not damaged, it was delayed. Unfortunately, equipment shortages and capacity constraints almost prevented the replacement stock from arriving on time. Through quick communications with our local team in South Asia and thanks to our extensive relationships with global carriers, we successfully secured the space and containers they needed.

But that was only the first hurdle. The original destination port had high congestion and vessel dwell times, so our team shifted to a different port and was able to keep an additional 20 days off the transit time. A transportation provider with reliable service and a global network is the best way to get the careful coordination and market insights these types of situations require.

You can prepare for the unexpected

Developments in technology and changes to freight blocking and bracing will never offer full protection from vessel accidents. Think about the vulnerabilities your supply chain could face in the wake of a vessel accident now to help you minimize the impact to your business in the future.

Ready to drive smarter solutions to prepare your supply chain for a vessel accident? Connect with our global network of experts.



When it comes to ocean transportation, some might automatically think of massive container vessels carrying loads upon loads of cargo with ease. Vessels such as the OOCL Hong Kong, COSCO Shipping Taurus or Madrid Maersk are on the list of the largest shipping vessels across the globe. Although these and other large-scale shipping vessels significantly contribute to the movement of goods in the supply chain, there are quite a few smaller vessels and ships that are just as important and continue contributing to the transportation of goods and fulfilling other purposes for those on the water.

Our goal is to give these smaller vessels credit where it is rightfully due, all while examining their position in the ocean transportation industry and where they are headed.


Known for being smaller in size and scale, the reefer ship serves a special purpose in transporting goods, specifically perishable goods including food and other items requiring specific cooling capabilities. The major differentiator among these ships is their unique design exclusively for transporting cold items. These ships are typically equipped with specific access points and pallets capable of holding reefer containers (usually twenty-foot TEUs). Port Technology has appropriately referred to these reefer containers as “large fridges carried by containerships.”

Among the types of cargo commonly found on one of these reefer ships, bananas are considered the most important over fruits, meats, and even blood and other expensive types of cargoes, according to Port Technology. Other items include pharmaceuticals, flowers and other perishable food varieties. Without the capabilities of these reefer ships to ensure proper temperatures are maintained during transport, many parts of the supply chain would suffer.

The reefer ship does have its competition, however. The previously mentioned “large fridges” are becoming savvier and offering more in terms of temperature variations during transport. Port Technology reports that in 2018, only eight total reefer transport specialist companies existed out of the original 20+ back in 2000. These upgraded reefer containers are cited as the main culprit of this.


Known for its unique “raft” appearance and functions, the barge vessel stands out by offering much more than what meets the eye. This special type of transport method requires some powering from another source, meaning it does not have its own engine to keep it moving. Although there are some self-powered barges in the modern market, the classic barge in known for relying on a tugboat to move from point A to point B successfully. The barge maintains its position for inland transportation through its environmentally friendly benefits such as reduced fuel usage while transporting more in fewer miles compared to trucks.

According to a report from the American Maritime Partnership, more than 750 million tons of cargo are moved by the famous tug-and-barge combination every year, in addition the $30 billion economic impact in America. The barge industry is not exempt from disruptions, however. Last year proved to be a difficult time for the industry due to extreme flooding and trade tensions, directly impacting the agricultural sector. The Waterways Journal reported that 19.8 million acres went without planting in 2019 due to flooding.

“While some freight rates have appreciated, we still face downward pressure in agricultural and coal markets that need significant improvements in demand before the barge industry can realize a true recovery from what we have seen in the last three to four years,” commented Mark Knoy, president and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) in the report.


Think of tugs (or tugboats) as a “part two” of the barge vessel. The tug holds its own in the maritime world, however, and is not solely confined to pulling the barge in its lifetime on the water. Whether it is an ocean, sea, rescue or harbor tug, these much smaller helpers on the water work alongside non-powered vessels or other watercraft, including some sizeable ships that needs assistance when in trouble.

These small-but-mighty supporters have a decent range of displacement anywhere from 300 to 1,000 tons, depending on which type (ocean, rescue, harbor). Large tugs are of great importance to global navies. One of the largest of these types of tugs is the Russian Navy’s Vsevolod Bobrov, which boasts a 9,700-ton displacement and the ability to break ice when needed.


Think of these tankers as the hazmat vessels of the maritime shipping world. Ranging from S1, S2 and S3 rankings of ships, the chemical tankers on the ocean vary in degrees of safety measures based on the types of chemicals onboard and their requirements outlined by the International Bulk Chemical Code (IBC). These tankers vary in size but are typically anywhere from 5,000 dwt all the way up to 50,000 dwt, although the larger tankers are not as frequently seen. These ships come equipped with individual deep well pumps, pipelines and other systems to ensure minimum risk of exposure and potential contamination.

Chemical tankers are a different breed of ships as they come with an increased set of risks from the liquids they transport. Among common risks, cargo compatibility, cargo spillage, toxicity and flammability all pose potential problems for those onboard and the environment. Compliance simply cannot be subpar in efforts when it comes to transporting chemicals and leading chemical carriers such as Odfjell Tankers, Fairfield Chemical Carriers, and B+H Shipping continue to make waves in the transport of chemicals and other related liquids across the globe.

These are just a few of the various types of watercraft supporting the global supply chain. Without these ships guiding the way, many of the things needed to keep domestic and global economies afloat would not be as easily accessible, transportable, or available. As containerships and other mega-vessels continue to challenge the ocean shipping landscape, it is important to consider the ways these smaller ocean vessels and ships can transform to better meet market demands while supporting sustainable operations. At this point in time, these smaller players in ocean shipping are here to stay.