Mega-cargo warnings realised with Baltimore Bridge Disaster

This week will long be remembered by the global marine market.

As I write this, six construction workers are presumed dead after a container ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on 26 March. The bridge broke up and plunged into the Patapsco River on 26 March, at about 01:30 ET (05:30 GMT), after the Dali container ship crashed into it.

Sadly, according to the authorities, rescue efforts have been called off and investigators say that they now hope to board the vessel to retrieve its data recorder.

Almost certainly, from an initial survey, this looks like being a claim on the scale of the largest most recent loss to affect the marine (re)insurance market, namely the Costa Concordia disaster in 2012 – and that cost the market at the time in the region of $2 billion.

I’ve little doubt that, given the scale of the destruction to the bridge, the loss of human life, the damage to the vessel itself, and finally the volume of cargo on board, this claim will even outstrip that.

Yet we were warned. Pablo de Estrada, UK & MEA manager at marine claims specialist Barbuss, spoke as part of the cargo workshop during last year’s International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) annual conference in Edinburgh.

He said the trend towards ever bigger container vessels is a growing and increasingly serious risk, and it’s not one limited to vessels in transit. As we have repeatedly been told, port accumulation risk is serious. As Estrada noted, cargo from mega vessels is now also exposed to potentially higher risk by staying in ports longer as the time it takes to unload such huge volumes is now significantly greater than it would have been previously, increasing the prospect of claims in relation to theft, delays in delivery, flooding, defrosting, and container damage.

If we didn’t know we are in a new risk reality for marine before, we do now.

Marcus Alcock

Editor, Emerging Risks