Safer Seas: Safety Advancements for the Shipping Industry

06 April 2023


The merchant shipping industry is the backbone of global trade, with various vessel types navigating the high seas to transport approximately 90% of international commerce. Over the years, this vital industry has shown a trend towards increased safety, thanks to improved technology, regulations, and industry initiatives. In this article, we'll weigh anchor and set sail on an exploration of the developments contributing to safer waters for bulk carriers.

Bulk Carriers

As the workhorses of the shipping industry, bulk carriers are responsible for transporting vast quantities of dry cargo, such as ores, grains, and coal. However, these behemoths have historically faced challenges with structural integrity and cargo liquefaction, which have led to devastating accidents, like the sinking of MV Derbyshire in 1980. Nevertheless, the industry has made significant headway in improving the safety of these vessels through various measures:

  • Structural integrity improvements: Shipbuilders now adhere to stringent design and construction standards to ensure the durability and longevity of bulk carriers. Advanced materials and technologies are used to enhance the vessels' structural strength, reducing the risk of hull failure.
  • Addressing cargo liquefaction risks: New guidelines and regulations have been implemented to mitigate the dangers associated with cargo liquefaction, such as rigorous cargo sampling and testing procedures. Ship operators must also maintain updated stability information and follow proper cargo handling practices to minimise risks.
  • Safety measures and advancements: Crew training, navigational aids, and monitoring systems have improved exponentially, enabling crews to better manage their vessels and respond to emergencies. Moreover, mandatory inspections and regular maintenance ensure that bulk carriers remain in shipshape condition.

Through these concerted efforts, bulk carriers have made great strides in overcoming the challenges of the past, charting a safer course for the future of the shipping industry.

Oil Tankers

When it comes to transporting black gold, oil tankers are the undisputed champions. These floating giants carry crude oil and petroleum products across the oceans, but their vital role also comes with significant environmental concerns and the potential for fires and explosions. To prevent disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the industry has taken numerous steps to bolster the safety of oil tankers:

  • Environmental protection initiatives: The implementation of double-hulled tanker designs has become standard practice, providing an extra layer of protection against oil spills. Additionally, stringent regulations ensure that vessels adhere to safe navigation and pollution prevention measures in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Fire and explosion risk mitigation: Advanced fire detection and suppression systems, as well as inert gas systems, have been incorporated to minimise the risk of fires and explosions onboard. Crews also undergo specialised training to handle potential emergencies related to the flammable cargo.
  • Safety measures and advancements: Enhanced navigational equipment, regular inspections, and maintenance ensure that oil tankers remain in tiptop condition. Industry-wide safety standards, like the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, promote a culture of safety and responsibility among ship operators and crew.

Thanks to these safety improvements, oil tankers have become more secure and environmentally friendly, safeguarding both the marine ecosystem and human lives.

Chemical Tankers

Navigating through the complex world of chemical transportation, chemical tankers carry a wide range of hazardous and noxious substances. The dangerous nature of their cargo presents unique safety challenges, as evidenced by incidents like the Ievoli Sun disaster in 2000. To mitigate such risks, the industry has undertaken several initiatives:

  • Enhanced safety precautions for hazardous chemicals: Chemical tankers are now designed with advanced containment systems, segregation of incompatible cargoes, and specialised coatings to minimise the risk of spills, leaks, and chemical reactions.
  • Industry training and certifications: Crew members on chemical tankers are required to undergo specialised training, such as the Tanker Familiarisation course and the Advanced Chemical Tanker Cargo Operations course. This ensures they are well-equipped to handle the unique risks associated with their cargo.
  • Safety measures and advancements: In addition to regular inspections and maintenance, chemical tankers are equipped with state-of-the-art safety equipment and systems, such as gas detection and firefighting equipment. The industry also follows strict guidelines outlined in the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code).

By embracing these safety measures and advancements, the chemical tanker industry has significantly reduced the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous chemicals, contributing to a safer shipping environment.

Container Ships

Box boats or container ships are the backbone of international trade, moving countless TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) across the seas. As the size of container ships has grown, so too have the challenges of ensuring their safety. The MSC Napoli incident in 2007 highlighted some of these issues. In response, the industry has made significant strides in enhancing the safety of container ships:

  • Improved loading and stability protocols: Proper weight distribution and accurate container weight declarations are essential to maintaining stability. Advanced load planning software and adherence to the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC) have greatly improved vessel stability and safety.
  • Lost container prevention and debris management: Container securing systems, such as lashing bars and twist locks, have been enhanced to minimise the risk of losing containers overboard. In addition, monitoring systems like the Automatic Identification System (AIS) help track lost containers and facilitate their recovery.
  • Safety measures and advancements: Container ships are equipped with sophisticated navigation systems, communication equipment, and firefighting systems to handle emergencies. Regular inspections, maintenance, and crew training further ensure safe operations at sea.

By implementing these measures, the container shipping industry has dramatically improved its safety record, protecting both crew members and the valuable cargo on board.

Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) Ships

Ro-Ro vessels, known for their ability to load and unload wheeled cargo, are critical to the automotive and heavy machinery transport sectors. However, the inherent risks associated with carrying vehicles and their fuel sources were tragically illustrated by the MV Estonia disaster in 1994. To prevent such catastrophes, the industry has implemented various safety measures and improvements:

  • Vehicle fire prevention and cargo securing measures: Strict protocols for securing vehicles, as well as fire detection and suppression systems, have been put in place to minimise the risk of fires caused by vehicle cargo. Additionally, fuel tank inspections and restrictions on carrying fuel-laden vehicles help reduce the risk of fires.
  • Water ingress and capsizing risk reduction: Watertight doors and advanced bilge systems are employed to prevent water ingress and maintain vessel stability. Enhanced stability calculations and adherence to the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) guidelines on ship stability further contribute to safer operations.
  • Safety measures and advancements: Ro-Ro ships are equipped with cutting-edge navigation, communication, and emergency response systems. Crew members undergo specialised training, and vessels are subject to regular inspections and maintenance to ensure their seaworthiness.

Thanks to these advancements, the Ro-Ro shipping industry has become safer, mitigating risks and ensuring the secure transport of vehicles and other cargo across the world's oceans.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Carriers

LNG carriers transport natural gas in its liquid form, making it easier and more economical to move large volumes over long distances. These specialised vessels require unique safety measures due to the cryogenic nature and flammability of their cargo. Although LNG carriers have experienced relatively few and minor accidents, they remain subject to rigorous safety regulations:

  • Description of LNG carriers: LNG vessels are equipped with insulated tanks designed to hold natural gas at extremely low temperatures (-162°C or -260°F). They employ containment systems, such as membrane or spherical tanks, to safely store the gas during transit.
  • Industry safety regulations and measures: LNG carriers adhere to strict guidelines set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other regulatory bodies. These guidelines encompass vessel design, crew training, and emergency response planning. Additionally, LNG carriers follow stringent safety management systems, ensuring safe operations and adherence to international standards.
  • Relatively few and minor accidents: The LNG shipping industry has maintained an impressive safety record, with a low incidence of accidents. This is largely attributed to robust safety protocols, advanced vessel design, and a strong safety culture.
  • Example of a minor incident: The Elba Island LNG facility in 2021 experienced a minor incident involving a small LNG leak, which was quickly contained and remedied without causing any harm to personnel or the environment.
  • Safety measures and advancements: Innovations in vessel design, cargo handling, and leak detection systems continue to enhance the safety of LNG carriers. Additionally, ongoing crew training and development ensure that personnel are well-equipped to handle any potential incidents.

With a strong focus on safety, the LNG shipping industry has maintained an impressive record, contributing to the secure and efficient transport of this vital energy resource.


The merchant shipping industry plays a crucial role in global trade, and the importance of implementing effective safety measures cannot be overstated. The industry has made significant progress in enhancing the safety of the merchant fleet, and this progress can be boiled down to:

  • The role of technology: Innovations in vessel design, cargo handling, navigation and communication systems have contributed to safer operations and better emergency response capabilities.
  • Regulations: International organisations such as the IMO have established comprehensive guidelines and standards to ensure the safety of both vessels and crew members.
  • Industry initiatives: Shipping companies have recognised the importance of safety and are actively investing in crew training, maintenance, and safety management systems to address the risks associated with the hazardous duties that seafarers perform..

As the merchant shipping industry continues to evolve, the commitment to safety will remain a top priority, ensuring the secure transportation of goods and resources across the world's oceans.