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Ocean Freight Safety: Dangers Every Shipper Needs To Know

March 14, 2024
 By Jacob Lee
Ocean Freight Safety: Dangers Every Shipper Needs To Know
Last Modified: March 18, 2024
How safe is your ocean freight? We’ll go over some dangers your vessel shipments can face while being shipped overseas through a review of maritime safety records.

Key takeaways:

  • In 2022, there were 661 cargo containers lost at sea.
  • Between 2013 and 2022, cargo ships accounted for the most common type of lost vessel
  • Foundering was the number one cause of lost vessels in 2022
  • In 2020, the ONE Apus lost 1,186 containers worth an estimated $200 million, making it the worst incident in recent years

How Many Shipping Containers Are Lost At Sea?

Thousands of containers and billions of dollars worth of goods are transported across the world via ship. With so much cargo traveling by water, it’s inevitable that ocean freight losses will occur. The amount of containers that have gone overboard has fluctuated up and down over the years. 

Number of Shipping Container Losses At Sea Worldwide (2008-2019)

YearContainer Losses

Provided by Statista

The World Shipping Council (WSC) has more recent data on container losses between 2020 and 2022.

  • In 2020, there were nearly 4,000 ocean containers that went overboard
  • During 2021, there were just over 2,000 ocean containers that were lost
  • The average annual loss for cargo containers between 2020 and 2021 was 3,113
  • In 2022, there were a total of 661 containers lost at sea, which is much less than 2021 

While 2020 and 2021 saw an extensive amount of container losses, there was at least a downward trend, which continued the following year

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict if this downward trend will continue. Containers oftentimes fall overboard because they’re not secured correctly or the load within isn’t balanced and secured, leading to sudden weight shifts. 

Even when good loading practices are followed, accidents are bound to occur. Other dangers, like adverse weather conditions, are beyond the control of ocean carriers. Due to the risks facing ocean freight, container cargo insurance is essential for protecting your assets. 

Ocean freight safety can be at risk when a ship like this engulfs into flames

Number of Container Ships Lost At Sea

Sometimes, cargo containers aren’t the only thing that can be lost during an ocean voyage. There are instances where entire ships will sink while at sea. 

Ship Losses by Vessel Types (2013-2022)

Type of VesselAmount of losses
Cargo ships311
Fishing vessels117
Passenger ships70
Bulk carriers53
Tug boats49
Chemical and product tankers38
RO-RO ships37
Container ships27
Offshore and supply vessels19
Dredgers 14
Barges 13
Unknown vessels7
Other 36

Provided by Statista

When all the losses are added together, it amounts to a total of 807 vessels. Cargo ships suffered more losses than any other vessel. This isn’t surprising, since these are the most common types of vessels on the ocean. 

That said, other types of ships used to transport goods were also lost, such as RO-RO vessels and bulk carriers. Therefore, shippers of all varieties of products and items should be aware of the dangers their cargo could face when using ocean transport. 

When shipping goods overseas, it’s essential you choose the CIF insurance Incoterm®. Read our article to learn more. 

Cargo Ship Losses by Cause

While containers are lost much more often than entire ships, there are a surprising amount of scenarios that can cause a vessel to be lost.  

Causes of Vessel Losses In 2022

CauseAmount of Ships Lost
Foundered (sunk, submerged)20
Fire or explosion8
Collision (involving vessels)4
Wrecked or stranded (grounded)3
Machinery damage/failure2
Hull damage (holed, cracks, etc.)1

Provided by Statista

Altogether, there were a total of 38 ship losses in 2022. While foundering was a common cause, fires have long been a problem for vessels, too. Oftentimes, this occurs due to fuel leakage or short-circuiting electrical equipment. Freak accidents like lightning strikes may also cause fires or explosions. 

Given the size and speed of ocean vessels, it seems hard to believe that two could collide into one another. However, weather conditions like fog and high winds can make it easy for vessels to crash. In some cases, neglect from crew members on both vessels can result in a collision. 

Similar factors play a role in ship groundings as well. As for machinery and hull damage, this often occurs due to natural wear on the vessel. 

A container ship sailing underneath a bridge

What Bodies of Water Have the Most Shipwrecks?

Ships venture just about everywhere they can, but some routes and ports are more treacherous than others. We could point out dozens of high profile locations, each one with an extensive list of lost vessels. For now, let’s focus on modern times and the top locations for the last 300 recorded shipwrecks.

Top 10 Bodies of Water with the Most Shipwrecks (2023)

Body of WaterAmount of Shipwrecks
Atlantic Ocean25
South China Sea17
Black Sea13
Pacific Ocean12
East China Sea10
Taiwan Strait9
Indian Ocean9
Mediterranean Sea9
Gulf of Thailand9
Gulf of Mexico7

Provided by S.I. Yachts

These locations account for 40% of the last 300 shipwrecks recorded as of February 11, 2023. Therefore, it’s likely more shipwrecks have occurred since the posting of these losses. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising the Atlantic Ocean contains the most lost vessels. 

This is the second-largest body of water on the planet and home to frequent out-of-season storms. It also has busy shipping lanes that are used for travel between North and South America, Europe, and Africa. That said, large amounts of freight travel on all the bodies of water listed. 

Therefore, shippers should be aware they may experience ocean freight losses regardless of which body of water their cargo travels. 

What Is the Financial Impact Caused By Ocean Freight Losses ?

When container and ocean vessels sink, the financial losses are extremely high. 

  • The cumulative loss for ocean cargo in 2021 was $17 billion
  • Over the span of 2017 and 2021, total losses were $95 billion
  • In 2021, 88% of cargo loss claims were for shipments less than $50 thousand in value
  • Between 2017 and 2021, there were over 530,000 insurance claims filed for ocean freight

It should be noted that not all claims were for cargo that was lost. In some cases, the claims were filed for damage to the freight. That said, there are extraordinarily large amounts of money at stake when cargo travels overseas. 

Our article on marine cargo insurance statistics will provide you with valuable information about this level of protection that’s used to protect goods traveling on the ocean. 

Containers that have caught on fire on a cargo ship

What Are the Worst Container Losses At Sea In Recent Years?

There have been a variety of container losses at sea over the years. However, there are few that stand out amongst the others due to their financial and environmental impact. 

  • Approximately 1,816 containers were lost during the ONE Apus incident in 2020. Total losses were estimated at $200 million. 
  • The MOL Comfort lost an estimated 4,293 containers in 2013 while sailing through the Indian Ocean. It’s estimated the loss resulted in $300 to $400 million in insurance claims.
  • In 2006, approximately 1,000 of the 3,000 containers aboard the Hyundai Fortune caught fire while the vessel was sailing in the Gulf of Aden. The exact cost of this incident is unknown. 
  • The MSC Napoli experienced a crack and flooding that eventually resulted in the loss of 114 containers while traveling through the English Channel in 2007. Insurers estimated the wreck and salvage efforts cost over $131 million

As these incidents show, losing freight at sea can be expensive. This is why it’s essential to have business cargo insurance coverage to protect your shipments. 

Protect Yourself from Ocean Cargo Losses with Freight Insurance Coverage

In a world where unpredictability is the norm, securing ocean freight safety for shipments is not just a wise decision, but a necessity. At Freight Insurance Coverage, we understand the importance of protecting your cargo from the multitude of risks it faces during transit. 

When you choose Freight Insurance Coverage, you gain access to comprehensive protection for all shipments, regardless of size or destination. We apply the cost of insurance to all of our quotes, which ensures you know how much you’ll be spending for each shipment. 

Ready to safeguard your ocean freight? Get started now with a risk-free quote tailored to your specific needs. Simply fill out our online form or give us a call at (866) 975-0749 to speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives. 


Statista, Total Number of Container Lost At Sea Worldwide from 2008 to 2019, 2023

World Shipping Council, Containers Lost At Sea — 2023 Update, 2023 

Statista, Number of Ship Losses Worldwide Between 2013 and 2022 by Vessel Type, 2023

Statista, Causes of Ship Losses Worldwide In 2022 by Type, 2024

Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, Maritime Collisions: Types and Causes 

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Ship Groundings, 2024

Rob Bowman, Which Bodies of Water Have the Most Shipwrecks? 2023

Allianz, Fire, Natural Catastrophes and Faulty Workmanship Top Causes of Insurance Claims for Business: Allianz, 2022

Faiz Hakim, The Worst Container Ship Disasters In Recent History, LinkedIn, 2023

The Maritime Executive, MOL Comfort Cost Insurers $400M, 2013

Gavin va Marle, ONE Apus Stack Collapse Losses Expected To Top $200M, 2020

Daniel Clark, MSC Napoli Shipwreck Disaster Sparked Devon Beach Looting Carnage, DevonLive, 2023

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