GMDSS data highlights upward trend in distress calls

A new report analysing Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) information has revealed an increase in distress calls from vessels between 2021 and 2022, with data captured by Inmarsat revealing that 853 distress calls were registered from January to December 2022, compared with 794 in 2021.

The data is included in the 2023 edition of The Future of Maritime Safety Report, which notes that, while the number of losses of vessels over 100 gross tonnage (GT) has fallen by 65% in the last decade, figures for marine casualties and incidents reported remain stubbornly high.

Over the last four years, distress signals registered over Inmarsat RescueNET averaged 810 per year. According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data, the most common causes of casualties in 2022 were recurring issues including machinery damage, collision, fire and explosion, and grounding.

Based on a new methodology from data analysts at supply chain consultancy SeaFocus, the 2023 edition of the report compares datasets across 12 vessel types and multiple years to identify variations, establish trends and assess shipping’s safety issues.

“As data in this report shows, we see the same safety incidents repeated time and again, year after year. While the rapid changes ahead pose challenges, they also afford us a great opportunity: to not simply try to maintain levels of safety, but to improve them. Learning from trends revealed in the oceans of data we have access to is essential,” said Peter Broadhurst, Senior Vice President, Safety and Regulatory, Inmarsat Maritime.

The publication also identifies deficiencies in industry attitudes and approaches towards safety, including an “inadequate top-down safety culture”, siloed data that is seldom shared, over-emphasis on human error, poor conditions for seafarers, and the perception of safety as a tick-box exercise.

To improve standards and reduce the human, environmental and financial impact of marine casualties, the report calls for “cooperation and collaboration built on solid data and the collective desire to manage risk to the lowest practicable level.”

Specific measures proposed include the proactive use of safety data and reports to tackle the root causes of repeated and well-known issues and the creation of a standard international marine casualty and incident dataset. The report recommends anonymising incident and casualty data to “overcome the prevailing unwillingness to share data due to commercial sensitivities” and to reach a consensus on standard data points to monitor.

“We have the data but need to find ways to harmonise its collation and employment to tackle safety deficiencies head-on,” added Mr Broadhurst.

“Let’s change the narrative from a culture of commercial and personal secrecy out of fear of competition and punitive measures to one of transparency and acceptance of safety-related change. In this way, we can better protect seafarers, vessels and the environment and ensure that safety keeps pace with other aspects of a sustainable transition that is steering shipping towards a new dawn.”

The Future of Maritime Safety Report 2023 is available here.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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