Frank Iarossi, Chairman of ABS has sharply rebutted the widespread impression that the safety record of the shipping industry is poor and that even greater regulation is required to address this. He provided various statistics in support of his contention that the marine industry's safety record was the equivalent to or better than most other transportation modes, including commercial aircraft. "The commercial aircraft loss rate per million flight or voyage hours at risk is three times that for merchant ships," he said. "But has anyone heard any uproar over airline safety? Has the United Nations or the European Union or the US Congress rushed into emergency session to mandate a double set of wings on all aircraft?"
Actual loss rates for vessels of all types of 100 gross tons or more have been halved in the past ten years to about two vessels per thousand per year. In the last ten years, total losses of all vessels over 500 gross tons has declined from more than 180 vessels to less than 80 per year, he stressed. In tonnage terms this represents a decline from 1.75 million gross tons to less than 750,000 gross tons or 0.1 percent of the world fleet. Iarossi also noted that in the past ten years marine fatalities have declined dramatically from over 500 per year to less than 200, while oil spilled from ships has declined by over 70 percent.
"This industry revolves around the largest mobile structures ever designed and built, moving all manner of cargoes to all corners of the world in an often unforgiving marine environment," he reminded. "Marine transportation is definitely not risk free. It is not possible to mandate an error free operating environment or an unsinkable ship. There will always be a degree of risk associated with navigating the uncertain and often turbulent waters of the world's oceans."
Iarossi laid some of the blame for the negative perception of the industry on the industry's own trade press. The continuous attention that is paid to the very small substandard minority within the trade press "influences the general media," he claimed, "which in turn communicates to the wider public an image of a ruthless, reckless and irresponsible industry." This in turn reinforces the perception within governments that the marine industry "cannot be trusted to improve its safety performance without government mandated action."
The reality, Iarossi argued, is that the marine industry has "significant reason to be very proud of its safety achievements." He suggested that, if the industry is to improve that negative public image "an organization will have to step up, or will have to be created with the express role of monitoring industry safety and environmental performance, collecting industry data, defining positive and negative trends, exchanging that data with other organizations and governments, publicizing those trends so as to provide reality to the formation of perceptions and stimulate corrective action when required by the industry in order to meet realistic expectations of society."