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Daniel F. Borch, Henrik L. Hansen, Hermann Burr, Jørgen R. Jepsen

Int Marit Health, 2012; 63, 1: 7–16        

Background: A previous study demonstrated a high death rate among seafarers signed on Danish ships during the years 1986–1993. This study aimed to examine and analyse the subsequent development until 2009.

Material and methods: A total of 356 fatalities were identified from data supplied from the Danish Maritime Authority, an insurance company, and other sources. Maritime deaths among seafarers signed on Danish ships comprise deaths from 1) accidents, suicides and homicides; and 2) disease on board. Deaths due to 2) occurring ashore within 30 days after signing off were included. The overall and mode-specific death rates were calculated for three eight-year observation periods. The rates for work-related fatal accidents were compared with the rates for landbased trades.

Results: All categories of maritime deaths were significantly reduced from 1986 to 2009 — in particular during the last eight-year period (Accidents 1986-1993: 66.6 per 100,000 person years, 2002–2009: 27.0 per 100,000 person years, diseases 49.5–26.1, suicides 14.4–7.8). In spite of the remarkable improvement since 1986, seafarers remain in 2002–2009 more than six times more likely to die from occupational accidents (including shipwrecks) than do workers ashore.

Conclusions: The favourable trend of maritime deaths in the Danish merchant fleet may be due to 1) preventive measures — e.g. interventions relating to vessel safety, work environment, and improved medical care on board — and to 2) technological and organizational changes — e.g. newer and larger vessels in the Danish merchant fleet, changed composition of the workforce, and reduced shore leaves. The persisting excess risk warrants further preventive actions.