A Chinese cargo ship, weighing some 300-tons and carrying a dangerous chemical, has capsized on the Yangtze river near the eastern city of Nanjing.
According to the blog of a local radio station, the ship is believed to have been carrying two people. Photos posted online showed a small group of workers in orange life vests standing on the overturned boat, attaching a steel cable to salvage the ship. Jiangsu province radio reported that “there are no signs of life.”
Though these unfortunate accidents are terrible, they’re not actually the biggest threat to cargo carrying ships. Pirates are.
Asia, which was the poorest continent on the planet 40 years ago, now has the world’s fastest growing economy — thanks to the shipping industry. China, in particular, is leading the trading world. According to the latest available data from the World Shipping Council, China was the top exporter in 2010, exporting 31.3 TEUS worth of cargo and importing just 12 TEUS.
At the same time, pirate attacks happen far more frequently than people imagine. Each year, more than 2,000 sailors die at sea, and every day, two entire ships are lost. In 2012, the attack rates on seafarers was higher than the number of violent crimes in South Africa, which has the highest crime rate on Earth.
Between the amount of Chinese exports on the open water, and the frequency at which pirates attack, it’s easy to see how sea criminals can pose a bigger risk to Chinese cargo fleets than the risk of an accident.
It was only last month that pirates attacked three vessels in Straits of Malacca and Singapore, after all.
That being said, this incident does follow on the footsteps of another accident. After a cruise ship also capsized on the Yangtze, but in the central province of Hubei, the lives 442 people were lost. Only 12 survived.
In this most recent incident, the overturned cargo ship was carrying the chemical sodium hydroxide — also known as lye. If ingested, it can burn skin, cause blindness, and even cause death.
Fortunately, there have been no leaks detected.