Risk Assessment


Risk is a term that has been defined many times and in many ways.

In common language the term normally refers to a fear that “something bad will happen”.

In our view one of the best definitions for risk is made by Doug Hubbard “A state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome “.

In ISO 31010 risk is formally defined as a “combination of the consequences of an event (hazard) and the associated likelihood/probability of its occurrence”.

The definition of IMO is almost similar to that of ISO – it defines risk as “the combination of the frequency and the severity of the consequence”.



Risk assessment can be described as an overall process that starts from the identification of threats and more specific scenarios how the unwanted event might take place. This initial phase is followed by risk evaluation and risk analysis. There are some variations within the flow of the process and terminology depending on the methodology used.

The first phase, threat and scenario identification, typically consists of structured group work by experts. The availability of suitable data e.g. incident reports, near misses and operational failures is important at this stage to ensure robust results. Output of physical models, simulations and analytical models are also commonly used.

In the second phase the identified threats and their associated scenarios should be ranked to prioritise them and to discard issues judged to be of minor significance. This risk evaluation is often done by using a risk matrix where x-axis represents the probability, and y-axis the severity, of an unwanted event.

In practice this ranking can be difficult and, depending on the topic that is assessed, the group may simply have to decide which dimension they put more weight for ranking purposes – to probability or severity.

The final phase, risk analysis, attempts find the causes and causal pathways of the prioritised threats and their associated scenarios. These results are then used as background material for risk reduction measures. Furthermore, it is a common practise to make cost benefit analysis of these measures.

The assumptions made during the risk assessment process and limitations of data should also be reported.


One of the main concerns of maritime administrations, ship designers, shipping companies and like is the safety of ships at sea. There are enormous penalties for the lack of safety, in terms of lives lost, damage to the environment and to cargo, which all involved with the maritime industries want to avoid.1

Within maritime regime however the major accidents and their consequences seem to improve international maritime legislation and not the other way round. In various other safety critical areas such as aviation and nuclear industry many actions improving safety are based on model outcomes and risk assessment instead of proven mistakes.2

IMO has relatively recently recognized the importance of adopting risk assessment procedures in their decision process by publishing Guidelines for Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) in 2002. FSA is a structured and systematic methodology, aimed at enhancing maritime safety, including protection of life, health, the marine environment and property, by using risk analysis and cost benefit assessment.

Apart from that, e.g. shipping companies are conducting regular risk assessments as a part of their ISM-code based safety management system. However there is a lot of variation how different companies carry out these risk assessments depending on their safety culture.

  1. Guades Soares C, Teixeira A. Risk assessment in maritime transportation (2001)
  2. Venesjärvi R. Knowledge-based marine conservation in oil spill risk management (2016)

MARITIME RISK ASSESSMENT for pollution prevention and response (PPR) purposes

Large scale ship accidents around the world have demonstrated that spills have major and long-lasting adverse impacts on marine ecosystems and also economy. For this reason the risk of damage to the environment is often in focus when maritime administrations conduct risk assessments.

During the past ten years European nations have conducted intergovernmental projects related to regional spill risk assessment including HELCOM BRISK/BRISK-RU (2009 – 2012) in the Baltic Sea and BONN BE-AWARE I&II (2012 – 2015) in the North Sea and English Channel. The overall aim of these projects has been to develop preparedness and response activities of the coastal authorities.

Even if this kind of risk assessment projects are important for developing response activities, they are usually big, executed with long intervals and not comparable with previous ones. Furthermore, as risk is dynamic by its nature it should be assessed with dynamic methodology.

There is a need for new approaches in order to answer to these challenges and use the full potential of risk assessments.

The OPENRISK project will take the first step on developing a toolbox of joint and open methods enabling frequent assessments on risks of spills resulting from maritime accidents.