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1.7 Learning the ship

On a well run ship, a new officer can expect to gather a great deal of information about the ship and its standard procedures from the turnover notes, records and company publications. But there is an equal or larger amount of information that must be obtained in the performance of his duties and in exchanges with the other officers and crew. The master, officers and crew provide the second best source of information about current ship procedures. How much an officer benefits from their experience and knowledge depends a lot on the attitude he brings to the working relationship. If he has a limited experience in ships of this type, but pretends that he knows everything, he is not likely to learn much from his shipmates.
The best approach for a new officer to take is to be frank about his experience and openly appreciative of any help offered in the areas where his experience is limited. For a new third officer, the first assignment to a tanker may feel as if everyone on the ship knows more than he does. He shouldn't worry, within a year someone will be asking his advice and by the time he becomes chief officer he will have enjoyed a thousand opportunities to repay the favours of others who kept him out of trouble while he was learning the profession.
The process of learning the ship is easier if the officer asks questions. Professionals enjoy being asked their opinion, or asked to explain some technical obscurity. They usually consider it a compliment and consider that the questioner is demonstrating good judgment by asking them. So the basic rule 'when in doubt ... ask', applies from the first day on board and if it is necessary to stop a cargo operation to have time to ask the question, do so!

1.7.1 Advising your limitations
When a new officer arrives at a ship, the master and chief officer may have only limited information concerning his qualifications and background. It is up to the arriving officer to discuss his professional experience with both the master and the chief officer. It will do no harm to give them both a written list of the ships and ratings served in, along with a brief description of the requirements of each assignment. With this information, the master and chief officer are able to assign duties which make the best use of the officer experience available to them and avoid assigning duties for which an officer may be unprepared.

1.7.2 Learning the cargo system
Before a tanker officer can safely stand a cargo watch, he must be intimately familiar with the ship's cargo system. Each type of oil carrier, OBO, O/O or tanker has its own peculiarities of equipment and operation which are critical to completing an uneventful voyage. The ship's cargo system is normally set out on a diagram in the cargo office. Each valve and pump should be numbered on the diagram and on the equipment itself. At the first available opportunity and preferably on his own time (to avoid distraction and neglecting other duties), the officer should copy the cargo system diagram in his deck notebook, including the pumproom diagram. The next step is to trace the cargo piping on deck and in the pumproom, locating each of the numbered valves and pipeline connections. It will be impossible to follow the piping in the cargo tanks, but the above-deck mechanical operators for the tank suction and fill valves should be located. The officer should inspect each valve controller carefully and determine:

  • How each valve is operated (hand, hydraulic, air, electric).

  • Method of manual, local and remote operation activation.

  • Operation of the local and/or remote position indicator.

  • Manual means of operating normally power operated valves.

  • Determine the type of valves installed in the cargo tanks and the problems associated with each type. If the valves are manually operated, ask about their difficulty and speed of operation. On older tankers, there is invariably one valve that is a 'beast' to open or close. Extra time must be allowed to open or close this valve.
    The drop valves (used for loading) should be located and the means of operation determined. Particular attention must be given to crossover and block/master valves. These are vitally important to proper segregation of mixed cargoes. On some vessels, blanks or blinds are used in place of crossover valves.
    The cargo manifold should be checked to locate the drain and stripping connections. If the tanker is operated from a control room, the mimic diagram may not show some of the smaller drain line connections. The officer must know the drain line arrangements and how any spillages are removed from the manifold drip tray.
    The pumproom can only be entered with the permission of the chief officer or the cargo watch officer. If pumps are in operation, hearing protection must be worn. In the pumproom, the main lines and stripping lines should be located and identified. Powered valve operators should be examined as described above. Check all lines for drain valves above and below the lower gratings but do not enter the pumproom bilges unless an officer or member of the deck watch is standing by. Determine locations of cargo pump controls and emergency stop switches for each pump.
    After one or two months on board, a good tanker officer should be able to visualise the piping diagram in his mind, but he should never depend on his memory when making up cargo orders or setting the valves in the system. Cargo piping lineups should always be done according to a written plan.
    Well in advance of his first cargo discharge, a new officer must determine how low the main cargo pumps can pull the liquid level in the cargo tanks and how the stripping system is operated. If an eductor stripping system is fitted, special procedures will be necessary to place it in operation.
    Some VLCCs (very large crude carrier) have 'free-flow' cargo systems which permit pumping of cargo without suction pipelines. Again, special operating procedures will apply and should be reviewed. The accuracy (or inaccuracies) and repeatability of the ship's cargo ullaging system should be reviewed with the chief officer and other officers.

    1.7.3 Operating procedures
    The IMO Guidelines for the management of safe ship operation and pollution prevention call for tankers to be provided with procedures defining tasks to be performed and instructions for proper completion of those tasks, where the absence of such procedures would adversely impact safety or the environment. Procedures may be in the form of:

  • Petroleum tanker operations manual.

  • Operating procedures prepared to support a safe ship operation and pollution prevention (SEP) management program.

  • Operating procedures prepared to provide performance to an audited ISO 9002 standard.

  • Other manuals, such as circular letter files, standing orders, etc.
  • 1.7.4 Safety notices
    A well managed vessel conducts a comprehensive safety program, supported and encouraged by owners and management. Safety notices, safety bulletins and the vessel's safe work practices manual should be reviewed carefully to learn how work is to be performed and situations to be avoided.

    1.7.5 Standing orders
    The new officer must read and sign the master's Standing Orders before the vessel departs for sea. The standing orders should be reread before each voyage, until they become second nature. (See section 4.1)

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