Towards Safer Ships & Cleaner Seas by Dmitry Ulitin while on board FSO "Belokamenka"

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And so the voyage ends. The ship has been prepared, ballasted, cleaned, gas-freed, loaded, discharged, berthed, un-berthed, anchored, been exposed to hot and cold weather, stormy and calm seas, busy shipping lanes and quiet ocean passages, brilliant sunshine and thick fog. Hopefully, all of this without incident, without endangering the marine environment, without accidents, and with some modest profitability for the owner. In fact, most ships go about their business quietly and uneventfully this way. Despite popular belief to the contrary, 99.9995% of all cargoes are delivered safely and without problems by some 3,000 tankers over an average distance of 4,700 miles, delivering some 1.4 billion tons of oil annually.(1) It is, therefore, appropriate to ask why so much effort is expended on the other 0.0005%? Obviously, even one Exxon Valdez, Amoco Cadiz, Haven, Kharg V, or Aegean Sea is too much and a generally good overall industry safety record is no signal for complacency. Furthermore, there is also ample evidence that there are too many 'near misses' of ships which just manage to make it, more through sheer luck than anything else. In other words, there is no room for complacency of any kind in the shipping industry !
There is also evidence that a considerable percentage of the world's ageing tankship fleet is not well maintained, that it is not crewed effectively and that it is also often poorly managed and poorly operated. These are sub-standard vessels which give the whole industry a bad name. Furthermore, it is today quite clear that behind every sub-standard vessel with a sub-standard crew, hides a substandard operator or manager.(2) These are the tankship operations which end in disaster, cause pollution, kill crew members and drive insurance rates up. This, in turn, leads to increased public demand for tougher standards and increased regulatory and political attention.(3) In some instances it can even lead to draconian legislation which actively discourages shipping by the imposition of liability regimes which are uninsurable.(4)

(1) Anderson, Clean seas/oil pollution: an independent tanker owner's view. 6th National Marine Conference, Vancouver, Canada, October 1990
(2) See, for example, Ugland, A KL, Economics of safety. International Summit on Safety at Sea, Oslo, June 1993
(3) See, for example, Public review panel on tanker safety and marine spills response capability, protecting our waters, Final Report. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1990; and, Inquiry into ship safety, ships of shame, Report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure. Canberra, Australia: Government Publishing Service, 1992
(4) See, Oil Pollution Act, 1990, United States

Despite the fact that ship-source marine pollution now contributes less than 10 per cent of all pollutants entering the marine environment, the general public perception, that shipping is a polluting industry, operating sub-standard vessels with incompetent personnel, prevails. As it is unlikely that shipping can ever be 100% accident-free, (it is, after all, a dangerous industry), those within the industry must continue to strive for ever safer ships and cleaner seas. There is much to be done. As has been indicated throughout this handbook, there have to be much better safety and environmental consciousness, better communications, better motivation, a better command and management structure, better training and information systems and more understanding of the implications of negligence. As has also been pointed out, carelessness and complacency go hand in hand, and going 'back to basics', in terms of safety procedures, is the best route to uneventful voyages. For example, in the aviation industry, even a pilot with ten thousand hours in command will automatically go through a detailed checklist each and every time before a flight. Operating a modern tankship should be no different.
In addition, modern ships have today multi-national crews with linguistic, cultural and social differences. The attachment to one's vessel, which was a sea-going tradition, has faded away and crews today spend less time on vessels with the commensurate danger of lack of familiarity with a particular vessel's complex systems. Added to this is the fact that STCW 1978 only provides the industry with a basic, lowest common denominator for training and maritime education. Thus, there are considerable differences in training standards in many parts of the world and seafarers' qualifications, as represented by a national licence or certificate, simply can no longer be taken at face value. This, once again, places a greater responsibility on management. However, even here there are problems. Who is the manager? The manager can be the actual shipowner or simply someone who provides a service for some corporate conglomerate or various permutations between these extremes. Obviously, the motivation for each would be quite different.
As a result, increased safety and environmental consciousness, the aim of this handbook, is everyone's business and is in everyone's interest. It alone will lead to safer ships and cleaner seas.

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