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

Back to Main Page


This handbook is designed to offer guidance to seafarers and managers who are responsible for some of the world's most valuable ships and cargoes. Such ships and their cargoes are capable of causing fires, explosions, catastrophic environmental damage and loss of life and personal injury. As a result, the handbook is written under the International Maritime Organization's guiding principle: Towards safer ships and cleaner seas. As the handbook is commissioned by one of the world's leading P&I Clubs, it is not surprising that this IMO principle is also close to the heart of those responsible for liability insurance. The handbook's content is also based on the principle that shipboard productivity and safety are clear measures of management competence and responsibility. Although some may think that this approach represents a departure from more traditional views about ship operation and management, it is clear today that the viability of the modern tankship industry depends on innovation and management approaches which can adapt and prevail under considerable economic, social, regulatory and political pressures. At the same time, the rapid pace of technological change and the overall expansion of many levels of regulatory oversight place additional demands on ship owners and seafarers.
Traditionally the management and operational responsibilities in the shipping industry were viewed as quite separate domains. Management was mainly concerned with administering the vessel in an acceptable commercial manner so that it operated profitably. This was generally carried out through policies and procedures which included little or no input from those who actually operated the vessel, and through day-to-day administrative decisions that rarely considered their impacts on crew morale and motivation. On the other hand, the crew's main concern was with safe navigation and a reasonable amount of cargo care. Technical competence in navigation, mechanical maintenance and cargo handling were the primary requirements, and few thought that the crew was ever capable of making recommendations which could actually improve the economic side of ship operations.
One of the principal purposes for this handbook is to promote the recognition of the fact that shore-based and shipboard management concerns have shifted from the traditional narrower focus on technical competence to a much more all-encompassing view. Although a number of owners are fully aware of this, many are not. Tankship operations should be ventures where leadership and team management ability provide the supportive framework within which technical expertise can effectively function. It is no longer sufficient to simply identify and hire seafarers with the proper technical certificates and qualifications and then assign them to ships. Seafarers must now and in the future be seen as individuals capable of continuous training and development to become an essential resource of a safe and efficiently operated vessel.
In other words, this handbook addresses the human side of ship operations. It is not a manual which prescribes rules and regulations, but an attempt to increase safety and environmental consciousness from boardroom to pumproom. This is not an academic or altruistic aim but something which is entirely practical and which has been very neglected. There has been a wide consensus in the shipping industry for some time that the great majority of maritime accidents are due to human error, yet this issue has only been peripherally addressed. At the IMO level the 1978 STCW Convention was an important first step, but a new look at this, now out-dated convention has only just commenced. As a result, this handbook suggests that this issue can and should be addressed directly by the management and operational sectors of the shipping industry. Modern satellite technology has dissolved the traditional barriers of time and distance between shore-based management and shipboard operations. This increased communications efficiency provides new opportunities for the information flow between ship and shore and vice versa.
There is, obviously, a very practical need for new management approaches. Maritime casualty statistics continue to be a cause for concern with losses in all sectors remaining at unacceptably high levels. In general, an aging world fleet, especially in the tankship sector, due to continuing low freight rates, exacerbates this problem. That is not to say that an older vessel is necessarily an unsafe one. A well-maintained older vessel is often a lesser safety risk than a badly-maintained modern one. In addition, the high rates of serious and/or fatal accidents amongst seafarers appear to indicate that even increased safety measures are inadequate. For example, the mortality rate for seafarers serving on UK-registered ships is 290 deaths per 100,000, or ten times as high as in the manufacturing sector, nine times higher than in the construction trades, and four times higher than in coal mining.(1) This leads to the general conclusion that shipping lacks an industry-wide safety philosophy. Furthermore, the fact that there are discernible differences in accident rates between ship registries, management nationalities, and types of ownership indicates that management and administrative philosophies have an influence on safety. Accidents do not just happen. They are usually a result of an incident igniting the residue of neglect. As has been stated:
Casualty is a symptom of malfunction of the organizing system which is responsible for the coordination of all activities contributing to safety. A good organizing system is based on good leadership, where the leader is motivating and stimulating people to act and think to avoid casualties.(2)
In fact, the prevention of casualties is the only viable solution to the many problems faced by modern tankship management and operations. When even carefully planned oil spill tests cannot recover more than 15 per cent of an open-ocean spill, it is obvious that providing insurance for clean-ups is far from effective. On the other hand, the best procedures, implemented by well-trained personnel, operating adequately maintained ships and equipment, are far more effective. In other words, prevention is the most cost-effective alternative and also happens to be the only one that really works! In fact, if prevention would really receive the priority it deserves,then oil spill clean-up equipment would rust on the beaches and P&I Club premiums would be significantly lower!
This handbook is devoted to prevention through safe and efficient ship operations. It is not a manual on what to do and how to do it. Neither is it written to replace the many excellent manuals published by shipping companies, oil companies, loading and discharge terminals, governments and international organizations. Such publications will continue to be required reading and will also assist in achieving safer ships and cleaner seas. This handbook is designed to motivate and inspire the professionalism of seafarers and to complement this with the overriding commercial know how of the ship-owner and manager in order to support continuing crew development. In fact, the authors would be delighted if readers would discover that the handbook has only collected and described information and operations they already know and do!
The handbook is also designed to restate basics and the patently obvious. For example, no one is better equipped to take note and give warnings of unsafe conditions on a ship than its crew. This is the principal reason why management must ensure that a communications flow exists from the vessel to the office and that someone at the upper management level has direct responsibility for listening to and, if appropriate, acting on recommendations received. In certain cases a direct communications link, bypassing all technical and operating levels, from the vessel to the company's quality assurance manager, (who should have access to the highest levels of management), may be appropriate.
Each department in the ship should be requested to prepare an inventory of risk areas and activities involved in their operations. Once an initial risk inventory has been completed, the first priority for corrective action should be directed towards high risk areas. Obviously, the most astute senior officers will prepare such an inventory in a way that clearly exposes both the strengths and weaknesses of existing company policies. An important by-product of this exercise is that involved crew members would be forced to think about dealing with possible emergencies. This would inevitably lead to crew members who are professionally qualified, well trained and competent to make good decisions under emergency conditions. Therefore, the general purpose of this handbook is to promote the concept that tankship safety relies on much more than even the best technical competence. It requires an industry-wide safety philosophy implemented through sound and responsible management and human resources practices operating in a teamwork environment. In a recent analysis of a serious marine disaster it was stated:
Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for safety relies on shipboard management and practice. Once the ship leaves the dock, vessel, cargo, crew and owners rely heavily on the skills and judgements of the master and senior officers. They are in the front line, whilst the role of management should be that of vigilant defender, ever watchful and supportive. If the two groups work together they form a winning team!(3)
Accordingly, this handbook is designed also to offer guidance in practical leadership, teamwork and operational matters for modern tankship management. It should be an accessible tool to assist officers in finding information as the need arises. Hopefully, it will also be utilized by managers who feel the need to upgrade their motivating and other skills.
It may be remembered that the famous film detective, Charlie Chan, once said: "Mind is like parachute; only useful when opened!" The same is true of a handbook such as this. Unless it is opened, read, absorbed and implemented by tankship management and crews it will contribute nothing to safer ships and cleaner seas. Although it cannot and should not replace the many important manuals, already mentioned above, the handbook does lend itself to basic training courses on board tankers. Officers and other motivated crew members should be encouraged to read the book and if a copy is inadvertently carried off as part of some officer's personal library so much the better! Master and chief engineers could use sections of the handbook to test junior officers' knowledge and preparedness by simply asking: "what would you do if ... ?" This type of semi-formal enquiry might reveal important gaps in knowledge which could lead to very serious consequences in a real situation. Perhaps it may even be possible for some companies to use the handbook as part of their training programmes or create correspondence courses. Whatever the method of use, this type of handbook must become part of an established, onboard training programme. Only through this direct attention to the human factor will safer ships and cleaner seas become a reality.
This handbook is not a general text on all aspects of tankship operations and there are many aspects which are not addressed or covered only peripherally. For example, subjects such as: oil pollution clean-up procedures; tanker chartering issues; towage and salvage; legal and commercial aspects; customs; insurance issues; maritime liens; crew contracts; stowaways and refugees; helicopter evacuation; grounding, collisions and other casualties; fire and explosion; abandon ship procedures; piracy; consequences of contamination of cargo; and a number of other important subjects, are not addressed. They are important. They are covered in other texts, handbooks and manuals, and they should also be studied as part of modern tankship operations. However, as already indicated, this handbook concentrates more on the basics of human behaviour and ship operations and how they affect maritime safety and environmental protection. This is done by simply following a tanker voyage. The first chapter addresses the basic requirements of serving as an officer on a tanker. For many readers this chapter probably states the obvious, but anyone who knows about maritime accidents also knows how often the obvious is ignored. Chapter two describes the tanker's ballast voyage — a time when the vessel is being cleaned, prepared for loading and also a time when accidents can occur. Chapter three describes proceedings in the loading port and Chapter four the loaded voyage. Finally, chapter five provides basic guidelines for procedures in the discharge port.
The idea for this type of handbook came from Captain Sigurd Thomassen, a former tanker master and now long-time claims handler in Card's tanker department. Captain Thomassen had felt the need for changes in the human approach to tanker operations for some years. As a result he had collected a considerable amount of data on this and related issues. This data was eventually acquired by Card in order to turn idea and data into a publication. This work was coordinated by Dr Edgar Gold, author of Card's Handbook on marine pollution who has been associated with Card for over two decades. Dr Gold, in turn, asked two very experienced mariners and tanker specialists to assist. As a result the principal author of the work is Captain John R Dudley, who has considerable, highest-level tanker, academic and management experience. He has been assisted by Captain Barry J Scott, also With a lifetime of tanker experience and today one of the leading tanker safety consultants. Although the authors have woven much of Captain Thomassen's material into the fabric of this book, the work of authors such as King(4), Marton(5) and others, who at regular intervals, have produced valuable guides for tanker operations, which are still valid for ships of their vintage, have also been consulted.
In other words, the handbook has been compiled by three master mariners, all with considerable tanker experience, but also with legal, management, academic, and technical skills.
Although the work has been commissioned by Card, and is presented in the best of good faith with the hope that it will lead to better operating procedures, fewer accidents and fewer claims, neither Card nor the authors can be held liable for errors and omissions. As has been stated already, official manuals and regulations must at all times prevail. Although every effort has been made to produce a readable, usable and accurate book, suggestions for improvements are not only welcome but essential and should be directed to Card in Arendal, Norway. Suggestions, contributions, case histories etc. from masters, officers and crew members in active tanker service are actively solicited for future editions of the handbook. It is hoped that the handbook will be reviewed and revised at reasonable, regular intervals.

(1) Quinn, PT, Management of Human Relations on Board Ships: A Community Perspective, Seaways (February, 1982), pp.11-14
(2) Drager, KH, Collisions and Groundings - Analysis of Cause Relationships. Papers of the Safety of Life at Sea Symposium, (Oslo, 20-21 October 1980)
(3) Crainer, S, Zeebrugge - Learning from Disaster. Lessons in Corporate Responsibility. London: Herald Charitable Trust, 1993, p.6
(4) King, (SAB, Tanker Practice. 5th ed. London: The Maritime Press Ltd., 1968
(5) Marton, GS, Tanker Operations. 2nd ed. Centrcville, Md.: Cornell Maritime Press, 1984
page top
Hosted by uCoz