On 25 June, the international community celebrated the Day of the Seafarer. It is a day when our entire industry takes a pause to think of the seafarers who are currently serving on the World’s fleet. For the outside community it is almost impossible to accept that in this advanced technological age we are still reliant on merchant seafarers (that is even if people understand that ships exist at all). Surely they ask, we can do away with those jobs and replace them by technology. So why are we still using seafarers with all their faults and shortcomings to manage the risk? Well it is not just because the unmanned ship has even more drawbacks, it is that the human element is the best guarantor of safety and efficiency in our industry. But that human element needs to be selected, trained, monitored and trusted to get the job done.
Best talent must be recruited globally:
For the tanker industry, large amounts of time and effort are expended making sure that they recruit the best from the maritime colleges around the world. Unfortunately, in order to meet the enhanced safety environment of a tanker, the employer then often needs to spend more time doing additional training to bring that seafarer’s technical skills up to the required standard. Intertanko is starting a new project to move that burden from the shoulders of the shipowner back to where it should be in the maritime college.
Training on worst case scenarios:
So why do things go wrong if we now have well trained seafarers, provide them with well found ships and equipment and give them a proven safety management system? Well, for a start, accidents are rare. In the main, in the vast majority of times, the systems work, collision are avoided, cargo does not spill and ships do not ground. But there are a hard nub of accidents which could have been avoided and which are incredibly hard to eradicate as they are due to those inherent human element aspects that are so difficult to get away from. In the accident investigations the spotlight is thrown upon the lack of compliance with existing rules, regulations and systems. Near misses have not been acted upon and previous noncompliance not corrected.
Strict Adherence to regulations:
It is entirely natural that people wish to take the shortcut, not follow the regulations if they are an inconvenience and so the desired path is taken. Whether this is not using the correct personal protective equipment, or skipping a few steps on a safety checklist, it is often something that has occurred many times before without any negative outcome. This non-compliance can then become the accepted behaviour and some seafarers demonstrate their professionalism through non-compliance, in effect saying I am so good at my job that I know which rules to follow and which should not. But the law of probabilities will always catch up and the result can be out of all proportion to the act.
Usage of checklists:
Now the traditional means to counter this is better surveillance through more auditing, checklists and procedures. These can of course be very effective. The use of checklists as a true interactive tool rather than just part of the audit trail, can be very effective. But these are not the only means and Intertanko, working hand in hand with OCIMF, CDI and SIGTTO, are looking at this issue from the angle of soft skill competence.
Focus on soft skills:
Soft skill competence revolves around how you do a job and not what you know about doing a job. It is situated in the real world of shipboard operations rather than in the classroom. Through the focus on those soft skills a ship owner can see who are the future stars in your company as well as identifying any training needs. Take the bridge team, if the Captain is not properly communicating, listening to others around him and providing clear instructions, then the team is not working as it should. Soft skills are critical to the safe operation of a ship and the management of any team.
Emphasis on teamwork:
We as an industry have worked to incorporate the hard won lessons from other industries on how to get teams working together and the focus on the soft skills will assist greatly. But one area that is very important in shipboard operations is when there is no team involved and decisions are solely in the hands of one individual. External monitoring and reporting is important, but self-monitoring and self-motivation are key. We used to call this seamanship and that can be summed up by how you act when no one is watching.
Seafarers should not be constantly castigated as being the root cause of 80 per cent of all accidents and be discarded as soon as the automation is up to scratch. Instead, this remarkable resource found on every ship must be seen as your main line of defence against accidents. That human element must be well trained, looked after and managed well. A seafarer in the right place with the right combination of technical and soft skills will be able to counter all that is thrown at their well-found ship.
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Source: Tanker Shipping & Trade