Bimco’s contributor Andrew Guest recently picked up on an issue raised by MAC last year following an expression of concern by maritime accident investigators which we may see more of over the coming year if it gets some wind behind it: the failure of voyage data recorders due both to lack of training for bridge teams and errors by equipment programmers and installers.
Recently a report by Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation on an incident that killed one AB and left the Master still recovering and unable to return to sea – and may never do so – provided a tale of woe and frustration. The VDR didn’t recognise the internal hard disk, there was a problem with transferring data across what is called an IDE, which meant that an external drive was not connected, a download of the data to yet a third hard disk was aborted before it finished. Some data may have been retrievable from the latter but technicians only used Windows Explorer and the downloaded folders appeared to be empty. More forensics-orientated software, or even accessing the folders at the disk operating system level, might have been able to gather information but wasn’t used, instead the folders were erased.
Says the BSU report
Even after all these years, VDRs, those who use them, those who make them and those who mend them seem to have far too far to go. They can provide valuable information and clarification that, often, post-incident interviews cannot and where those involved may no longer be alive to tell their tale. Yet it appears too little thought has gone into ensuring that they work as reliably as aircraft equivalents.
As the Cosco Busan contact incident showed, there can be marked and important differences between what people remember once an emergency has passed.
Paul Drouin of Safeship, a private sector maritime investigator says in a comment on the LinkIn Maritime Accident Investigation Group: “…the issue has come up in quite a few accident reports world-wide. In Canada there was the Cast Prosperity/Hyde Park collision (TSB report M05L0205) where bridge audio on the Cast Prosperity was very poor. This echoes German findings such as those found in BSU Report 343/04.
“In the Canadian report we can read that ”… although the VDR had been tested upon installation and found operational, the quality of the recording was not verified under actual or realistic working conditions, nor was this required by the standard. This precluded confirmation that the in-service recordings would be of sufficient quality to effectively aid marine investigations.”
“I think we will continue to see deficiencies in VDR playback performance for some time to come. It is, after all, a paradigm shift. One simple and effective performance check should be testing while underway every 6 months.
“And, as if the hardware is not problematic enough, there are the training and procedural issues. Some Masters still don’t know when and if they should ”press the button”. Some press the button more than once – ”just to be sure”…. Go figure! But, having said this, VDRs are shedding more light on accident causation today than any other tool. It can only get better.”