Hopes were high that the Costa Concordia voyage data recorder, VDR, would resolve keys issues about the vessel’s grounding on 13 January, including communications between the master, Francesco Schettino, and the ship owner’s executives. However, the VDR had been faulty for at least two weeks, according to reports quoting Captain Schettino.
Understandably there have been comments about the ‘convenience’ of the faulty VDR but such circumstances are far from common and they are on the increase.
In March 2011, Gard issued an advisory on VDR problems, noting “”a number of cases where vessels have been unsuccessful in both saving and retrieving vital VDR information.
Failure to be able to produce VDR information may lead to counterparty allegations that might have been prevented and/or proceeded against in a less costly manner had it not been for the lack of VDR evidence”.
In its report on the grounding of Maersk Kendal, Britain’s MAIB says: “The master was not familiar with the working of a VDR and had never saved data on it before. He initially reported to the company that the VDR data had been saved. However, when it was established some time later that the yellow light, which was designed to remain lit to indicate that the data had been saved, had not illuminated, he should have sought advice from the company. He could have either stopped power to the VDR unit or simply removed the hard drive to prevent it from being overwritten.”
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.
There is more to a VDR than post-accident investigation. EU directive 2009/18/EC7 not only encourages the use of VDR data for accident investigation but also as a preventative tool. The directive advocates the routine examination of VDR data by ship managers to gain experience of the circumstances capable of leading to accidents or incidents. Such examination will provide them with incontrovertible information on watchkeeping standards under normal operating conditions.
Random audits of VDR data can identify existing problems and track developing issues that could contribute to an incident, enabling companies to identity and mitigate them. It would enable training managers to make more efficient use of their training budgets by identifying the training needs of specific individuals – if 10 officers have good Bridge Team/Crew Resource Management skills and two do not then it is more cost effective to focus BTM/CRM training on those who need, and a magnitude more cost effective than training them after an incident.
Properly, and wisely, used a VDR can not only identify problems that an audit cannot, but can also provide data to make ship operations more efficient and economic.
Those are lessons Costa Crocierce and its parent company Carnival ar now learning the hard way.