Nov 262014

Support our training video crowdfunder based on this incident here

All the key ingredients for a navigational accident were in place long before the Malta-flagged oil and chemical tanker Ovit grounded on the Varne Bank in the Dover Strait in the early morning darkness of 18 September 2013. The report on the incident from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB, identifies several layers of factors, not all of them on the bridge of the Ovit, that led to the grounding without which it would not have occurred.

The vessel was equipped with a Maris 900 ECDIS supplied and installed by STT Marine Electronics in Istanbul. An installation certificate issued on 1 April 2011 indicates that all systems had been properly configured and tested. They had not.

Continue reading »

New Alert! On Fitting Seafarers

 competence, competency, maritime safety news, publications  Comments Off on New Alert! On Fitting Seafarers
Jan 032013
The right seafarer for the job

The right seafarer for the job

Nobody would think of fitting incompatible equipment or machinery into a ship, so why not take exactly the same care when recruiting, hiring, training and retaining seafarers? Asks Alert!, the International Maritime
Human Element Bulletin, in its latest issue.

Getting things wrong can be catastrophic, as shown by a case study which tracks a serious injury to a seafarer, illustrating his lack of appropriate training and competence when asked to undertake tasks beyond his skills.

Earlier issues of Alert! highlighted the importance of experience, competence, best design, a safe and secure working environment, fair terms of employment and leadership. These issues are now brought together to show the importance of the interaction of people with other individuals, ships, systems and machinery.

The bulletin shows how crucial it is to attract and retain talent and details key performance indicators to demonstrate how companies can measure management performance in dealing with the human element. It points out that matching people with their ships is a serious and complex matter that should not be taken lightly.

Download Alert! Here







HE-Alert – Demonstrable Competencies a ‘Must’

 competence, competency, competency assessment, maritime safety news, publications  Comments Off on HE-Alert – Demonstrable Competencies a ‘Must’
Jan 042011

Issue 25 of the International Maritime Human Element Bulletin Alert! focusses on the contributions of skill, knowledge, teamwork and leadership to ship operation, and says that the assimilation of them can no longer be left to chance, and vague ideas about learning from one’s elders and betters are no longer adequate. Certainly, there is a huge amount that can be gained from watching really good senior officers operate, but the 2010 Manila amendments to the STCW Code require a lot more in the way of demonstrable competencies. Continue reading »

Will ECDIS Ground?

 competency, ECDIS, ENC, maritime safety, navigation  Comments Off on Will ECDIS Ground?
Oct 262010

Who will train them?

By the middle of 2011 so-called certificates of competency in operating electronic chart display and information systems, ECDIS will become mandatory. Good news for training providers but will there be enough experienced seafarers to provide that training? Mal Instone Director of Operations & Standards for ECDIS Ltd., believes a teaching crisis is on the horizon and it may take years to resolve.

No-one can deny the practical usefulness of a properly operated ECDIS. With some 32 systems currently available and at least another two being developed to join them, all with different menu systems and with information capabilities that exceed the need to know, that usefulness could be compromised, especially given the shortage of experienced people to train navigational officers.

Instone tells MAC: “I cannot speak for other training providers, but we think that there is going to be a huge demand for this training and limited supply. One of the biggest problems is that few trainers have the relevant sea experience operating with ECDIS, and this is not likely to change for a number of years”.

Continue reading »

Benzene Bomber Back Online

 Accident, competency, explosion, maritime safety  Comments Off on Benzene Bomber Back Online
Oct 132010

We’re in the process of tidying up some of our older podcasts and transcripts and here’s the latest update. The podcast and transcript is available in the free library.

An explosion aboard a ship carrying flammable cargo is a master’s nightmare.
This nightmare will really make your hair stand on end.

Listen To The Podcast


Svitzer Fined For Master Who Wasn’t The Ticket

 competence, competency  Comments Off on Svitzer Fined For Master Who Wasn’t The Ticket
Sep 142010

image At Ipswich Magistrates Court today, Svitzer UK Ltd pleaded guilty for employing a Master without a valid certificate of competence.

The skipper forgot to re-new his certificate as a Master which he is required to do every five years and continued to sail as Master without a certificate from 2005 to 2009.

Continue reading »

Remembering Competency

 competence, competency  Comments Off on Remembering Competency
Jul 262009

Among today’s emails was an announcement for the 10th anniversary of the Asia-Pacific Manning Conference in November. On the schedule is a post-conference workshop on Assessment of Crew Competence led by DNV SeaSkill Asia which reminded MAC of an item posted a while back that is just a relevant now, if not more so:

“No one in their right mind would put a multi-million dollar asset – their ship and its ability to earn (and lose) money – in the care of individuals who were anything other than competent. Yet that is exactly what is happening, and on an ever increasing scale in the shipping industry,” warns Captain Robert Rayner, president and CEO of IDESS Interactive Technologies, in the latest issue of the American P&I Club‘s publication Currents.

Captain Rayner is a leading, often outspoken, proponent of competency assurance, something that’s a screamingly obvious solution to reducing maritime incidents, enhancing safety and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of vessel operations. Perhaps because it’s so obvious, it’s been largely ignored by the industry.

His article, Competent Crews And The Exercise of Due Diligence, is a good introduction to competency assessment, measuring human performance in the workplace.

Says Rayner: ” Competence is widely perceived to be an immutable constant, when in fact it is a dynamic variable, with-in both companies and individuals. We do not distinguish between a second officer who has for the last two years been serving on a small product tanker that transits the Singapore Straits every three weeks, and a second officer serving on VLCC that is on a regular run between Ras al Ju’aymah and Europort for the same period.

“It is surely reasonable and indeed sensible that competence be periodically verified, by assessment at the individual level, particularly when defined as Safety Critical or Mission Critical, or when there are changes in policy, equipment, or procedures.

“However, only a minority ship owners and managers operate competency management systems that would provide even the basic requirement for assessing workplace performance against international standards.”

Seafarers leave colleges and training centres with what we believe to be newly acquired knowledge and skills, and impressive certificates. But how do we know if the new knowledge and skill is transferred to the workplace. Indeed, is the training and education received even applicable to the new operating conditions that they will be work ing in. Being able to answer that question is crucial in determining if a ship’s crew have the right knowledge, skills and attitudes required for the jobs they have to do.”

MAC’s experience is that competency, or lack of it, is evident in a good number of maritime incidents, of which The Case Of The Cygnet’s Kiss’ is one among many, too many, examples. Given the temptation, and, indeed, the pressure to lower standards to offset the shortage of officers, competency assurance, the measuring of human performance in the workplace, is critical to ensuring that seafarers can do what their certificates say they can do: keep themselves alive and their ships safe.

Read Captain Rayners article here.

[gview file=””]

May 262008

In The Case Of The Electric Assassin I suggested that, if you’re going to enter an enclosed space without the proper equipment or precautions then dig two graves, one for yourself and one for the poor sods who’ll try and rescue you. That recommendations was validated by two virtually identical incidents, several thousand miles apart, within just 24 hours.

There’ll be little wonder that maritime casualty investigators grind their teeth in frustration when these enclosed space incidents occur, partly because they keep happening and partly because little is done to stop them happening.

On 20th May this year at Port Everglades a dock superviser, Hyman Sooknanan, entered an enclosed space aboard Madelaine, a 110 metre cargo ship, to investigate a suspected leak of argon from a container gas tank.

He didn’t return, nor did he respond to radio calls. Worried, a second docker, James Cason, wrapped a shirt around his face and entered the space to find out what happened to Sooknanan. He didn’t reappear either. Now a third man, Rene Robert Duterte did the same, with the same result.

In 20 minutes, three men were dead, the last two because they’d tried the help the first.

Argon isn’t chemically poisonous but it does displace oxygen in the air, asphyxiating the victim. It gets you almost without warning and wrapping something around your face isn’t going to stop it happening when there’s no oxygen in the atmosphere to breathe.

On 22nd May in Chongming Dadong Shipping Yard, Shanghai, 21st May in Florida, three Filipino seafarers died and 10 were injured, all from a single vessel, the Hakone, in an incident involving leakage of another suffocating gas, carbon dioxide.

As research by Don Sheetz of the Vanuatu Registry for the Maritime Accident Investigators International Forum shows, these were not isolated incidents. In just three months, Sheetz gathered reports on 120 enclosed space incidents with 228 from just 16 flag registries over a period of about 10 years. With figures from the largest registries still not available, some estimate that the true figure may be as high as 1,000 deaths.

Says Sheetz:”We are concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg and will ultimately become a larger issue than, say, dropping of lifeboats.

The numbers are simply too high, and the incidents too frequent, to dismiss as unfortunate one-offs. It is unsatisfactory to conclude that it was the victims’ faults, because they, and their would-be rescuers, didn’t follow procedures, and close the book

What they show is that there is something deeply wrong with the system and with the industry that allows deaths on such a scale without a qualm. If there were qualms, there would be a solid drive to find a solution and there isn’t one. It’s a record of which the industry should be ashamed.

It is self-evident that training is inadequate in the first place and the necessary drills are not being carried out onboard or alongside in the procedures for safe entry and rescue from confined spaces.

Training will be ineffective unless backed-up by a positive management level commitment to managing safety, assessing competence onboard and developing a safety culture from company head-office to the master to the deputy chief assist cook’s chief assistant deputy. All too often putting a safety management system on a ship is little more than a butt-covering exercise to avoid liability when the worse happens.

Let’s look at it another way. If the estimates of deaths in enclosed spaces are reasonably accurate, and there’s every reason to believe they are, then enough lives have been lost to put crew on 40 to 50 cargo ships. Currently the industry is going through paroxysms of recruitment to fulfill manning needs of the future, maybe they should spend just a little more time trying to keep alive the ones they’ve already got.

Competency ain't worth the paper

 competence, competency  Comments Off on Competency ain't worth the paper
Dec 142007

Few of our readers had the opportunity to hear Eric Murdoch, Chief Surveyor for  the Standard Club  give his presentation “Operational errors, why they happen and what owners can do to minimise them” at the International Union of Marine Insurers meeting in Copenhagen this year, but Steve Harris of Maritime Web Award fame did.

One set of points in particular caught my eye in the Powerpoint presentation:

Seafarer training
• certificates of competency do not necessarily mean the holder can do the job
• experience or education based training schemes
• application is learnt on board not at college…know your onions
• are certificate schemes keeping up with technology?
• are junior officers promoted too quickly?

Anyone inclined to browse through accident report after accident report will certainly give an uptick to the first point. In almost every case the crewmember had the appropriate certificates and was therefore assumed to be competent. Many of those seafarers are dead.

Point Three seems to be screamingly obvious to anyone outside the industry but has made little headway within it. Competency is established in the workplace and that is where it should be measured, assessed and assured.

To put with brutal frankness, accident happen most often because, despite the paperwork, the seafarers were incompetence at the time of the incident. Nobody knew they were incompetent because they hadn’t been assessed and their trained need were not identified.

Indeed, Eric Murdoch very rightly recommends:  “…actively evaluate sea staff
competence and training needs”.

At a time when oil spills, groundings, collisions and fatalities occur at depressingly frequent intervals, Murdoch makes sound sense, not just his thoughts on competency but on other measures that could mitigate the loss of ships and human life.

What is needed is the firm resolve to bring about change.

One has to wonder where that resolve will come from.

You can get copies of the presentations at the IUMI website here .