Mar 072008

North of England P&I club,NEPIA, reports that container damage and loss continues to be a problem on container ships.

‘Container losses and collapsed stows in heavy weather continue to occur,’ says the club’s head of loss-prevention Tony Baker. ‘Such weather is not altogether unexpected and it has highlighted a number of areas of poor practice that need to be rectified if the industry is to keep a lid on spiralling claims costs.’

Container claims can be particularly expensive. In 2006/7 North of England reported 16 cargo claims estimated in excess of US$1 million; only two related to container losses but these accounted for 30% of the total value.

Baker says there are four principal factors behind recent incidents: failure of automatic twist-locks in lashing systems; failure to stow and secure containers in accordance with the ship’s cargo securing manual; mis-declared overweight containers; and failure to anticipate and minimise the effect of heavy weather.

‘All of these factors can be resolved if shipowners and their officers take a more diligent approach to stowing and securing containers,’ says Baker. ‘Problems with fully automatic twist-locks are well-documented and stack heights should be reduced or heavy weather avoided until suspect equipment is replaced. If heavy or high-cube containers form part of the mix, there shouldn’t be a problem if stowage and lashing is done in accordance with the cargo securing manual. Making proper use of the ship’s planning software, and understanding any shortcomings, is also crucial.

‘Mis-declared overweight containers may be spotted by crane strain gauges and can possibly be prevented by closer shore-side monitoring of container stuffing. And finally, with the extent and increased accuracy of weather information and weather-routeing systems today, it should be possible for container-ship masters to amend voyage plans to minimise the effect of heavy weather,’ he says.

Lifeboats – The Pinto Of The Sea

 IMO, lifeboat, lifeboat accidents, lifeboat safety  Comments Off on Lifeboats – The Pinto Of The Sea
Feb 142008

Next week sees the 51st session of the IMO Sub-Committee meeting on ship design and equipment, DE51, at Bonn’s appropriately named Hotel Maritim. High on the agenda will be those Ford Pintos of the sea, lifeboats, and the appalling record, and growing, of accidents and fatalities since the introduction of on-load release hooks two decades ago.

There will be discussion about the wisdom or otherwise of mandating that lifeboats been maintained by manufacturer-certificated companies or independent third parties. MAC has already given its opinion.

Last December the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency issued a Marine Information Note, MIN 315, based on a research project, 555, with recommendations that included urgently identifying unstable on-load release hooks and replacing them, “and the transition made at the earliest possible time”.

It urged a safety performance specification for lifeboat launching systems, to be developed and imposed by IMO regulation on the equipment manufacturers, while the responsibility for developing safe and fit for purpose on-load hooks is to be the responsibility of the manufacturers.

Lifeboat on-load release hooks “must prove to be safe and fit for purpose by means of a safety case regime. This regime should comprise a design safety case for each type or make of hook, supplemented by an operational safety case incorporating the design safety case but extended to interface with ship-specific safety management arrangements.”

In view of the serious nature of the hazard, says MIN 315, only as interim risk reduction measures, to avoid further unnecessary fatalities during mandatory lifeboat tests and trials a system should be introduced whereby maintenance shackles are rigged to by-pass the on-load release hook during lowering and recovery, but are disconnected at all other times.

None of these are new recommendation, they seem pretty obvious, nor are those in MIN 315 suggesting, implicitly, if not explicitly, the introduction of single-fall capsules in place of twin fall davit launch systems.

It is a long standing issue. In July 1994 the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, OCIMF published the results of a survey identifying the disturbing frequency of lifeboat accidents. A second report produced by OCIMP along with SIGTTO and Intertanko confirmed the seriousness of the problem. It is now seven years since the MAIB review of lifeboat and launching systems accident. In all, 14 years during which the industry as a whoe would probably find it difficult to put its hand over its heart and say that serious efforts have been made to deal with the issue.

We are unlikely to see any radical solutions adopted at DE51, although few doubt the need for them. The IMO struggles with a continuous need for consensus that militates against firm action Nevertheless, there is justifiable hope of a nudge in the right direction.

The mutuals, P&I Clubs are taking an active role on the issue, with the International Group gathering data. Gard will be displaying 16 of around 70-odd different types of release during the meeting’s coffee break, which will be the first time many of the delegates will have seen, let alone handled, these devices.

Its hoped that the complexity, questionable designs, engineering deficiencies and poor quality of too many of these devices will impress upon the delegates why, on a manhour basis, lifeboat accidents account for an unacceptably high number of seafarer deaths.

Manufacturers blame seafarer incompetence insufficient training and bad maintenance. In the case of the Lowlands Grace, for instance, a keel stay with undetected corrosion snapped under shock load which resulted in the aft hook assembly separating. The fore hook should have been able to take the load but a non-manufacturer-compliant suspension ring had been used and it bent against a bolt assembly invoking forces which opened the hook and dropped the lifeboat 16 metres, nearly 50 feet, into the sea. Two seafarers died, three others were badly injured.

True, seafarers have been known to act unwisely or without forethought. It has been know for a seafarer to use add a length of pipe on the hook reset handle inside the lifeboat to force it into position, causing the hook to be reset improperly, and dangerously. Crew on the Aratere knew there was a problem with the vessel’s lifeboat on-load release hooks but neither reported it nor did anything about it. Fortunately the lifeboat fell from little more than a metre from the water and no-one was hurt.

On the Cape Kestrel an engineer by-passed safety devices during the recovery of a lifeboat, excerbating a problem with the lifeboat falls, resulting in serious injuries.

Lifeboat manufacturers, too, have shown lack of forethought. The Bahamas investigator’s report on the Valparaiso Star incident shows that the hooks were designed, positioned and operated in a way that made it difficult to check whether they were properly reset and the limited deck space on the lifeboat made it awkward, and possibly dangerous in the case of any significant seas, to attach the hooks to the suspensions.


On this lifeboat, from the Valparaiso Star, it was difficult to see whether the hook were properly reset.

The UK P&I Club noted in a recent bulletin: “Improved training is similarly unlikely to be a sufficiently effective measure. This is because human error is inevitable, particularly under the difficult working conditions (time pressures, language barriers, fatigue, cold, dark, wet, etc) which typically prevail on board. Given the reality of this context, it is entirely inappropriate for a safety critical system (i.e. an unstable design of on-load hook) to be catastrophically susceptible to single human error.”

Freefall lifeboats may lack many of inherent dangers of davit-launched lifeboats, but here, too, there are questionable designs on the market which suggest lack of forethought as to how they will be used in practice. One design has a coxswain’s seat that lays down for the launch of the craft to reduce the chances of injury. In that position, however, the coxswain cannot reach the controls of the lifeboat at the very time he needs to have access to them and someone else must lift him into position.

Unlike any other ‘people carrier’, lifeboat releases are design to ‘fail to unsafe’. If an elevator cable fails, the elevator stops. If a lifeboat hook fails, the boat falls.

Blaming seafarers themselves for lifeboat accidents is like blaming the driver of a burnt-out Ford Pinto for not driving safely.

What the history of lifeboat accidents shows is that IMO compliance has little if anything to do with safety, which makes one ask what is the purpose of compliance. In fact, a relatively safe hook, one which requires positive action to open, would not comply with IMO rules.

Second generation hooks are ‘safer’, and many can be retrofitted. They include mechanisms that clearly show whether or not the hook is properly set and, typically a pin that must be removed before the hook will open.

It is understood that the International Lifeboat Group will be present a proposal for a future hook design at DE51. Unfortunately it is likely to be accepted as a recommendation rather that mandated equipment, but any move towards standardising hook design and the controls of lifeboats is to be applauded. After all, if a Mack 16-wheeler can used the same controls as a 1958 Morris Mini, then there’s no reason why it can’t apply to lifeboats, too?

The use of scale models and mock-ups of hook releases is an encouraging move, although they lose their value when the seafarer moves to another ship with different equipment.

Mandating more training will probably be ineffective unless it’s better training and unless it is back-up with regular competency assessments.

In the long term, as suggested by Admiral JS Lang’s comments that the MAIB review “poses the potentially controversial question as to whether lifeboats are strictly necessary in this day and age.”

This is the day and age of the Bow Mariner disaster, in which a severe list of the ship made it impossible to launch port or starboard lifeboats.

One of the Bow Mariner Lifeboats

It is the day and age when vessels are so large that the concept of lowering a lifeboat in bad weather, the very conditions under which they are most likely to be launched, seems to defy common sense.

Fred Fry Lifeboat

Just add a storm and you’re facing disaster in this photo from Fred Fry International

The danger is not hypothetical, as the Coop Venture incident demonstrates.


Seafarers died while this lifeboat was being lowered from a sinking ship in a storm

The reality, of course, is that, for now, we’re stuck with systems that are hazardous to the very people they are supposed to save. The best that can be hoped for in the immediate future is a mixture of retrofitting ‘safer’ equipment, enhancing seafarer training, using competency assessment to ensure they can actually do the job, and maybe retrofitting low-maintenance equipment designed for use in the real-world by real seafarers.

Stop Press – Ships Move In Heavy Weather

 maritime accidents  Comments Off on Stop Press – Ships Move In Heavy Weather
Jan 222008

With a brace of ships coming to grief in rough weather in recent months and the folks in Devon complaining that they can’t see the wood for the seas, one has to admit that there’s a fair amount of evidence to show that when the sea moves, so do ships. I’ll admit that MAC might be risking its hard-won credibility in saying that this unsuspected characteristic of vessels to roll around when the weather’s rough might actually be true, after all, there’s a lot of folk out there who appear to think otherwise.

The London P&I Club’s latest Stoploss Bulletin recounts several injuries incurred during bad weather: crew falling while working aloft, a hand injury as the result of a heavy auxiliary engine part shifting unexpectedly, and a chest injury suffered when a power tool slipped as the ship rolled. In each case, the officer doing the rick assessment was aware of the weather but didn’t take into account the ship’s motion.

The report highlights an intriguing entry in cases where a job was being carried out in the engine room. Under the risk assessment entry for “Weather and Sea Hazard” was written ‘not applicable’. Says the London Club, “While it is the case that dealing with rolling, for example, is less of an issue for someone on the bottom plates in the engine room than it is for a crew member on the monkey island, these recent cases are reminders that, when a ship rolls, the engine room moves too.”

Odd, that, isn’t it?

The Stoploss Bulletin  suggests checking the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency’s pamphlet’s on leadership and creating an onboard safety culture, which you can download from the website in English and Chinese. Note though, that the link to the Arthur D. Little report doesn’t work.

LNG Spots Change The Game

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on LNG Spots Change The Game
Dec 202007
LNG shipping is a new game of risk, says North of England P&I club  
The rapidly changing environment of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is leading to a whole new game of risk for P&I clubs, according to the ‘A’ rated, 75 million GT North of England P&I club.Commenting in the latest issue of the club’s newsletter North News, director Mike Salthouse says, ‘the LNG industry is going through a radical change which has dramatic implications for the way in which LNG ships operate ? and the risks involved.’

Salthouse says ownership of the world’s rapidly growing fleet of LNG vessels has diversified significantly recently to meet the anticipated global growth in gas use, and the new players are planning to operate the ships quite differently.

‘The LNG industry used to revolve around capital-intensive projects, with shipping playing a relatively minor part ? all that the vessels were required to do was go backwards and forward between two set terminals for which they had been specifically designed and built,’ he says.

In anticipation of a spot market, Salthouse says the new LNG carriers are being designed and equipped to be more flexible as they are likely to be calling at a number of different ports and terminals. ‘As such the operational risks may be greater. LNG operators will need their P&I clubs ? as with all their service providers ? to be able to look forward and understand the new market environment in which they trade’.

According to North of England, the worldwide LNG fleet stood at 217 vessels at the beginning of 2007. A large number of new ships are scheduled for delivery over the coming years and the club has seen little evidence of scrapping.

‘LNG shipping has a remarkably good record for providing safe and reliable transport but, given the current growth, in particular in the volume of short-term trades, the risk profile of the industry will change,’ says senior claims executive and former LPG carrier master, John Owen. ‘It is going to be a very different game ? everybody is learning and gaining experience as they go along.’

Owen says that as new terminals come on stream, owners are increasingly being required to accept a greater share of the risk associated with use of such facilities. ‘And as a market develops for short-term charters, the ships and their crews are required to have an unprecedented level of operational flexibility,’ he says.

North of England’s LNG team, of which both Salthouse and Owen are members, has set up an ongoing training programme to keep abreast of industry developments and is liaising closely with entered LNG operators on the legal, technical and operational changes they are currently facing.

 Posted by at 17:17  Tagged with: , ,

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 .

P&I Runs For Cover As A Gloomy 2008 Hovers

 maritime accidents, P&I Club  Comments Off on P&I Runs For Cover As A Gloomy 2008 Hovers
Nov 282007

Steve Harris, a Lloyds marine broker who trains P&I Club personnel and administers the Maritime Web Award gave a gloomy prediction of prospects for 2008 in a comment on this blog:

“There has been a seemingly inexorable rise in the number and severity of crew related incidents, that has caused alarm bells to be rung within the P&I insurance world. The rapidly expanding world fleet has now exhausted the available, experienced pool of seafarers. More and more vessels are having to use greater numbers of inexperienced crew members. Add to this a cocktail of some operators, desperate to keep their vessels operating (with the current enormous freight rates), cutting back on any regular maintenance that might delay the vessel and also vessel charterers, pushing for “corners” to be cut off vessel operating costs, and we end up with a dangerous recipe leading to increases in accidents and crew injury/deaths. 2008 will see more hefty increases in P&I club calls (probably over 20% increases across most of the mutual clubs) and this will continue until someone starts taking maritime safety a bit more seriously.”

Most shipowners are members of a protection and indemnity club – a mutual insurance association or P&I Club. The largest P&I Clubs are members of the International Group which operates a pool to which its members contribute and out of which claims that are too big for a single member are paid.

To judge by the sound of the pitter patter of P&I Clubs running for cover, Steve’s gloomy prediction is coming to pass. The Japan Club recently announced an increase of 20 per cent in premiums for its members. It’s a thought provoking move in a highly competitive industry.

With the past week the American Club has also announced a 20 per cent increase due, in part, to “rising wage settlements and enhanced employment benefits in response to a diminishing global crew resource are driving up death and personal injury claims.  At the same time, a lack of experienced crew may be increasing the current incidence and future likelihood of maritime casualties, given the importance of the “human element” in the causation of large claims in particular” says the Club’s chairman, Joseph Hughes.

Frans Malmros of the Swedish Club says: “Last year was difficult, in terms of the number and cost of major P&I claims. This year, so far, has seen a return to normality. In fact, during the first six months P&I claims costs were significantly lower than budget. This positive trend ended in the Summer, however, with a number of significant, incidents.” The Club will be announcing its response anytime now.

Meanwhile, Shipowner’s Mutual, in a circular to its members last month, said: ” During the 2006 policy year and throughout the first half of 2007, we have seen a sharp increase in the value of claims from every vessel sector without exception.”

Last month Britannia came to the decision: “an advance call increase of 15% was
necessary to address the anticipated continuing high level of claims costs.”

he UK P&I Club considered increasing it’s premiums by 17.5 per cent but fell back to 10 per cent. Most notable, the UK P&I Club comments: “The increase in P&I claims across the shipping industry has made – and continues to make – heavy demands on the International Group of P&I Clubs’ Pool…claims on the 2006/7 policy year which ended on February 20th are expected to be the worst for 15 years. A record payout of more than US$550 million by the clubs is envisaged…Further, the Pool claims for the first half of the 2007/8 policy year (up to August 20th) were even higher than in the first half of 2006.” It’s been the highest for 15 years.

One reason why the UK P&I Club dropped back to 10 per cent was that the 17.5 per cent would have “impacted unfairly on some members”. To read this as a straw in the wind, an omen that the clubs are heading towards forcefully telling shipowners to shape up or ship out when it comes to safety are not far-fetched, indeed, senior P&I Club executives have said as much privately.

What the P&I Clubs are doing is battening down the hatches to weather what they see as a stormy 2008.

Part of the problem is that the current growth of demand means that older vessels with aging equipment are not being retired as early so maintenance issues are ever more critical. Poor maintenance plays a significant part in equipment-related maritime incidents and almost certainly will increase.

Another issue: experienced seafarers are leaking away from the industry because it doesn’t provide the conditions and pay to justify the hardships of the job, many are discouraged from seeking promotion so officer levels are not being filled, so maritime manpower is becoming less and less experienced. Less experience means less aware of the hazards that lead to maritime accidents.

Then there is the issue of training standards, which are often low in many of the countries  seen as potential providers of seafarers, and key manpower providing nations are in denial about the situation. Much training is aimed at getting a certificate, not acquiring competency and, indeed, as pointed out in an earlier post, the industry has yet to get its head around the concept of competency.

Until competency is taken on board and embraced we’ll simply be developing incompetent seafarers and insurance premiums will continue to rise.

Poorly trained, inexperienced seafarers on undermanned ships don’t promise a rosy future.

There is, frankly, a further issue. Look at the key manpower providing today and it’s fairly obvious that the main recruiting agent for the maritime industry today is poverty.  It might come up with the necessary numbers of warm bodies but it isn’t going to come up with recruits with the drive, discipline and leadership skills necessary for senior positions aboard ship.

Indeed, to be brutal, in many of those jurisdictions anyone with the sort of gumption and skill needed by the maritime industry is likely to be incommunicado behind bars or face down dead in a ditch. Initiative and leadership is often discouraged in those domains among the very people that the industry is recruiting.

Traditionally the maritime industry as a whole is conservative. It changes slowly and learns slowly.

Some might argue that such gloomy predictions are inappropriate as the festive season of joy and jollity hovers on the doorstep waiting to be let in, but then it’s likely that for an uncomfortable number of seafarers this could be their last Christmas.

Nov 222007

In one of those cosmic coincidences, at around the moment the Cosco Busan kissed the San Francisco-Oakland bridge while under pilotage the finishing touches were being put on a three-episode DVD for the American Club called, what else, Stranger On The Bridge.

AP&I says:“Stranger on the Bridge focuses on the responsibilities of deck crew, and the limitations of over-reliance on marine pilotage, in preventing accidents. It comprises three case studies which highlight the challenges in ensuring proper command and communication between pilot and crew. ”

The DVD was developed in cooperation with the International Development and Environmental Shipping School Interactive Technologies, Inc. (IDESS IT, Inc.) in Subic Bay, Philippines.

In fairness, I have to declare an interest: I wrote and directed the videos so I won’t comment on the DVD itself but I will say that IDESS IT has a great creative team of young people and a real commitment to maritime safety.

If you want to know more about Stranger On The Bridge click here.

Nov 122007

The Cosco Busan after the allision (Source, USCG)

Conspiracy theorists might suggest that last Wednesday’s fog-bound collision,properly called an allision, between the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the containership Cosco Busan with one of 60 San Francisco Bay Area pilots aboard was a publicity stunt for the curiously well-timed release of the American P&I Club’s DVD, Stranger On The Bridge, scheduled this week. All that is certain is that the bridge is probably the only participant whose career will not be blighted, but the bridge declines to comment on the advice of its lawyers.

In fact, while the DVD was in production last year the International Group of P&I Clubs, which represents 13 of the major shipowner protection and indemnity organisations published the results of a study into incidents involving vessels under the conduct of a pilot. In a period when maritime accidents generally declined, those involving pilots seem to be intractable.

Over a five year period there were 262 claims from incidents that occurred when there was a pilot on board at an average cost of around $850,00. There were 68 collisons at a hefty average of $800,000 apiece which pales against the two collisions a year costing almost $8m each. Pollution incidents, at around two a year, toted up $1.8 per incident.

Incidents involving fixed and floating objects like that of the Cosco Busan, logged a whopping average of 37 a year at a hit of $400,000 each, around $100,000 less, by the way than the annual salary of a Bay Area pilot.

Two cases, one a collision and the other the collapse of a shore crane, involved seafarer and shoreworker fatalities. Pilots didn’t escape the grisly toll, either; in 2005 alone, according to the International Pilots Association, six lost their lives boarding or disembarking vessels.

There are many direct causes for these incidents: pilot fatigue, poor bridge resource management, miscommunications, loss of situational awareness, bad decisions but all dance to same piper – the relationship between the pilot and the bridge team.

One must certainly wonder how a ship 44 metres wide should come to grief in a channel 737 metres wide, tearing a hole 33 metres long by 4 metres wide in its side but would be inappropriate to pass judgment until all the information is in. Even then it is likely to be controversial. The US National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation will itself be under close scrutiny following recent criticisms of its performance by a former senior executive. Another investigation by the US Coast Guard may be seen to be tainted by the need to answer allegations of a tardy response to the resultant 58,000 gallon spill of bunker oil. Reports by the shipowner’s P&I club will probably not be made publicly available in detail, the flag state investigation will take longer. The there will be the Bay Area VTS and the Board of Pilot Commissioners.


Hovering like a dark cloud over the proceedings will be the issue of the possible criminal liability of those on the bridge, predominantly Chinese nationals, the pilot and the ship’s bridge team. Insurance will cover the cost of damages but ship’s officers, the master especially, may well be looking at imprisonment, not a great career move and, of course, a disincentive to becoming an officer in the first place.

Strictly speaking, the pilot is only an advisor and the master, who is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel, can choose to accept or reject that advice. In reality, few deep sea masters have extensive ship-handling experience and depend on the pilot, who usually has far more knowledge.

Jockeying for innocence has already started. Part of a three-page statement by the pilot, Captain John Cota, to the USCG has been released to the press by his lawyer who blames the bridge team. Says the lawyer: “There was a big difference between what he ordered and the heading that the ship took.”

At the same time, documents from the Board of Pilot Commissioners show that although Captain Cota had an excellent reputation as a ship handler he had been involved in four previous incidents, one involving the grounding of a bulker 2006, and one involving an aircraft carrier in 2003, and had been counselled on several occasions.

So far there have been no suggestions of electrical or mechanical failure which strongly indicates a fault in bridge resource management.

Under the microscope will be whether the pilot gave the correct commands, whether the bridge officers correctly received those commands, whether the orders passed on to the helmsman were those of the pilot and whether the helmsman correctly understood those commands and responded appropriately to them.

There is, in fact, nothing special about the Cosco Busan incident, it just happened to occur in a rich state of a rich country with well-heeled lawyers and a, rightly, vociferous, media. There will be a liability witch hunt fuelled by inflated damage claims, there can be no doubt, lawyers want to feather their nests as much as anyone else.

Right now the greatest danger doesn’t come from the 58,000 gallons of spilled bunker along the California coast, but from the danger that the witch hunt to find one man to take the blame will obscure the real problem of the apparently intractable number of incidents involving ships under pilotage. Resolving that issue will take more than hot air and regulation, it will require paying attention to how decisions are made within the curious environment of the master/pilot relationship and social engineering to make that relationship work.