Home' Ships and Shipping : June 2011 Contents Thoughts from the distinguished maritime commentator Michael Grey MBE.
It is difficult to fault the Australian Transport Safety Bureau for
its prompt and comprehensive report into last year's grounding
of the Chinese flagged 'Shen Neng 1' on the Great Barrier Reef
shortly after leaving the port of Gladstone.
As had been forecast, fatigue clearly played a prominent role in
the events which led to the grounding, which seriously damaged
both the coal-laden bulker and the reef itself. The management of
fatigue was practically non-existent aboard the ship, as was its
supervision ashore in the managers' office, while the standard of
navigation aboard what was a well equipped and modern ship left
much to be desired.
The master and chief officer (whose exhausted state directly led
to the errors which put the ship ashore) have still to face a trial in
Queensland, with the mate facing a possible gaol sentence for his
lapse. Meanwhile the aids to
navigation and VTS coverage of
the area have been enhanced.
So has the job been done?
Can we sit back and assume that
such a "fatigue-assisted" accident
will not re-occur? Will tighter
enforcement of rest hours, and
more rigorous supervision ensure
that a chief officer who wishes to
closely supervise cargo and
ballast handling will be dragged
off the deck and sent to bed?
There is a certain cynicism
about what might be described
as the disconnect between what
is prescribed by the regulators
around the world, particularly
as applied to the management
of fatigue, and what goes on in
the real world. The regulations might appear clear enough, and a
pile of neat record forms is available aboard every well-run ship,
which at least in well-run companies, are scrutinised by some
responsible person ashore so that when port state comes calling,
no documentary faults are found.
Consider, however, the reality. Responsibilities aboard a bulk
carrier arriving in a loading port are divided, but far from evenly,
with the chief officer responsible for ensuring that the terminal
complies with the loading plan, the loading and the deballasting,
the master responsible for coping with the shore-side officialdom,
who might be everything from the agent (who will tend to be the
charterer's agent, and not the ship's friend) to a team of inspectors
from the port state or the cargo owners. Neither of these officers
will be anything other than frantically busy, and while they might
be assisted by their juniors, it is the two senior officers who will be
making the decisions, agreeing (or arguing) with the shore side
people virtually from the moment the first line is ashore, to the
moment of departure. The loaders, and indeed all the shore side
agencies will operate in properly regulated shifts, but for those
aboard ship, the reality is "go-on, stop-on" until the ship can settle
into a seagoing routine again.
The grounding of the 'Shen Neng 1' was a perfect illustration
of all that is wrong in this system, where the job of those aboard
the ship is seen to comply with the demands of the
charterer, who may well be the terminal operator. There
will not be sufficient manpower (with the necessary authority)
to enable the two senior officers to take their proper rest while
the ship is alongside. That's a fact. The terminal, and the
charterer will be furious if the loading is delayed because of the
needs of the human beings aboard, while it is likely that the
charterer would raise merry hell, threatening to put the ship
offhire, if the master told him he was going to anchor to let the
senior staff get some rest. The volcanic reaction of the terminal,
if the master said he wasn't
leaving the berth for such a
reason, can only be imagined!
Do you put an additional
chief officer aboard, even for
the loading period? That's
certainly a suggestion, while a
supercargo might have the
necessary authority to relieve
the master of some of his
duties. But who is going to pay
for this extra manpower?
You might suggest that the
whole culture of the maritime
industry, with its "can do"
attitude, and failure so far to
properly implement and enforce
rest regulations shows how
much shipping needs to change.
We shouldn't generally compare
shipping with other industries, but there is a legitimate reason to
contrast its cavalier attitudes to fatigue with that of aviation, and
other modes of transport. What frightful fate would await the
management of an airline which tried to force its aircrew to work
excessive hours, or turned a blind eye to the staff working
beyond their prescribed limits? "Fatigue blamed for Barrier Reef
grounding," read the headline. The reality is that it is not fatigue,
but the louche attitudes of the maritime industry, its slack
systems and utter intolerance of the other person's point of view,
which represent what is really to blame, in just one accident in a
long list of casualties caused by physical exhaustion of the person
at the controls.
Do we understand fatigue itself? This year a unique experiment
to study the reality of this insidious phenomenon has seen ships'
officers "wired up" in simulators at Warsash Maritime College and
at Chalmers University in Sweden, and will hopefully produce
some hard and fast facts about the deterioration of performance
due to a cumulative lack of rest. This, at long last, may be the
evidence needed to change shipping's careless culture.
Fatigue facts -- have we really
The 'Shen Neng 1', which ran aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef on
April 3, 2010 was drained of its remaining fuel oil before being succesfully
pulled free by tugs and relocated on April 12, 2010
June 2011 SHIPS AND SHIPPING
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