Fifty years of Safety at Sea

April 20, 2017

 

Since the first issue of Safety at Sea magazine arrived on readers’ desks and in ship messes 50 years ago, much has changed in shipping. When I was appointed assistant editor of Safety at Sea 12 years ago I still used to receive letters from readers – the kind that were written by hand on paper and put in the post with a stamp.

 

One of my first assignments was to write an article on voyage data recorders (VDR), as only three years earlier VDR had become mandatory on new vessels. It was not until 2012 that ECDIS had to be installed on certain types of new vessel. I also remember interviewing a company that sent out videos to ships to keep the crew entertained.

 

My tenure on the magazine coincided with a spate of tragic ferry sinkings that led to mass casualties (Al- Salam Boccaccio 98 and Senopati Nusantara in 2006, and Princess of the Stars in 2008), but also saw one of the more idiosyncratic chapters in the history of maritime safety: the January 2007 beaching of MSC Napoli on England’s south coast, which led to a debate in the British media about scavenging rights and in the industry about container misdeclaration.

 

Another incident later that year would prove equally controversial, but this time with implications for the entire industry: December 2007 saw the Hebei Spirit oil spill in South Korea, and a pollution story that became a focal point for the debate over seafarer criminalisation. When I visited V.Ships in Singapore they showed me a petition to get master Jasprit Chawla and chief officer Syam Chetan released.

 

In a navigation and bridge feature in this issue (page 22), Rolls-Royce’s concept container ship for the future suggests that the bridge be at the back of the ship to save on deck space, meaning no view out of the window. Possibly even more interesting, is that the concept design presents a vessel of 1,000 teu. Rolls-Royce said that this reduction in size will be driven by more standardised and reliable ships that don’t need an engineer to fix them when out at sea for weeks on end.

 

This drive towards smaller crews, and no crews, when you consider the progress being made in automation and remote operation, seems at odds with ongoing concerns of officer shortages. If Rolls-Royce is to be believed, where will that leave crew?

 

Shipping stands at a fork in the road, observed Fairplay’s chief correspondent, Richard Clayton. The path to the right is towards digitalisation, he said, with Maersk and IBM planning to collaborate on a “secure network that will enable the exchange of data and information between iStock / Getty Images Plus permitted partners across the entire supply chain”. With this collaboration Maersk plans to transform itself from “a shipping company that does a little IT, into an IT company that does a bit of shipping”. The path to the left, said Clayton, would see “upskilling of sea-and shorebased employment to better align the next generation of seafarers to the requirements of future technology”, and will involve a closer link between ship and shore.

 

Shipping may be evolving at a startling rate, but the magazine’s aims have remained the same: to improve safety at sea through the propagation and exchange of information among those who design, construct, manage, and man ships. Over the years, this monthly magazine has firmly focused on educating, entertaining, and informing seafarers about safety hazards, technological developments, and training trends.

 

To mark these considerable efforts and in celebration of this milestone anniversary, Safety at Sea will invite five industry leaders to each guest edit a themed issue of this publication to document the changes seen in the shipping industry in the past half century. The five topics include - crewing (this issue – see page 20), welfare (June), training (July), regulation (August), and communication (September). These five themes have been the backbone of Safety at Sea’s articles over the past decades.

 

We all know the big headlines of the past 50 years: Herald of Free Enterprise, when in March 1987, 193 passengers and crew died; Costa Concordia five years ago, when 32 died; and Dona Paz, a local Philippines vessel on which more than 4,000 lost their lives in 1987. You only have to read the MARS reports (see page 36) to know that most accidents, whether they result in fatality or injury, are very often down to minor mistakes, loss of concentration, or that the seafarers involved are simply not given the right tools or facilities to do the job safely. Regulation cannot be introduced to protect seafarers against all potential hazards. As one retired engineer reminded me, you can’t replace competence and experience with process and procedure.

 

Besides, regulation covers only the basic requirements. Responsible shipowners know they must strive for best practice from top to bottom. Seafarers sail ships worth millions of dollars, carrying cargoes worth millions more, that in total represent about 90% of world trade. Your contributions should be more widely recognised and you certainly deserve far more than the basics.

 

penny.thomas@ihsmarkit.com

 

 

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