Shipowners are being urged to hold crewing agents more accountable as crew standards face increased scrutiny.
With shipboard crewing levels at a bare minimum in some cases as owners look to reduce operational costs and onboard technological challenges increase, Norwegian insurer and P&I club Skuld is urging its members to hold those responsible for crew selection more accountable.
More than 62% of maritime incidents have human error as a major route cause, whether crew, officers or pilots, according to Skuld vice-president claims Flavia Mellilo.
As the pressures increase due to difficulties in finding crews, she urged shipowners to ensure that they knew the level of competence and health of the crews that are selected for their vessels.
Having an understanding of where the medical certificates are issued, the background of the crewing agent and the level of training and competence of the crew are important, Ms Mellilo told the audience of the Oslo Maritime Week.
She said human error cost the industry $500m annually and pointed to alarming statistics around the coast of Norway where 140 groundings and collisions had occurred in the 12 years from January 2000 to December 2011, all due to fatigue or human error.
The key to reducing the risks of an incident were good onboard procedures but even then, care must be taken that these are not too onerous or unclear, she said.
Citing several examples of recent accidents caused by the human element, Ms Mellilo said that one of the problems with the relationship between shipowners and the crew was a lack of explanation of a procedure that then led to complacency or the procedure being ignored as its reasoning had not been fully understood. Ms Mellilo also cited the Cosco Busan incident. The container vessel, which had just been sold, hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2007, spilling large volumes of fuel oil into the water.
The Chinese crew had never worked together before, had joined the ship only a week or two prior to departure and were not accustomed to the onboard bridge technology. Language and cultural barriers also played a role, according to Ms Mellilo.
Owners need to be working on reducing the human error in ship operations, but also need to avoid turning reporting of incidents — and, just as importantly, near misses — into a blame game.
Ms Mellilo cited the revisions of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, which updated requirements on fatigue and working conditions, reminding owners that they have five years to put into place its requirements.