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TIN news:   SAFETY4SEA Team met Clay Maitland, Managing Partner, Founding Chairman, NAMEPA at Posidonia 2016, June 6-10, Metropolitan Expo, Athens for an interview regarding major safety challenges in shipping industry. You may view video interview on YouTube
Q1 What are the challenges in promoting a safer operating environment onboard? What are the lessons learned from the latest maritime accidents?
I think the biggest problem we face and what all past accidents have revealed, is ‘human error’ and the training of the officers of the ships involved. Each one of the latest casualties involved an error by navigation, an error by the bridge team or the captain. This is very controversial. Particularly in the case of the El Faro still no conclusions have been drawn as there may have been a number of factors causing the loss of that ship. El Faro sunk off the United States last year involving the loss of 33 lives. The question is how do we lose all those lives? Sewol was another example off the coast of Korea with all those students who were killed – a tremendous loss of life. We still find that judgements and training are the most important things. Sometimes very well trained officers make remarkable mistakes and I have realized that it’s very easy to criticize in hindsight but the fact is that we see a large number of the accidents and therefore the increasing issue of regulatory burden.
As a result each accident generates new regulations, conventions and requirements. The most important thing is training. What we have found in the Marshall Island’s Ship Registry is that fatigue is actually the greatest issue. People are standing watch for very long hours and there are fewer people standing watch. So, when the master of ship is one of the watch standers and the chief officer is standing watch for long hours, their reflexes and their attention become seriously and adversely affected by long hours of watch.
Frankly, the Maritime Labor Convention has not cured or even helped this problem. The problem of fatigue at sea is getting worse, not better. Most of the accidents we see are the result of exhaustion or lack of sleep. There are also other problems involved of course. For example, we are watching a number of crew members who are committing suicide. Loss of life which very often appears to be accidental sometimes is a deliberate suicide. This subject is not being discussed very often; however the industry is currently gathering more and more statistics about suicides. The fatigue factor seems to build in to the suicide factor; this is a very socking thing, but it is true.
Q2 Are the existing safety regulations considered sufficient to prevent major incidents in the future? Should we expect more regulation, self-regulation or best practice developments?
We should expect all of those things to happen, however there currently a new significant issue to consider: what we call Big Data. The industry needs much information and it is rapidly getting it because now with modern electronics it is possible to monitor what happens on shore and on board. Now it is easier to learn a great deal of many lessons that we couldn’t in the past because we didn’t have a way of monitoring them. Regulation is going to grow which is something that builds into fatigue that I mentioned before.  However, there are far fewer accidents than they used to be. Safety at sea has greatly improved. When I started this business forty years ago, we had a massive problem with tank cleaning explosions; mostly tanker casualties. There were a lot of oil spills and collisions but there were also casualties involving the inability of the crew to use innert gas and other things that would prevent a vessel loss or an oil spill. Port state control, which we were taking about a lot this year, as we do every year, was a product of the MARPOL Convention. Certainly, there has been an enormous improvement over the years in safety and marine environmental protection. Nowadays, we talk about new issues that were not on the radar screen 30-40 years ago such as emissions and ballast water. But we still find that the human element predominates as a major safety issue and we need to pay more attention to the condition and the training of the crew. Now, particularly that we are beginning to encounter shortage of seafarers. That is a very big factor, I find. We are not training an adequate number of new people to come into the profession. Many people are getting older and leaving to go on other things ashore. These people unfortunately are not being replaced by adequately trained numbers.
Q3 After approx. 3 years of MLC implementation, what is your feedback? What are the challenges and best practices identified from your perspective?
I think the biggest challenge is that we need to enforce this landmark Convention. Of course there are more challenges to consider, however with Big Data is now easier to get more information than before with respect to the Convention implementation and the measures taken to strengthen it. Another challenge is the continuous improvement. Where we see shortcomings we have to be able to apply ourselves to eliminate problems. Also, we are placing a great deal of burden on the crew as you know, to comply with Port State and Flag State Control requirements. This is a very big burden on a limited number of people who serve at sea and ashore. The amount of time they have at adequacy of their hours to sleep is impinged upon by an increasing burden for one of the better expression I call ‘paperwork’. Therefore, we have to find a way to lighten the actually daily work load of officers and crew members of all kind of ships. Onboard a cruise ship, many people are part of the bridge team. However, that’s not true of a tanker or a containership. So, we need to deal with that and we have to find a way to make life bearable for people. Otherwise they are not going to be willing to work in our profession.  The other thing is that the MLC is not a cure for all. It does not solve all the problems that people want solve. You mentioned a number of sinkings and a number of casualties. Some of the latest casualties in the last two or three years were major ones and were the result of human element failure.

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