Maritime safety

Maritime safety is marred by recent spate of major marine accidents ….. grounding and collisions among them topping the nature of disaster…

Port States stepping up the scrutiny for hours of work and rest ….

Now the question is whether the compulsory rest hours required by MLC under the well researched rest requirements is actually contributing Safety of life at sea alone or the mishaps as well..?

What is rest at sea? does it mean ‘not doing paid job’ and using the time to spend on hours and hours on fb and whats app through ship’s internet and remaining tired as well distracted and not having added anything extra about the awareness of the ship designs and operating procedures… or truly being de-stressed and well rested..?

And yes how about the efficiency of the officers and ratings from a large variety of cultural backgrounds … do they all have the same work-efficiency?

Ship’s safety depends upon the well rested officers and the crews as well as a well maintained status and well informed and skilled operating staff ….. if the rest hours are going to adversely been interpreted as said above and if the answer to the quality maintenance & operation is not positive then the increase in the number of accidents have some connection with the new well intended but poorly enforced work & rest hours regime ….

Please do not experiment with ship operations and enforce in an immature way and in fact help promote lowering of safety in the name of concepts that are not fully compilable for the sea related ship-board operations !!

Gaining an Upper hand in Chemical Tanker Operations:

Seagoing ships dedicated for the carriage of Chemicals in bulk are generally termed as ‘Chemical Tankers’. There are three classes of their types for their structural peculiarities and specific categories of the Chemical Cargoes as per the pollution prevention rules (MARPOL). The Chemical cargo handling is governed by those classes and their chemical characteristics & ship’s category as well as the commercial aspects.


The Chemical Tanker operating teams ashore and on board are highly specialised in Marketing, Employing as well as operating the Chemical Tankers. Together they form a group of experts.


‘Gaining and upper hand’ points at controlling the factors that may otherwise degrade professional sea-transportation of bulk chemicals. In plain terms it is about being able to load – stow – carry – deliver Chemical Cargoes on Chemical Tankers without the breach of any contractual and regulatory clauses. Maintaining the Chemical Tanker’s structural integrity and Professionally Navigating, manoeuvring, mooring / unmooring and structurally maintaining the Chemical Tanker add up as the process areas that are not specifically Chemicals related.


Sea Transportation is a highly dynamic process and it is co-ordinated by shore based entities – single or multiple from multiple locations. The physical transportation is under the command of the Master of the ship and his on-board staff being responsible for the tank preparations, loading, stowage, discharging, tank-cleaning thereafter and associated complex operations. All these operations are to be executed as per the laid down international & local regulations, company policies and the industry standards.


The teams ashore and on-board can enrich their knowledge by regular references to authoritative publications by bodies such as the US based CSB (Chemical Safety Board) & IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the industry publications by OCIMF.


There are local standards of the states such as those by the USCG, AMSA, MCA or the EU depending on the respective countries and states involved. Industry standards are typically laid out by bodies such as OCIMF (Oil Companies International Marine Forum), CDI (Chemical Distribution Institute)


‘Gaining an Upper Hand’ shall also be determined by the level of competencies in the role/s one is playing in the entire process. Listed below are the areas demanding high level of competencies as a minimum:
  1. Interpretation of the reference charts in IBC (International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk by IMO)
  2. Competencies in planning & operating as per MARPOL, ship specific ‘P and A manual’ .
  3. Lining up cargo & ballast lines.
  4. Efficient use of the pumping system etc.
  5. Skills in establishing the tank fitness and associated factors.
  6. Being aware of individual tank history, physical location, structure, structural condition, grades-specific precautions / sensitivities.
  7. Skills in determining & executing the tank cleaning & preparation methods.
  8. Maintenance of cargo qualities en-route under varying sea and climatic conditions and the surrounding tanks stowage.
  9. Familiarity with the usage of Common Chemical tanker vocabulary used for understanding operations for achieving tank fitness and carriage.
  10. Chemical Safety aspects – awareness, detection, protection, prevention, first response to emergencies, large scale emergency response – this as a ship specific awareness. – Practical competencies in the use of gas detection equipment, different venting methods, guarding against over / under pressurization of the cargo tanks.
  11. Competencies in the use & maintenance of the chemical cargo pumping equipment such as the deep well pumps – portable pumps etc.
  12. Competencies in the use & maintenance of the Nitrogen Gas plants or stocks in inerting or padding and other applications.
  13. Competencies in daily practices on board for preservation of Chemical cargoes.
  14. Competencies in making and interpreting of Chemical Tanker stowage & distribution
  15. plans for multiple grades.
  16. Competencies in special cargo stowage and handling.
  17. Competencies in common best practices at ratings daily work routines.
  18. Competencies in seamanship – attending to small spills, hazmat practices, handling portable hoses etc.
  19. Competencies in applications of test methods.
  20. Competencies in monitoring of cargo characteristics, parameters and structuralintegrity… etc. – Competencies in operations with due regard to the Static electricity precautions against its hazards.
  21. Competencies in accounting for the Chemical specific properties of the cargoes on
  22. board while responding to the emergencies such as fire, enclosed space rescues, spills etc.
  23. Competencies in preventing Chemical spills at all stages of the voyage and response.
  24. Competencies in understanding the objectives and complying with the various  government agencies along the trading routes.
  25. Finally, not the least competencies in grooming the Chemical Tanker trained staff.


 With these one will always have an ‘Upper Hand’ in handling the Chemical Tanker Operations!


Safe Sailings!

Emergencies on Ships – 1

In 2009 the star veteran US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger safely crash landed his plane on the Hudson river in New York and saved all his crew and passengers in spite losing both his engines due to a mid-air birds-collision. There may also be many unsung heroes such as these, I can’t write about emergencies without thinking of their brilliant emergency responses either at sea, mid air, in remote locations or in daily lives.
An emergency on board a ship is a serious matter because of the physical remoteness of the ships and limitations of the available resources. Emergencies are a constant part of life at sea. They may be caused by the factors from within or the factors from outside or a combination of the both.
Ships & the sailors have sailed the oceans & the seas for centuries and developed ways of dealing with the emergencies – either through successes or failures. There is always something new to add to this field every day. The basics though remain unchanged – the common ingredients being the location, the human factors, the non-human factors, the material quality and coming together of all these to make up or prevent an emergency.
Normal assumption is that an emergency is always an unexpected occurrence but it is not so. Though one may not wish to have an emergency, it can be anticipated in many cases by those who monitor and interpret the ship’s conditions accurately.
An emergency causes an out of control change of the situation on smaller to larger scales as well as short term to long term levels. Normally an emergency if not responded to at once and  correctly in that – then it can almost always worsen the situation.
At sea the emergency preparedness, emergency leadership, emergency response, restoration to normalcy after an emergency needs special skills and talents. How these are sharpened by regular exercises determines the outcome of an emergency situation.
We have heard many cases of the ship Captains’ & officers’ heroism in the past but these days there are also many stories of the neglect reported in the media – so it’s time to take a stock!
Safe Sailings!

Emergencies on ships – 2

As is taught in many fire brigade schools, ‘mitigation – preparedness – response – recovery’ are the major steps widely adopted in building the emergency response mechanism and a ship is no exception to that.

Accidents happen and emergencies can be expected while at sea and one of the key associated factors is the emergency response.

In today’s post-Titanic, post-WWII era, the IMO (International Maritime Organization) has taken extensive steps to ensure the safety of life at sea, the local states and ‘flag’ states also ensure extensively that the ships under their temporary or permanent jurisdiction are properly designed, equipped, maintained and operated to ensure safety. When there is an emergency on a ship the stakes are not limited to the shipping alone but also to the fishing industry, coastal population and their livelihood, marine life, ecology, environment and local economies as the least.

But then not all ship’s responses to emergencies are concluded successfully (more than 6500 victims died related to the major man-made maritime accidents between year 2000 and April 2014 as per accidents statistics available on the internet) – among the key factors that can make the difference to this statistics is the Emergency Response & a proper one in that.

There are amazing survival stories quoted in the media of some of the survivors of the 9/11 incident from the higher floors of the WTC towers. They all had one thing common and that was their own emergency responses within the larger emergency response plan. Most of them had thought of it from the earlier experiences and mentally trained through the possible scenarios. So, when the actual emergencies occurred in the towers, some of them just responded at lightening speeds and escaped in time before it was too late.

The governing regulations give a generic outline of the preparedness necessary but I always ensured that my on-board staff filled-in the details and made the response preparedness ship and situation-specific. Good leadership, familiarity with the systems and equipment is required from top-to-bottom for this to happen. A great deal of motivation is needed too.

I always ensured that all my staff understood that there is a ‘philosophy’ of the emergency response, a ‘methodology’ for a successful outcome and just like in a game a ‘strategy’ is essential for every response activity undertaken by the team leaders.

Regular awareness updates and verifications of their correctness is necessary – awareness about the normal operations, daily conditions, hardware operations awareness, limitations of the detection systems, response systems and response team organization is necessary.

Emergencies at sea are no longer machinery and operations or bad weather related alone but they may also arise due to the piracy, terrorism and unlawful acts by third parties. The Master in command as well as his mates have to therefore consider all these factors simultaneously – a trained mind works well in face of heavy weather or extreme climatic conditions and panic stricken individuals. And these best practices cannot be codified but have to be practiced as a professional best practice of the seafarers – when this fails we hear the stories of mediocre emergency responses at sea.

I could not afford mediocrity on ships under my command, and I trust that you do the same on your ships to make them safe and secure units always!


Safe sailings!

Emergencies on ships – 3

In practice, when an emergency strikes on a ship, the Master and his mates are faced with different states of the available resources that they need to use in response:

  •          ‘Preparedness’ in larger proportion (e.g. well maintained and ready to go equipment & persons)
  •          ‘Unpreparedness’ in lesser proportion (often willful due to the lack of motivation or mediocre culture on board).
  •          ‘Unpreparedness’ in larger or smaller proportions (in case of an unforeseen scenario not thought of in development of the emergency response plans for the ship!)


No matter what the scenario or the state of preparedness, the Master and the ship’s officers and crew are obliged to render assistance to save distressed-lives at sea!

For an effective emergency response readiness I always had to practice drills based on these realities rather than the ideal conditions alone!


Safe sailings!

Emergency Preparedness – 4

Whether it is a simulated drill or a real scenario, what fetches best results is being ‘in tune’ with the behavior of the destabilizing factors and responding to bring the situation under control. Be it an ordinary fire or a chemical fire or loss of stability or a spill or man overboard situation or a maritime security situation or a situation warranting abandonment using life boats & life rafts.

For the sake of being in tune with the ‘situation’ and the behavior of the factors making its prevalence one has to know the ship thoroughly including its current status. While the emergency drills may typically account for one scenario at a time, the real emergencies are a mix of multiple situations which are also in a dynamic state.

Being in tune for example in case of a fire will demand the up to date knowledge of the headcount (human life being the top priority), staff’s fatigue levels, hardware status as well as temperatures, burning material, surrounding material, wind direction, ventilation ducts designs, effects of ship’s course on the ventilation to the affected areas and deteriorating the fire intensity, rescue options, rescue path, atmosphere monitoring, smothering options, ship stability – updating the plans based on the changed conditions, communicating accurately with the shore based entities to obtain proper response and so on to name just a few factors.

There are always checklists available these days for most emergency scenarios; they are best used to go through to verify if something is missed out.

The emergencies are responded to as per the staff’s competence and checklists are used to remain on the course as outlined in the SMS procedures. This cannot be the other way round where the staff is holding a checklist in one hand and wondering what to do next in the face of a major emergency – because they must already be quite familiar with the checklists-contents by way if earlier drills and training on board. What matters most is to be in tune with the elements that form the emergency situation and to respond correctly to bring it under control and then to normalcy.

This is often verified by seasoned Port State Control officials such as the USCG officers when ships call the US ports and are examined by calling the conduct of mock drills to demonstrate the staff’s competence. A well trained team on board always assures the port state officials of any country about the safe stay of the ship while at their port! The ship operators are assured of proper operations and care of their property at sea! For the ship’s staff themselves – it is their families who are assured of their dear ones’ safety at sea!

Knowing what to do in an emergency is utmost important to avoid panic and being in tune while handling the emergency is essential to effectively tackle it and bring the situation under control.


Safe sailings!

Emergency Preparedness – 6



For the life at sea, emergency preparedness becomes a part of the everyday life! People may be at sea as seafarers or as the passengers but they are all ‘at sea’ and need to be emergency-prepared – always!   


The prudent and philosophical approach to the emergency-preparedness is mainly about doing everything what can be done when not in an emergency – physically, emotionally, materially, procedurally and monetarily as a minimum!


It is said that the puritan settlers in the 17th century USA used the 4-‘I’s frequently, viz. considering “Information – Investment – Innovation – Incentive“ in whatever they did. To be better prepared for the emergencies these principles apply at all times even today!


Information: This needs to be available during the appraisal of the scenarios to come, during the monitoring of the situations & processes, during the emergencies themselves and during investigations too! Its accuracy and speed making a huge change in shaping of the response to the emergencies! Human minds respond to the information along a number of emotional planes which may affect their emergency responses. The solution to this is in using thetechnology to avoid the hurdles of emotional ‘fight-or-flight’ situations.


Investment: Investments in emergencies related talent, time, R & D, sustainability, environmental considerations, security areas, simulations of possible emergencies, pre-emptive technological and hardware factors are a must! These days some of the best handled large events are not without such careful application of these important factors! With investments in insurance one also ropes in the standards and procedures of emergency preparedness at least at a minimum level!


Innovation: The earth is always moving in one direction, that we call the forward one, around her own axis as well as the orbital levels. There is no question of stalling, pausing or reversing! Emergency preparedness being no exception to this! Innovation is a constant process. Innovations are not technological alone! When one or more entities at sea or ashore connected to the processes and lives at sea identify the need for the innovation in the first place the journey to the technological innovations begin! At times this is based on the unfortunate losses from the earlier emergencies. The innovations can be in simple approach to the emergencies or about a complex use of new products at the planning-building-monitoring-response-improvement stages. An innovation could also be about a tactful approach to the first response or could be about deciphering accurate information from a distressed caller!


Incentive: For ages incentives have worked and will continue to work! Incentives can be about being content with a safe outcome or a monetary reward or a promotion! A negative incentive such as a reprimand also works at times. Incentive is a part of the ‘cause & effect’ factors embedded deeply within the make up of the emergencies. In these days of media-development and exposure, the beautiful and the ugly of the sea have both come to the limelight! It should be taken in a positive sense. A person’s emergency-response however, may be affected by the earlier negative stories of the seafarers. The intuitive and instinctive emergency responses are held back at times because the emergency responders may be afraid of the negative media coverage. However this is part of the development we have to live with. Media coverage is a double edged phenomenon, it helps in improvement and may also bring some negatives. We can not stop getting better-prepared everyday because there is never any going back to the yester-era in this career!


Safe sailings!

Emergency Preparedness – 5

The Tipping Point!


In a large number of cases the emergencies on ships are short term due to the response mechanism embedded in the design, manning and operating regulations and standards set by the IMO (International Maritime Organization). & the flag states of the ships


In some cases though the situation prevails longer and can also become worse. Once the ‘emergency’ has arisen the very control is diluted – the control to maintain the ship in the standard seaworthy condition – and the causes can be many from the accidental to unlawful – piracy / terrorism like causes….  those are the initiating factors, but once the situation is launched it is highly scientific …… it involves the laws of flotation, the laws of pressure-temperatures-volumes, chemical properties and mechanics as a minimum.


Human physiology and psychology keep playing a major role. It either disturbs or helps to improve the situation. The raw-natural elements all around the ship can make a huge difference! The physiology and psychology of those on the ship as well their directing teams ashore and the rescue teams who brave the adverse conditions so as to rescue the staff if needed !


A seasoned and weathered leader on the ship – he/she being the Captain or other officer playing a key role or even a passenger who becomes an accidental important lead-person due to the circumstances – will always be watchful about the ‘Tipping Point’ in the situation – this could happen because of some technological aspects or natural elements or some help reaching their way or just by unexplained factors!


In psychological field of the ‘catastrophe-theory’ this term is significant, it has also been seen in great wars such as the one at Waterloo or many other instances .‘The tipping Point’ makes a huge change in the emergencies on ships too !  Sadly in some of the large scale accidents at sea on ships and also in the offshore industry (e.g. Titanic, Exxon Valdez, Costa, Deep water, Piper Alpha and so on ) the changes in the situation around these ‘Tipping Points’ were almost always drastic … Stories of successful normally don’t make headlines and in those cases to the ‘Tipping Point’ is when the emergency response teams on ships could make a sharp change in the situation after the initial distress !  


A team that has excellent leaders, that is excellent in giving accurate feedback & information and that accounts for these feedbacks and adjusts the response actions does not miss this Tipping Point. They use it to advantage to save lives and properties and the environment at sea in emergencies!!


Safe sailings!

Grooming of the Merchant Navy Cadets -1

It is the year 2014. Deck and Engine Cadets who are joining the Merchant Navy (MN) today – from any country – are expected to be the MN officers in charge of the ‘watches’ covering ship’s Navigation, Cargo work, Engineering, Maintenance & Port Executive Work Watches anytime from 2018 – in some cases it may happen even earlier! Their decisions and actions while at work having millions or even billions of dollars-worth of stakes if they make mistakes.


While these MN Cadets get the necessary grooming, mentoring, training, education as well as practical experience during their journeys to build their careers at sea they also simultaneously build a sea-sense of their own that is most important to be associated with the other factors. The importance of this factor glaringly came to forth by way of the bad examples of some run-away-ship Captains involved in the MN related accidents during the last few years. How could there be Ship Captains who leave behind their colleagues and passengers and flee themselves? The answer to that is in a question about how they could be the ship-Captains without this basic sea-sense in the first place!!


The irony in the MN is that, those who ‘rule’ the way the MN ships are operated are permanently sitting on shores far detached from having the sea-sense that is mentioned above. Over the decades as the technology took practically a full control of the procedural aspects of the MN ships, if not of the ship handling activities themselves, the persons on-the-scene were removed from having much of a say in how the rules and regulations were made or the procedures were designed. Being adaptable to the varying demands, regulations, weathers, personalities, cargoes and commercial conditions remains an important part of the daily challenges in the lives of the MN ship’s officers who are actually handling and running the MN ships. They do so as per the commercial engagements entered into by their shore based counterparts, the commercial agreements having references to the governing rules and regulations.


While the MN Cadets of the yester-years were groomed under strict militaristic disciplines, today’s MN Cadets are often left to be groomed / shaped by their own exposures to the commercial realities and the vast knowledge-pool available to them so easily. They may not receive it from their ‘seniors’ on board as no one practically has any free time on board to groom Cadets except for a very few cases of exceptions. What these Cadets need is sharing of experiences in physically–emotionally–psychologically adapting to the tough demands of the MN ships during their global transportation voyages, simultaneously building the much needed sea-sense which is so vital.


When a MN cadet starts his/her career he/she is covered by the international standards of training and watch-keeping set out by IMO – the central MN related regulatory body formed by the UN. While all the huge work the IMO does very capably by centrally regulating the MN ship operations to ensure maritime safety, security and efficiency around the globe, the ‘grooming’ of the future MN officers cannot occur by mere availing of the set of standards & regulations alone. The grooming that is needed to transform a civilian teenager boy or girl into a fine MN officer of the seas. These officers are then to line up to take command of the ship as a whole or her engine room and to take the ships around the globe safely and efficiently no matter what the sea-weather & piracy or port conditions may be.


In the coming weeks let us look at how the grooming of these MN Cadets can really be done!


Safe sailings!

Grooming of the Merchant Navy Cadets -2

The sea-sense cannot be instilled by others! Sea-sense has its foundation based on a constant awareness of the non-rigid medium – water in that – on which the ship and all that is within her is floating while the unpredictable behavior of the elements keeps the ship physically moving, tossing, rolling, yawing, cock-screwing and so on! This movement if not taken in strides and continuously adjusted to, can be very unsettling to an individual!


The Merchant Navy (MN) Cadets gradually start to physically getting used to these basic but radically different working conditions. A mariner on the high seas operates his vessel – ship – safely and efficiently along the rules and regulations that are formulated by those sitting on the firmer and steadier grounds ashore far removed from these basic conditions of sea-career!


The Cadets quickly learn that the varying conditions are not just limited to but inclusive of the following:


  • Physical locations
  • Geographical Locations
  • Climatic Conditions
  • Regulatory frameworks
  • Cultural / Lingual conditions
  • Cuisines and food qualities
  • Living quarters philosophy
  • Work philosophy
  • Hierarchy, command & controls
  • Unit members, colleagues
  • Equipment availability
  • Ship types and conditions, cargo stowage conditions
  • Sea Conditions


These can be summarized as the minimum list of variables encountered by the Cadets while adjusting to the new environment. They set out then to master the art of working in it!


These aspects of acquiring the sea-sense in order to be ready to start the sea-career are not normally included in this way any curriculum – but one cannot move ahead without tuning to it – as the time progresses one gains a better sea-sense.


But definitely in those cases where those who are training the MN Cadets address these elements, help Cadets build a fine sea-sense that crucial for being a successful sea-farer!




Safe sailings!