Best practice for bulk carriers
It used to be thought that bulk carriers were simple and uncomplicated ships and that not a lot could go wrong with a homogeneous cargo. But that was before the 1980s and 90s, when too many bulk carriers and their crews were lost, mostly, it must be said , elderly ships where the importance of scrupulous maintenance was perhaps not understood.
Better information, better regulations, regular inspections, and above all, a better trained workforce have changed the reputation of this shipping sector over time and the accident record is now no worse than any other part of the industry. The bulk carrier story, so the IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos pointed out last week, has been, since the initiative of his predecessor to implement a comprehensive package of measures in the 1990s, positive. Following intense scrutiny, along with the development of a comprehensive regulatory framework, the statistics of loss have shown a dramatic improvement.
A useful practical contributor to this improvement was the manual Bulk Carrier Practice, written by bulker master Captain Jack Isbester in 1993, and last week the Nautical Institute launched in its second edition. BIMCO has been closely involved in the production of this useful publication and President Robert Lorenz-Meyer has written the foreword to the latest volume. In this he points out the significant growth that there has been in the bulk carrier fleet, and which has seen the world fleet grow from the 5,000 ships operating in these trades in 1993, to the 7,500 vessels in operation at the beginning of this year. He also points out that there are some 3,200 bulkers expected to enter the market in the short term. Many of these ships are significantly larger than their predecessors.
With this huge growth in the world fleet, the issue of competent manpower becomes crucial, and focuses attention on the probable shortages of adequate talent to man this growing number of bulk carriers, plus the new vessels in every other shipping sector. Up to 39,000 new seafarers, said the UK Clubs Karl Lumbers, is a lot to find in a single year. BIMCOs Aron F. Sorensen suggests that the crew problems are unlikely to be affected by the recession, and that new ships and new technology will provide new challenges for owners. The timing of the new publication, he said, was perfect.
The author endorsed the importance of well trained people, pointing out that accidents are caused by inexperienced personnel, although sometimes exacerbated by poor design and a mismatch between ship and port. Additionally, he suggested that there were often unrealistic expectations about the ability of the ship to accommodate very fast handling speeds in port, deballasting, or rapid hold cleaning.
The book itself is designed to represent the best in bulk carrier practice, to provide a useful reference for inexperienced and experienced bulk carrier operators alike. The author has consulted widely throughout the industry to gain the best possible information on every type of bulk carrier operation and a wide range of different ship types. Says the BIMCO President in his foreword anyone in the bulk carrier industry will benefit from reading Bulk Carrier Practice. It deserves to be on the bookshelf on the bridge of all bulk carriers, and in the offices of all bulk carrier operators.