In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Kunal Pathak, Loss Prevention Manager, Asia at Gard P&I Club, highlights that the industry needs to change mindset, switching from the typical blame culture to safety learning through incidents and human errors.
n that regard, a change in the way audits, inspections, investigations and vetting surveys are being carried out would help. Thus, instead of focusing on failures, we need to invest in training and provide seafarers with better medical support. Kunal also says we still have a long way to go in improving seafarers’ health and wellbeing, reminding that we need to strive for keeping our seafarers safe, happy and motivated at all times.
SAFETY4SEA: What are currently the industry’s key loss prevention challenges? Do you see any alarming trends/ issues?
Kunal Pathak: Certainly, cargo-related fires continue to be a hot topic and a significant challenge for the industry. Mistakes and misdeclarations can lead to catastrophic fires, with severe consequences both for people and the environment. Adding to the risk picture is also the increasing transportation of electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. We also see a continued challenge with container stack collapses. These incidents have caused substantial industry losses over the last few years, not to mention the significant environmental aspect connected to these incidents. Last, but not least, our loss prevention team is particularly focused on seafarers and how we can improve their safety and well-being. The strains of Covid are still fresh for many, and in Gard, we have seen an increase in the number of mental illness cases and suicides among crew over the last three years. This is an alarming trend, showing that we still have a long way to go when it comes to improving seafarers’ health and wellbeing.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in enhancing its safety performance? Where should ship operators focus on to further enhance safety culture onboard?
K.P.: Overall, yes. Safety performance has improved a lot over the past decades, and as an example, we are experiencing significantly fewer major oil spills today than we did some years ago. This comes down to a number of things including better vessels, better operational systems, tighter regulations, improved training, more awareness. At the same time, there is no room for complacency – more remains to be done. Personally, I have been particularly focused on the importance of seafarer wellbeing and how that in turn has a huge impact on the risk of accidents. Organizational culture, leadership and psychological safety are all important factors here. The industry needs to mature to the point where we are capable of learning from incidents and “human errors” rather than the typical blame culture prevalent in our industry.
S4S: Are you satisfied with industry stakeholders’ response on the issue of crew welfare until today? What are your suggestions to move forward?
K.P.: Things have improved, but we are certainly not there yet. Safe, happy and motivated crew members are essential for running a successful maritime operation. Nevertheless, we know that many seafarers continue to face very challenging and unsustainable working conditions across the globe. As mentioned, we also see a worrying trend when it comes to seafarers’ mental health. In Gard, we have seen a need for better medical support for seafarers, both physically and mentally. That is why we launched an industry-wide health app this year, the Mariners Medico Guide, which is tailored and designed specifically for seafarers, and which also includes mental health. The well-being of seafarers has largely been overlooked or at least under-communicated in the industry, and it is great to see that this is now gradually starting to change.
S4S: With the energy transition and changing technologies in shipping, are there any issues relating to crew welfare that need extra care?
K.P.: In the years to come, we are likely to see changes to the vessel’s propulsion systems, fuel types, and even operational parameters to comply with the environmental regulations. Standard training of the crew would only be a starting point as they will experience significant safety and operational challenges during their time on board vessels. We need to be mindful of the fact that in general, crew on board containers or bulk vessels do not require the same level of safety awareness as the crew on tankers. This difference in knowledge or safety awareness could quickly become a challenge, as more dry cargo vessels gradually shift to alternate and high-risk fuels, such as LNG, methanol or even ammonia.
S4S: What are the key actions that will make a step change in industry’s performance across a zero-emission future?
K.P.: My personal wish is that we carry out a thorough safety study of all the future fuels that are expected to be adopted in our industry. This safety study should be conducted by independent professionals with expertise and understanding of the fuels – not by lobby groups. When looking at fuel safety, we also have to consider how we will handle the fuel after a casualty, as this can be a challenge when providing salvage or port of refuge to a vessel that has been in an incident.
S4S: What needs to change to raise industry’s profile and attract the future talents?
K.P.: A reality check would be a great start. Like every other industry, we have things that work and things that don’t work. Working more proactively with media and public relations is one thing. Media plays a significant role in how the industry is portrayed, especially how they cover maritime accidents. I think we could do more to improve the industry’s “image” and general attractiveness. Secondly, I think we both could and should do more to attract more women to the maritime industry. Organizations like WISTA do a great job to support and promote women in shipping and maritime professions. Finally, I think we also have to accept that working on ships is not for everyone. We should nurture and support our existing talent pool before we expect any big changes in the industry’s profile. Word-of-mouth travels far, and for prospective seafarers, we would be better known for our deeds rather than our words or promises during our hiring campaigns and seminars.
S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this would be and why?
K.P: I would like to change the way we carry out our audits, inspections, investigations, and vetting surveys. Through these inspections, we are constantly looking for a fault on board the vessels so that we meet our KPIs on the number of findings per inspection. In Gard, we are yet to see a correlation between the number of findings and the vessel’s likelihood of having an incident. When our inspectors are constantly looking for something wrong on ships and among seafarers, we lose our ability to foster a positive and cohesive maritime industry, hindering our collective aspirations towards safety and well-being at sea. Instead of sending inspectors on board to find faults, I believe the industry can go a long way if they are willing to learn how normal work happens on board vessels and invest in training and supporting the seafarers instead.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.