In an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Capt John Lloyd, Chief Executive Officer of The Nautical Institute, makes an assessment of COVID-19 impact on shipping, highlighting that crew change remains a challenging issue. Although the industry has done significant efforts to tackle the pandemic, we should concentrate more on welfare, he notes.
rom the human element perspective, Capt Lloyd says that no more regulation is needed but a supportive environment for crew onboard as well as effective training. Overall, industry needs to move away from a compliance culture, driven by paperwork, and focus on a culture of excellence. ‘’A workforce that can understand and manage risk and is ready to say ‘no’ if the task is unsafe or the crews not properly trained.’’ he explains and discusses key issues to consider for enhanced safety performance within maritime.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key challenges of this pandemic crisis for the shipping industry? Do you see any opportunities?
Capt John Lloyd: The shipping industry has proved remarkably resilient to the impact of the pandemic crisis. The industry has shown the ability to keep operating and delivering services on a global scale despite the significant constraints and other sectors.
But there are two key areas which have proved particularly problematic. One of these is the crew relief situation in which it has just proved extremely difficult to repatriate crews at the end of their contracts and to enable those at home to return to sea. This is extremely concerning because of the impact on the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the crews who may be stuck on board for significant periods of time. In many instances, way beyond even that provided for under the Maritime Labour Convention.
Therefore, we must continue to work together with governments with shipping companies and with other stakeholders to resolve the situation. It is sad that in some cases charter parties have been written that specifically forbid the deviation of ships from passage to conduct crew changes. This is very inappropriate and the Nautical Institute and I personally stand in clear opposition at these constraints that demonstrate a lack of humanity.
The other area that has to been a key challenge of course has been the leisure sector. The cruise industry has found it almost impossible to operate in any part of the world due to travel constraints and limits imposed by governments. Great numbers of seafarers are dependent upon this sector for their livelihood and so we look forward to an improving situation in the months ahead.
S4S: In your view, has the industry handled the COVID-19 crisis effectively so far? What needs to be further done?
Capt J.Ll: I do think in many ways the industry has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis effectively. Ships have continued to operate, ports have remained open. The supply chain has been largely unaffected.
All credit to those who have committed so much in achieving this.
But, I do think that we have to concentrate more on welfare. I think we have fallen short in many respects with respect to supporting crews who have been away from home for a long time. Technically, I think we have demonstrated incredible operational resilience so it is about focusing on the human Element, the people, our people that make our industry work in the way that it does.
One key aspect of the human element is about respect and recognising that our workers are key workers that we can raise their profile as a respected profession. Then we must continue to support them at an individual level but also collectively improving standing as respected professionals.
S4S: Taking into consideration the fragmented approach of shipping in human element, should we need more regulation, collaboration, or industry best practices? What are your suggestions to move forward?
Capt. J.Ll: I am not sure that more regulation will help us address effectively the issues surrounding the human element. What we need to do is ensure that we have created an environment supportive to those on board ship and that crews are properly trained for the tasks they need to carry out.
I think industry best practices are very helpful in ensuring that ship operations are carried out effectively and safely. We do need to ensure that these codes of practice are consistent so there in no confusion about their application. We also need to ensure that those on board ship receive the proper training and the right level of supervision. Often tasks become commonplace and this can result in complacency about how to undertake the jobs safely.
We can collaborate in many ways. We see a number of schemes including those of The Nautical Institute that enable seafarers to report on dangerous occurrences near misses and accidents. These help us learn from incidents and stop them from happening again.
I encourage people to use the Mariners Alerting and Reporting Scheme (MARS) delivered by The Nautical Institute. Wide-ranging information is available from these reports and they are all available free of charge on our website.
S4S: How should we further invest in our people and how will technology influence this?
Capt. J.Ll: Rapid changes in technology and increased demand for highly-capable mariners will mean training and development will remain central to recruiting and retaining seafarers. This investment in skills is the key investment we require for our mariners.
But the pace of change means that the traditional means of teaching, learning and assessment may no longer provide the best answers.
The pandemic has forced the industry to accelerate change, to innovate learning and assessment. Regulators have become more accepting of new ideas while cloud-based technology has facilitated remote learning in ever-increasing amounts.
The ability to provide work-placed learning has increased dramatically using technology. At the same time, flexible learning which allows learners to develop at their own pace will improve retention of knowledge in key areas.
Investing in our people will help enhance safety delivering them the competence and capabilities to undertake their duties effectively and safely.
S4S: How may the young generation think of the shipping industry? How should we work to raise industry’s profile to the next talents?
Capt. J.Ll: With respect to the younger generation, I think that to many people shipping is an invisible business. Ships ply their trade internationally facilitating trade on a global basis and yet to most, where the goods come from and how they got there is a complete mystery.
The question is not even asked about what shipping does, who works there and how it functions. When shipping is seen in the news, it is because of a casualty or a pollution incident or collision and so it is easy to associate bad news with the shipping sector rather than reflect on the very positive contribution it makes the society as a whole.
I think there is work to do in raising the industry’s profile.
We need to do so in a positive way to show that we as a sector are using the latest technology, that we are giving great opportunities for international travel that we are providing responsibility at a young age that for many the career is well rewarded financially. There are good opportunities to find work life balance that is very satisfying.
We need to start engaging people at a young age. Toe take discussions about maritime to both primary and secondary schools and help the pupils learn about geography, trade and shipping in a meaningful way. This will help them understand the career opportunities that exist in this very exciting industry.
S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in implementing safety culture?
Capt. J.Ll.: The issue of safety culture is very much a mixed picture. In some companies, a very strong safety culture that recognises the importance of sending our people home safely. It is simply the most important thing.
Of course, operational efficiency is important and we want to be as effective as we can in the workplace but it has to be done in a safe and proper manner. The key issues is one of respect. Respect is about acknowledging the views of others; providing the training that individuals need to understand all of the hazards associated with a particular task; engaging in ‘toolbox talks’ before activities are undertaken.
This engagement goes from the top to the bottom of organisations if the safety culture is to be effective. Proper equipment, proper training and an acknowledgement that not all things can be done quickly if they are to be done safely. All these are constituent parts to a safety culture.
The picture is mixed and while we applaud the efforts of those companies that have a string safety culture, we must continue to work hard in this respect to ensure best practice is more widely spread.
S4S: If you could change one thing that would have an either profound or immediate impact on the safety performance across the industry, what this one thing would it be and why?
Capt. J.Ll.: Our industry is too complex, sophisticated and dynamic for any single intervention to have a profound effect on safety across the business. What is needed, is a concerted, focussed and continued drive for continuous improvement. We should not have acceptable levels of death and serious injury – the only acceptable level is zero.
This requires culture change that takes time.
We need to move away from a compliance culture that is driven by paperwork, documentation and bureaucracy. We want a culture of excellence. A workforce that can understand and manage risk and is ready to say ‘no’ if the task is unsafe or the crews not properly trained.
We need Masters to be responsible as well as accountable. To have the courage to reject ill-informed direction from less qualified managers on shore when deciding what is safest for their ship and her crew.
We need to adopt a philosophy of learning from incidents in the same way as the airline industry does. We need to reject the rush to blame and shame the Master, rather to support the role through a just culture.
If we can do these things, we will undoubtedly raise the standing and reputation of our industry, the standards delivered and enhanced safety.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.