In an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, The Standard Club, provides tips for safe navigation now that the typhoon season is underway and notes that this can cause widespread disruption and delays in the logistical supply chain. Also, he highlights that the ship’s passage plan should incorporate considerations based on the anticipated weather conditions, and contingency measures for avoiding depressions while maintaining the commercial and economic viability of the voyage.
SAFETY4SEA: What is currently the biggest challenge in terms of Loss Prevention? How this will affect the industry and how are you preparing to face this?
Capt. Yves Vandenborn: The shipping industry has dealt with its fair share of geopolitical, regulatory, environmental and operational challenges throughout the years. However, the biggest issue at present are crew changes – the travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the pandemic have resulted in a large number of seafarers extending their contract, while seafarers stuck at home face financial issues and struggle to provide for their families.
The difficulties and uncertainties surrounding this aspect leads to crew exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety and stress, thus affecting seafarer’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Governments and international organisations are working to effect as many successful crew changes as possible however till then, seafarers must persist and prevail by taking good care of themselves through physical, mental and social aspects, these topics are covered in Standard Club’s recent poster campaign which focuses on seafarer wellbeing as a holistic concept. Companies are also exploring the option of offering salary advances to seafarers stuck at home to tide them over this period. We are involved in a number of seafarer wellbeing initiatives, details of which are available on the club’s dedicated seafarer wellbeing web-page. We are also happy and honoured that our Seafarer Wellbeing poster campaign has been shortlisted for the SAFETY4SEA Initiative Award.
S4S: What are the key challenges for ship operators heading to China now that the typhoon season has begun?
Y.V.: The typhoon season causes widespread disruption and delays in the logistical supply chain every year. The impact of this phenomena is generally wide ranging – ports may have to be shut down for several hours, there could be delays in the aftermath as key infrastructure has to be repaired, ships have to be re-routed, back-log in port operations need to be cleared, etc.
These events have an impact on the revenue generated for shipping and ports. This is compounded by the cash-flow problems faced by several ship owners and operators this year due to the pandemic. Several ships are being laid-up as a consequence of the economic slowdown. Vessels that are laid-up in typhoon affected areas are generally subject to additional considerations and risks. In case of deteriorating weather conditions, it may be necessary to employ tug services for such cold laid-up ships, which effectively means extra costs.
S4S: How can ship operators ensure navigational safety within Chinese waters during the Typhoon season? What is your advice?
Y.V.: One of the key aspects of navigational safety is monitoring weather forecasts. Many ship operators subscribe to weather routing services; however, if the ship does not have access to this type of information or is in close proximity to a developing storm, knowledge of warning signs (like low surface pressure, unusual wind direction, long period swell, overcast skies with cirrostratus cloud) may help to better interpret the synoptic situation.
While accurate forecasts depend on a mix of technology and experience, ship captains should know that storms have navigable and dangerous semi-circles, and keep in mind its propensity for recurvature. With a mix of knowledge, skills and all available sources of information, it may be possible to avoid encounter with the typhoon by altering either or both the speed and the course of the ship.
The ship’s passage plan should incorporate considerations based on the anticipated weather conditions, and contingency measures for avoiding depressions while maintaining the commercial and economic viability of the voyage. This is more relevant during the typhoon season as proper understanding of the development, structure, life cycle, and motion of tropical revolving storms right from the very beginning is paramount to saving lives and property.
S4S: Have you reported any claims due to Typhoon season during the last years? Are there any alarming trends or key areas of attention?
Y.V.: Due to the effects of global warming and climate change, the ferocity and frequency of tropical storms are increasing each year. The club has observed a steady increase in yearly claims where weather is the primary claim’s causation.
Most of the P&I claims arising out of the typhoon season are disputes connected with damage or delays, e.g. cases where ships have to deviate from their planned route to avoid and/or shelter from typhoon conditions, this could lead to the late delivery of cargo and to potential losses to cargo receivers; or cases where it is not possible for a ship to load or discharge cargo at an agreed place as specified in the contract of carriage. There are some cases where vessels have been unable to avoid the effects of typhoon, with the result that cargo on board was damaged.
As the wording of bills of lading, charterparties and other contractual arrangements may vary, ship owners are recommended to engage with their P&I clubs and obtain legal advice based on their contracts of carriage.
S4S: Is there anything you would like to see operators do differently or better amid the typhoon season?
Y.V.: Early and effective action to keep away from the developing storm is essential to preclude any adverse situation arising. Securing the vessel and preparing for heavy weather conditions before commencement of the voyage is part of prudent seamanship practices. Additionally, the Mariner’s Handbook (NP100) provides details on the avoidance manoeuvre, that should be known to mariners.
There are unfortunate reports of a livestock carrier missing in the East China Sea with 42 crew and thousands of cattle, probably hit by high waves & strong winds caused by Typhoon Maysak. While the search for survivors continues, we should learn from this incident and prevent history from repeating itself.
S4S: Regarding the total claims received from your members last year, which was the major contributor factor for the majority of them? Have you noticed any trend(s) during the last years and a possible alarming trend for the years to come?
Y.V.: Based on club’s experience, cargo claims continue to contribute to a large proportion of the overall number of claims, followed by crew injury and illness claims.
Cargo misdeclaration has been the bane of the shipping industry, particularly in the container sector. As container ships are getting bigger and carrying more cargo, the club’s exposure is consequently increasing due to the high volume and value of cargo transported on a single voyage – it takes just one rogue box to destroy thousands of others if it burns or explodes at sea.
Issues driving cargo fires on container ships and car carriers include the adequacy of firefighting capabilities as vessels become larger, misdeclaration of cargo, salvage challenges and time taken to access a port of refuge.
In the dry-bulk sector, cargo liquefaction continues to be a major concern. Intercargo has recently reported that between 2010 and 2019, 106 lives were lost from the eight casualties attributed to cargo liquefaction, and most of those ships were carrying nickel ore. It was because of these frequent casualties that the IG clubs issued a circular in 2012 requiring members to notify their club when their ship is fixed to load nickel ore. The stated purpose behind the notification requirement is to ensure that IG club members engaged in the carriage of nickel ore are aware of the dangers, the IMSBC code requirements and club cover implications, and are also provided with information on measures available to mitigate these risks.
Another concern of dry-cargo ships is a significant increase in the number of enclosed space fatalities in recent years. A review of causation reveals that the majority of casualties happened either due to lack of awareness or poor adherence to company procedures. It is therefore vital that the crew training element is strengthened to improve crew awareness.
From the claims trend it is also worth noting that by individual claim value, navigation related claims continue to be the biggest contributory factor. A number of navigation related incidents occurred even when there was a pilot on board. The Standard Club loss prevention team has been involved with industry organisations in several projects and are working extensively with the club’s members on improving bridge resource management, bridge team/pilot integration, standards of communication and implementation of company procedures for passage planning/ECDIS operation.
S4S: With respect your own Loss prevention initiatives which one tends to me more effective? Have you realized any tangible benefits from the communication with your members so far that you would like to share?
Y.V.: Over the last couple of years, the club has been working on a variety of projects and initiatives. Last year, the club established a dedicated team to assist members with IMO-2020 sulphur regulations and we are happy that we have not seen major claims or concerns so far this year. Similarly, this year there was a dedicated COVID-19 team formed to guide members on the challenges that we are facing currently.
Looking forward to 2021, we anticipate cyber risks and ship recycling to be a topical matter. Accordingly, the club’s loss prevention team is engaging with club members through webinars and customised workshops and providing guidance to manage these risks.
Another key aspect of club’s direct engagement with its members is the Member Risk Review (MRR) process, where we discuss the member’s approach to safety and quality assurance. We look at member’s specific needs, identify where best practices exist and highlight where there might be scope for further improvement.
S4S: How does your Club promote loss prevention across the industry? Are there any projects that you are working on right now regarding loss prevention?
Y.V.: The Standard Club has always considered loss prevention as a major pillar of its risk management strategy. In the spirit of prevention, the loss prevention department has, for some time now, conducted a rolling programme of initiatives targeting common root causes of claims. These initiatives vary greatly from information campaigns to cutting-edge research. Several initiatives involve close collaboration with external partners in order to achieve the common goal of higher standards of safety for the maritime industry.
Currently the club’s loss prevention team is involved in a number of initiatives and projects, such as the vehicle carrier safety forum, guidelines on the ventilation of solid bulk cargoes, industry best practices for floating terminal dry cargo operations, bridge resource management and enclosed space entry guidance.
Further, as a part of our continued effort to promote seafarer wellbeing and to reach out to seafarers directly, the club has been extensively involved with organisations like ISWAN, Stella Maris and The Mission to Seafarers. We try and distribute our message not only through seminars, webinars, social media or similar platforms, but also by contributing to the development of magazines such as ‘The Sea’ and ‘Offing Echoes’ which are aimed directly at seafarers.
A unique feature of the club’s loss prevention approach is the Safety and Loss Advisory Committee (SLAC), which comprises of senior managers from the club’s membership. Their analysis and feedback on claims trend assist us in developing prevention strategies and provide direction for the club’s loss prevention initiatives, articles and other activities.
S4S: What are your suggestions to industry stakeholders to enhance effectiveness of loss prevention best practices?
Y.V.: In the current scenario, one thing that needs to be changed is the attitude towards seafarers – they are ensuring the safe and efficient functioning of the global supply chain during the pandemic. As such, they need to be recognised as ‘key workers’ and be provided with all the support, assistance and ease of travel options.
It is essential to understand and accept that seafarers have the same feelings and motivations in their day to day life as anyone else; but they have the added challenge of being constrained onboard for lengthy periods, far away from friends and family. Seafarers’ mental and physical health can be affected by the working environment onboard the ships, and the situation could be exacerbated by behaviours such as discrimination, hierarchy, conflict and bullying onboard.
Ship managers are recommended to develop a policy to support good mental and physical health for their crew. This policy should be orientated towards implementation of proactive steps (both on ship and ashore) – that are designed to encourage social interaction, recreational activities, healthy diet, exercise, diversity and inclusion, and fostering a mentoring system.
Other aspects for improving seafarers’ happiness, mental health and wellbeing on board includes provision of free internet access (though we feel that this should be in a controlled manner so as to ensure adequate communal space and activities), continuity of employment, flexibility in length of contracts, enhanced pre-employment medical examination (PEME), spiritual care and access to daily news and sports bulletins.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.