Resilience has mostly to do with the management of the business in general, but a company tries to be resilient every time its different activities/ operations are affected by inversions, expected or unexpected changes and is required to get back on track, as soon as possible.

Why resilience is vital for shipping

Organizations operating in maritime industry seem to have realized that resilience is a strategic imperative for them in order to prosper in today’s dynamic and challenging environment.  More or less in a daily basis, shipping companies are facing economic setbacks, changes in equipment, new regulations regarding legal and environmental issues, limits to the seaways, bunkering issues, new technologies and other aspects of marine operations that could be affected by external changes.


The special part that makes the shipping company a very interesting field for study, is the existence of two different workplaces, as workforce is activated not only at offices but also on-board vessels at sea. Because of this fact, the existence of a managerial approach that ensures resilience is urgent, because a failure occurred onboard could hide risks to the safety of human life, damage to the environment and property.

The management of human factor in shipping companies is a very challenging issue as vessels should be crewed with qualified and competent seafarers, adequately trained and familiarized with the new technologies and equipment of the vessel, as also to be aware of the rules, regulations and the safety procedures.

Except for the above-mentioned challenging issues that are related to the human factor on board, there should not be underestimated the issue of onboard fatigue. Fatigue is a factor that can be affected by both external and internal personal issues of each seafarer and in this case, help should focus on the individual as also on the team.


How shipping tackles fatigue

IMO defined fatigue for the first time in MSC/Circ. 813/MEPC/Circ. 330 List of Human Element Common Terms as: “A reduction in physical and/or mental capability as the result of physical, mental or emotional exertion which may impair nearly all physical abilities including: strength, speed reaction time, coordination, decision making or balance”.

In 2001 IMO issued a guidance in order the industry to firstly understand and then manage fatigue (MSC/Circ. 1014, Guidance on fatigue Mitigation and Management). Since then fatigue did not considered to potentially contribute to human errors during on board activities.

However, the investigation of the EXXON Valdez accident, one of the worst environmental disasters occurred at sea, concluded that fatigue leads to wrong decisions causing oil spills, economic collapse and damages. During the same year, another grounding been reported off the coast of Rhode Island. The root cause of the accident was “the master’s impaired judgment from acute fatigue”. It was proved that the master had been on duty for 35 hours, with only a few brief naps in the meanwhile. In 2003, a general cargo vessel grounded because the chief officer fell asleep on the bridge, missing a key waypoint.

In 2004, MAIB conducted an investigation that indicated fatigue as the main reason in the majority of grounding and collision, more specifically in 16% of critical vessel accidents and also, in the 33% of personnel injuries.

Resilience & fatigue connection

As it seems, the variety of different situations that the seafarer faces daily are the main causes leading to the appearance of fatigue symptoms. When at sea, seafarers are required to be alerted and integrally concentrated. However, fatigue conquers every inch of their bodies resulting in mental and physical weakness which can easily drive the individual to wrong decisions or careless reactions.

An approach that ensures a resilient attitude to such problems, is vital to be adopted by the company and the issue should be treated from its roots.

Being resilient to fatigue

In order to prevent fatigue, there is a variety of measures to be taken, depending on the type of fatigue to be addressed and the party which should act accordingly:


  • Try 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per day
  • Take naps during breaks
  • Eat healthy meals, drink water and exercise
  • Fight against boredom
  • Try relaxation techniques (reading, meditation, yoga)
  • Socialize
  • Comply with rules on board concerning hygiene, healthcare etc.


  • Allow sufficient time to overcome fatigue
  • Promote communication between crew members and supervisors
  • Schedule drills when the crew is fully rested without disturbing the sleep hours
  • Include fatigue-related lessons learned during safety meetings
  • Be sure that the crew is aware of fatigue symptoms and its consequences
  • Relax approached programs and activities that reduce stress (barbeque, movie nights, board games etc)
  • Tasks should be assigned in a manner that minimizes monotony, mixing high demand tasks with low demand tasks.

Shore management personnel

  • Operational schedules should respect crew’s work and rest hours
  • Additional crew to be incorporated if required
  • Improvements in ship design and good maintained fleet
  • Frequent shore personnel’s visits on board in order to relief some pressure from on board crew.

Key considerations

It is vital for the industry to understand that the human element is a major factor contributing to many incidents and fatigue is acknowledged as the main root cause in most cases. According to theories about resiliency, the best way to recover from a reversal is to anticipate the reversal in advance and plan a recovery strategy.

In this regard, legislations are brought into force in order to address factors leading to fatigue and remove these setbacks occurred in individual’s temper by intervening in operational practices, ship design as well as manning levels when it is required. Numerous policy and regulatory efforts have been made by industry to manage fatigue, of which the latest comes in Title 2 of the MLC addressing hours of work and rest.

However, a purely regulatory approach to fatigue in not enough. Managing fatigue should be dealt with in conjunction with a holistic approach where seafarers take responsibility and ownership for their own wellness, Johan Smith, Wellness Project Manager, Sailors' Society noted in SAFETY4SEA Sea Sense column.