Human Element status in shipping

BIMCO-ICS Manpower report showed

  • A current shortfall of about 16,500 officers (2.1%),
  • A need for an additional 147,500 officers by 2025 to service the world merchant fleet

In particular, the report showed that in the past five years the industry has made good progress with increasing recruitment and training levels and reducing officer wastage. However, unless training levels are increased significantly, the growth in demand for seafarers could generate a serious shortage in the total supply of officers.

The impact of augmented Intelligence

Replacing human control with reliable technology is said to enhance shipping safety radically. Of course, autonomous does not have to be unmanned. In other words, autonomy can make vessels safer, easier and more efficient to operate by providing crew with an enhanced understanding of their vessel’s surroundings. The concept of augmented intelligence is not to replace humans at all, but utilize the combination of algorithms, machine-learning, and data science to inform human decision-making abilities.

Speaking at the opening of MSC 99, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim noted:

It is important that we remain flexible to accommodate new technologies, and so improve the efficiency of shipping - while at the same time keeping in mind the role of the human element and the need to maintain safe navigation, further reducing the number of marine casualties and incidents.

It’s important, therefore, to not ignore digitization, as it is currently improving retention through better feedback methods and facilitating staff members’ connection.

Furthermore, crew connectivity survey 2018’ showed that when it comes to automation, 53% of the participants have seen one or more of their roles became automated the last two years and 98% of those that they saw their roles being automated, felt that there was a positive change. We see that seafarers are not resisting to change, let alone, they are adapting to it!

What if we are less “horrified” by new technologies and/or surprised by human error and became more interested in learning? Organizations have to examine how to facilitate them t keep up with the future changes.

How to cultivate human element

  1. Behavioral Based Safety (BBS)

BBS aims to eliminate/reduce the marginal or the remaining unsafe portion in our industry after the enforcement of legislation, the installation of new technology and new rules. Specifically, BBS is

  • Generating safety culture
  • Establishing behavior management
  • Focusing on observation & feedback
  • Broading Awareness
  • Using positive reinforcement
  1. Human and Organizational Performance (HOP)

We are talking about a new way of thinking about how we can improve the work place. It is based on the premise that humans are error prone and that if we expect people to do things right all the time, we are most likely going to be disappointed! In other words, HOP helps us understand how humans perform and how we can build systems that are more error tolerant!

Why do we need a resilient, human-centric shipping industry?

Crew members need to feel valued. They need to feel included as well. Indeed, human-centric organisations tend to be more profitable and in general have a healthier work environment. No matter how much the shipping industry integrates new technology, the human element is going to remain integral.

It is obvious, therefore, that the key player in the whole matter is resilience; developing a resilient culture will allow the human factor to cope in a successful way with all the demanding challenges. Besides, things leading to accidents at sea are directly linked with the lack of safety culture!


About Apostolos Belokas

Apostolos is a Maritime Safety, Quality & Environmental Expert, Consultant, Trainer and Project Manager with more than a 20-year background in shipping as Technical, Marine, Safety & Training Superintendent and Consultant. He entered the industry back in early 90’s as Engineering Superintendent with a leading ship manager operating a mixed fleet of bulk and oil/chemical tankers. He then shifted to regulatory compliance and QHSE as superintendent and later as a Consultant and Trainer. Apostolos has successfully completed a wide range of QHSE projects including 250+ management system projects (ISM/ISO 9001-14001-18001/TMSA/MLC), 500 vessel and office audits to various standards and he has trained more than 8,000 people in a wide variety of QHSE subjects. He has also presented and chaired to more than 40 conferences. He holds Mechanical Engineering Bachelor and Master’s specialising in Energy & Environment and Master’s Degree in Maritime Business and Business Administration (MBA), all of them awarded with distinction. Apostolos is the Managing Director of SQE MARINE, SQE ACADEMY and Managing Editor of SAFETY4SEA.