Mark Bull, Independent Marine Consultant gave a presentation entitled”Putting Navigation back where it belongs’‘ at the 2015 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum. During his presentation, he linked the ongoing level of navigational accidents occurring worldwide to what he described as the “unimportance” of navigation in today’s world. From the very first voyages of discovery, he took us on a journey to the present day showing just how marine navigation had contributed to the marine industry. He closed his presentation by offering a simple and yet minimal cost solution to this problem.
I have devoted almost exclusively the last 12 months to conducting navigational assessments on board ships underway at sea. This formed the catalyst of my presentation today Putting navigation back where it belongs. It is over 45 years ago since I commenced my career and now I feel that I have come full circle: back on the bridges of ships. I am back to my roots.
90% of world trade is carried by sea. Liner shipping alone contributes 400 billion dollars and employs 13.5 million people. As the former IMO Secretary General stated that if shipping stopped today, within one week half the world would be going hungry and the other half would be living in the dark. But, theres one discipline, which shipping depends upon and sets it apart from all others – Marine navigation. Without navigation, we would not exist. On the last ship that I attended, it was underway (being navigated) for 220 days of the year. That is 220 by 24 hours, when navigation was being practiced. That makes it the single most important activity undertaken by the people onboard a ship.
It is worthwhile going back in history to see the development of the industry itself. Thanks to those explorers and navigators, who found the world and opened up the trade routes that we know today. We can see Columbus first voyage across the new world.We can see Magellans voyage around the world and we can see Cooks voyages of discovery. Not only Cook did the discover, but he also charted what he found at the same time. As a point of interest, I was born in the same town where his ship sailed from.
Compare that with today’s marine traffic density map, look how things have changed. Marine navigation is not free from risk. In fact, the original dangers are still present. Magellan and Cook were both murdered in distant lands. Seafarers continue to experience violence of this kind up to this day. But the risks, we normally consider with navigation are ice, heavy weather, grounding and collision. The first three are natural conditions. The fourth is man-made. For the consequences of those accidents, we can go back to the classic catastrophes:
1. Ice- Titanic – 1,517 lives were lost.
2. Heavy weather – Derbyshire and the Munchkin – 44 and 28 respectively
Now, I have to add the El Faro – 33 lives lost.
3. Grounding – Costa Concordia – 33 lives.
We must add the Exxon Valdez, which caused a massive oil spill and the wreck removal and cleanup costs. Costa Concordia wreck removal cost > 1.2 billion dollars
4. Collision – Dona Paz – 4,375 lives lost.
The largest passenger ships today have far more people on board than the Dona Paz.
These are some of the most notorious accidents in history. But, others are occurring far too frequently. Just recently, a gas tanker has hit a Dutch cargo ship and this sank. Unconfirmed reports stated that the Coast Guard found one body from the El Faro and a bulk carrier had hit the dock in Oregon and spilled bunker oil into the river. Three in one day, but the problem is thetime interval between the same types of incidents happening is reducing.
Sadly, history shows us that we do not learn from history. The number of navigational incidents continues unabated. What is worse is that the same type of incidents seems to be repeated at alarmingly short intervals. IUMI (International Union of Marine Insurers) have quoted that navigational incidents accounted for more than 50% of all Hull claims. Intertanko stated that navigational incidents were the cause of at least 50% of all pollution incidents. I am sure that P&I will have some similar statistics.
Here are some examples of repetition:.
1. The Pasha Bulker went aground in Newcastle right in front of the ports. A couple of years later, the Full City went aground in Norway.
2. Exactly, the same type of incident. Likewise, we have the Sheng Neng 1, which ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef and the Rena, which ran aground in New Zealand.
Nowadays, it is not on photographs, they are there for everyone to seeit on youtube -just type in collisions groundings or capsizes. Nobody is immune. Even the big names in shipping are having their accidents.
If we want to correct a problem, we really need to find the root cause. I believe that I have found the root cause of this malaise. I have done so not through identifying yet another deficiency or shortcoming, but rather a best practice and had this confirmed by a phrase contained within an industry standard text. We have collectively allowed navigation to become unimportant. It is obvious that existing loss prevention measures in place for safe navigation are ineffective. They are not looking at the big picture. Navigation is not inspected, measured, not discussed at a level commensurate to its overall importance. It is under the radar of nearly all within the industry. It is not even mentioned in the ISM Code. This situation has arisen through a whole series of what I call dangerous assumptions. We are all guilty of making assumptions. But seafarers, at least, deck officers, have been warned for a long time through the collision regulations. Assumptions shall not been made on scanty information.
On the ship I visited recently to conduct the navigational assessment, I found what I believe to be the solution. From boarding, it was obvious that this ship was different in a very positive way and I found the reason in the crew mess. There on the ships notice board was a letter from the chairman of the company explaining the importance of all the disciplines undertaken onboard and extolling the Masters, officers and crew to both maintain what they had achieved and reach higher. He also thanked them for their efforts. The policy statements were nearby, but this letter was by far a more powerful tool and the effects were plain to see. That was the powerful message getting through to the crew; commitment from the top.
Finally I had this theory confirmed shortly afterwards as I continued my ongoing research into performance of navigational assessments. As I went through the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide once again, I found in the introduction, in the very first sentence the phrase: ICS attaches the utmost importance to safe navigation.
So I believe the solution to reducing the number of navigational incidents is almost free of charge. We just need to make navigation important again. It has already been stated by the very international organization that represents ship owners worldwide. We could follow the example of a simple letter from the top of the company or organization. This would explain how Navigation is important to the very existence of the company/organization itself and it must take its proper place in the order of priority of the company business. I assure you that if this is done, all the elements that go together to make navigation safer will drop into place thereafter.
Above article is an edited version of Mr. Bull’s presentation during the 2015 SAFETY4SEA Forum which successfullyconcluded on Wednesday 7thof October 2015in Eugenides Foundation Athens attracting1100 delegates from 30 countries representing a total of 480 organizations.
Click here to view his presentation video
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