How often are the collision regulations (colregs) violated? How many times in a voyage does a crew make poor navigation decisions that lead to near misses, or worse, ship collisions and groundings? How often does a captain and the navigators ignore the ship’s safety during one month of operation?
For one unnamed car carrier, operating in northern European waters the answer is 18 times in one month. That’s until the crew were caught out by e-navigation auditing and probably told, in most likely crude terms, to vastly improve their navigational safety and performance by the ship’s management. I have an understanding of which ship this is and the operator, but for fairness will keep that quiet, and concentrate on the main issues. That is managers can only ensure that the crew are obeying commands and upholding standards when they know the seafarers are being watched like hawks.
It is a sad fact of human nature that corners are cut, standards slip, procedures disregarded and regulations ignored. Mistakes are made on a regular basis and occasionally they lead to tragedy, but is it worth the risk? It is human nature to take the easy line, ignore some of the less convenient requirements and relay responsibility elsewhere for those actions. Thus it is not totally surprising that an audit of safe navigation would cast up a few issues and deficiencies.
But 18 in one month does seem to be exceptional, especially if nine are serious near misses and four of these are in direct violation of the colregs. One wonders whether the crew knew they were putting multi-million dollars of ship and cargo, as well as their own lives, in jeopardy when they made poor navigation decisions. It is likely that they did as the following month, and subsequent ones, there were no near misses or colregs deficiencies recorded using the same program.
Totem Plus supplied the program and the analysis to the car carrier owner. Its E-navigation Data Auditing (EDA) service, which uses data from ecdis and voyage data recorder (VDR) was run as a pilot project since March this year. After the first month of data analysis was shown to the car carrier owner, it is likely that the crew received fresh guidance and training on what the shipowner regarded as a near-miss. The bridge team certainly then knew they would be watched as they made no further errors of judgement the following months.
This is a clear example of how e-navigation auditing can minimise risk, and improve navigation safety standards. The question is should we need this technology? Surely bridge teams should follow navigation regulations, uphold standards and remain watchful at all times. But this example demonstrates this is not the case.
Perhaps it is unfair not to hear the arguments from the car carrier crew. Perhaps they had a tough month, tackling poor weather, were under high pressure to meet tough destination deadlines and were forced to cut corners to meet the owner’s objectives. But it really should not be this way.
Having worked on North Sea drilling rigs, I know that seafarers have to face the conditions and make rapid decisions that are sometimes the wrong one. They have to take responsibility for their actions, which are often made with limited knowledge and uncertain outcomes. But there are safety rules and company procedures to follow. Crew should ensure these are followed and minimise the mistakes.
There are arguments for and against deploying ship monitoring technology. Some feel daily operations should be the responsibility of the ship master and crew. Others bemoan the increasing level of shore influence on these decisions. Nonetheless, it is clear from this example that shipmanagers should closely monitor their crew and support them with strong advice on navigation standards, backed up with thorough training and guidance. Otherwise near misses and anti-colregs decisions will lead to a serious ship accident, possibly loss of life and a high-cost loss.