There’s a slow recovery underway in the offshore oil and gas sector. After years of lacklustre spending, offshore oil and gas majors are set to invest US$208Bn on offshore drilling and oilfield services this year.
As a result, offshore support vessel operators are preparing for the recovery by reactivating a few vessels and recruiting and hiring new mariners. It’s a welcome sign for the OSV market after many lean years, but it is one that comes with a big caveat.
While we often focus on improvements to vessel designs, propulsion systems, navigation equipment and new technologies to reduce casualties and increase efficiency, we should not overlook a vessel’s most important safety system — its crew.
Maritime safety culture must be instilled in new mariners predominantly for their own benefit as human error plays a prominent role in most marine accidents.
About 75% of allisions and shipboard fires and explosions, for example, are caused by human error. The US National Transportation Safety Board and the US Coast Guard also point out that an accident is not usually caused by one single error, but by the compound effect of a series of errors by one or several individuals. What’s interesting to note is that an accident can occur based on a series of seemingly minor errors, all of which are necessary for the casualty to take place. In other words, if just one of the errors had been prevented, the accident could have been averted.
Vessel operators might find it helpful to read a maritime safety guidance that was published three years ago by the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency that covers “The Deadly Dozen”—the most common crew-related factors in an accident and the mitigating actions available to companies, masters and mariners. The 12 factors were compiled based on near-miss reports from 2003-2015. As outlined below, the “Dirty Dozen” are as follows:
• Situational awareness – This was reported in 22.5% of near-miss reports. Operators should build an effective safety culture and encourage their mariners to be aware of the big picture and fine detail, never assuming another crewmember’s intentions. Companies should develop effective policies and procedures with the input from their crews.
• Alerting – This was reported in 15.3% of near-miss incidents. Operators should teach mariners to speak up and propose solutions.
• Communication – Cited in 13.4% of incidents, companies should build communication and cultural awareness through familiarisation programmes and assess communication skills as part of the recruitment process. Mariners should make sure they understand instructions clearly. Different cultures can interpret messages differently.
• Complacency – Complacency was cited in 12.6% of near-miss incidents. Mariners should never assume everything is okay and procedures should be followed.
• Culture – This was cited in 11.4% of near-miss incidents reported. Your company safety culture should be embraced from top to bottom. Companies should strive for continued improvement in their safety culture.
• Fit for duty – This one seems obvious and accounted for less than 1% of near-miss incidents, but bears reinforcement. Alcohol, drugs, injuries and illness can impair judgment, thinking and cause distractions.
• Fatigue – Crew fatigue can be deadly. It should be monitored and managed closely.
• Distractions – Distractions can be both personal -- a call from home, for example -- or business related.
• Pressure – Good pressure can lead to improved performance, but too much pressure can lead to overload and failure.
• Capability – Is your crew trained properly to handle the task or tasks? Skills, qualifications and training should be checked constantly and reinforced to ensure performance.
• Teamwork – The master and crew should work together. Bridge resource management was a key factor in the sinking of the US-flagged cargo ship El Faro.
• Local practices – Ensure that your mariners don’t cut corners and adopt “local customs” as normal and always adhere to company policies and procedures.
While artificial intelligence and autonomy hold the promise of improving maritime safety, it’s important to keep in mind that your mariners will always be your first line of defense against a casualty.