Alert! 9 - It's time to stop pretending...


Maybe you do not need to think about people when designing a ship, or you get ‘rewarded’ for not involving them during build, but you cannot pretend that ships can run without a crew – at least not for the foreseeable future.

If a piece of machinery is faulty, worn out or over worked, it will ultimately come to a grinding halt, or may disintegrate or even explode. If any electrical or electronic equipment is faulty, worn out or overloaded, it will overheat and will blow a fuse or shut down. Ship systems are protected by strict design standards and tolerances, by redundancy - particularly for critical systems - and by feedback processes that will ultimately activate an alarm of some sort, or take corrective action.

Their efficiency and reliability will be undermined if they are not correctly set up, regularly monitored or properly maintained; these are tasks that, for the most part, have to be undertaken by the human element of any such system - that is, the seafarer.

Yet, the seafarer, who in many cases is also responsible for the safe operation of a system, is just as susceptible to failure and breakdown if he/she is not protected by standards and codes, such as STCW, ISM and the ILO Conventions; or if the tolerances are set too fine because of poor working and living conditions.

If redundancy is not built into the system, through realistic manning policies, workable watchkeeping patterns and satisfactory work/leave ratios, then the seafarer might well become fatigued and eventually worn out to the point of no repair. If there is no feedback process in place through education programmes, effective communication and the adoption of a safety/company culture, then the seafarer will not be able to recognise when he/she becomes worn out or overloaded, nor be able to take corrective action.

The efficiency and reliability of the seafarer will be undermined if the ship itself has not been designed and built to purpose; or if he/she has not been provided with the appropriate training and with easy to understand procedures and operating instructions in order to cope with the ship systems; or if there is no monitoring programme in terms of appraisals, mentoring and regular health checks; or if he/she is not properly maintained through a healthy lifestyle.

Ultimately all these issues will affect the ability of the master and his crew to ensure the safe conduct of the ship and the safe and timely arrival of its cargo.


Staff Author