Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ships, networks and safety at sea


An incident off New York in which the captain of the outbound ship tried to run me down in broad daylight at Ambrose light while I was waiting for the pilot to board was a moment of enlightenment. I have come to believe that the situation at sea is rapidly getting worse and things are not going to improve soon. While the amount of traffic has increased it seems that the level of expertise aboard ships is in decline. Here are some possible solutions:

1. Raise the level of training for ship's officers and crews.
2. Accept the increase in the number of ship mishaps and the attendant increased damage to the environment (not to mention deaths and injuries to mariners).
3. Turn ships into the equivalent of bumper cars, double hulls and the like.
4. Use improvements in electronics and communications to better link experts ashore with mariners aboard ship.

- As for the first, evidently it is too expensive to train officers and crew to the level that will reduce the risk of mishaps below what is acceptable to society.
- As to the second, in may take a decade or two, but at some point the public will realize that simply putting unlucky mariners in jail and throwing away the key does not reduce the number of mishaps.
- Bumper cars, this is the most popular solution so far, when those double hull tankers corrode and start breaking apart at sea the public will likely take a second look at this solution, they may demand triple hulls.
- As to #4, at the site gcaptain, Capt John Konrad, in one of his articles on the Basha Buker explains:

"Ships Captains have historically needed to be strong in their opinions and self reliant but times are changing. We now live in a small, connected world. The negative result are micro management by marine superintendents detached from the situation and real time monitoring by both regulatory and news organizations. The positive results? Most mariners would say there are few, but why?

In a world where experts and amateurs can work together to write encyclopedias and master mariners from Australia can visit gCaptain to discuss topics with mariners thousands of miles away (in real time!) I question that self-reliance is still the most important trait for a ship’s master. Instead captains need to embrace technology and work on their social skills. They need to use real time monitoring to understand conditions and communication technology to call field experts

The phone number of the man who’s the foremost expert on heavy weather anchoring needs to be posted on every bridge and then conferenced in with the local pilot and a meteorologist, each sharing information on same computer screen. Then the ship’s master should be able to log-on to a conference call with the nearby captains."

Capt Konrad is on the right track here. Mariners need to take an active role in increasing the sharing of information.

On the same topic I have a message for the master of the ship that almost ran me down at Ambrose - next time, give me a call, or if your not going to answer the radio, port to port!

UPDATE: The same day I posted this, Capt John Denham at gcaptain posted an interesting article with a similar theme:Where are the Inspectors? so to be contrary I had to play devil's advocate the next day and posted: Lower Seamanship Standards or Higher Workload?


paul the pirate (Yar!) said...

Hey, I just entered the Ambrose TSS from the south this morning. The fact that the Ambrose tower gets leveled every 10 years or so speaks for itself. Place is nuts.

Kennebec Captain said...

Good point.