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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > Improving safety at sea
Graphic element Improving safety at sea

In 1994, the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ferry Estonia capsized with the loss of more than 850 lives. As recently as December 1999, the 25-year-old, single-hulled oil tanker, Erika, broke in two just 40 miles off the Brittany coast, releasing more than 10,000 tonnes of heavy oil into the sea and polluting 400 km of coastline. These disasters demonstrate the need for continued effort to improve safety at sea to protect human life and the environment.

Much has been achieved over recent years - the number of major oil spills, for example, has dropped from more than 80 a year in the 1970s to less than 40 a year in the 1990s. The amount of oil entering the sea from ships has been cut by about 60% during the same period. Similarly, a great deal has been done to make ro-ro ferries much safer. But, there is still much to do.

  Legislating for safety

The European Commission has responded by legislating and by funding research. In March 2000, in response to the Erika incident, it set out measures to protect European waters and coastlines from a similar disaster, including a proposed ban on single-hull tankers in European waters. This would be phased in over the next 15 years - using a staggered schedule similar to that laid out in the Oil Pollution Act adopted by the USA in 1990. Other proposals are to tighten controls on older ships, make inspections tougher, and demand more from classification societies.

  State-of-the-art tools

These measures require enforcers to be equipped with state-of-the-art tools to ensure compliance and here research and development can play an important role. For example, a remotely-operated tanker inspection system is being developed in the on-going BRITE-EURAM ROTIS project. This will consist of a free floating semi-autonomous vehicle capable of navigating inside the main and ballast tanks of tankers to perform close-up inspections.

Success of the project will lead to better quality inspection, improve safety for the inspectors by avoiding the need to enter a hazardous environment and save the tanker owners the cost of emptying tanks before an inspection. The project, which was proposed by the Italian company, Tecnomare, has a three-year time scale and is scheduled to be completed in March 2001.

The system, which was developed by a consortium of European companies through the EUREKA programme, offers users a number of benefits. Most important is the fact that it encourages the crew to operate the vessel more cautiously, particularly on large vessels where it is impossible physically to feel the hull strain. Consequently, it can reduce the need for hull repairs - saving both money and reducing the risk of damage to the cargo.

Statistical data from the system is also proving useful for ship designers, shipyards, shipping companies and ship classification societies as it can be used to estimate the fatigue life of existing vessels, and to provide valuable data.

  Goal-setting standards

In recent years, however, there has been a move away from prescriptive legislation towards goal-setting standards. Here marine operators are required to demonstrate the safety of their operations through studies such as a Formal Safety Assessment (FSA). The aim has been to force organisations to be more proactive in assessing risks rather than waiting for an accident to happen and then legislating to prevent a reoccurrence.

The formal safety assessment of high speed craft (HSC) - propulsion and manoeuvring system reliability project was initiated under the EU BRITE-EURAM programme. It set out to develop a rational, comprehensive approach to safety for the relatively new concept of high speed craft, and to provide potential users with a methodology that would support the preparation of a complete FSA.

Co-ordinated by the French classification society, Bureau Veritas, and with five other European partners, the project began by theoretically subdividing a ship into its main systems, sub-systems and equipment, and then identifying functional relationships between the component parts. From that point, it was then possible to identify hazards and make a risk assessment. From the risk assessment, risk control options can be identified, and then compared in terms of both technical performance and cost-effectiveness. The results of this cost/benefit analysis forms the basis on which decisions are made as to whether vessel owners have done all that is reasonably practical to ensure safety.

The final report from the project, which ended in May 1999, has not yet been made available to the industry but will include guidelines for implementing the FSA methodology developed during the course of this project.

  Coping with extreme loads

In another BRITE EURAM project, SEAWORTH, researchers are using both numerical and experimental techniques to determine the effect of extreme hydrodynamic loads on ships - for example localised wave slamming - with a view to improving ship design. At present, wave loading is not included in the design requirements of classification societies.

Four reference ships are being used for the project:

  • a cargo ship,
  • two monohulls of different lengths, and
  • a catamaran.

A database of the results will be compiled and integrated within an expert system structure that will enable the analysis to be applied to other designs. Once the analytical work is finished, it is intended to derive a prediction methodology for extreme loads which will then be used to issue guidelines in association with the German classification organisation Germanisher Lloyd, one of the project's partners. If all goes to plan, the guidelines will be available in the summer of 2001.

  Safer ro-ro ferries

SEAWORTH is affiliated to the SAFER EURORO thematic network, which is co-ordinating a new programme of European research aimed at improving the design of ro-ro ferries by developing an integrated approach. This approach establishes the design aims and practices for individual aspects of ship safety such as seaworthiness, structural safety, ship survivability, passenger survivability and fire safety. It then uses the common ground of technological tools and risk assessment to produce an overall design methodology that should lead to safer ferries.

In another project affiliated to SAFER EURORO, 12 European partners are working to develop design tools and methodologies to improve significantly the resistance against capsize of new ro-ro vessels by integrating safety in the design process.

The three-year NEREUS (first principles design for damage resistance against capsize) project began in January 2000 and by March 2000 the partners had already made significant progress in four areas:

1. development of numerical tools,
2. development of design methodologies,
3. verification through design, and
4. an experimental programme to support the theoretical work.

The partners are confident that the outcome of NEREUS will be valuable for practising naval architects as it will enable them to integrate survivability into first principles design and therefore provide better protection for the lives of passengers and crew.

Legislating for safety
State-of-the-art tools
Goal-setting standards
Coping with
extreme loads
Safer ro-ro ferries

Key EU-funded research

EU research on marine safety is an important element of the Land transport and marine technologies key action. Current projects include:

ROTIS - remotely operated tanker inspection system
Formal safety assessment of high speed craft - methodology for risk assessment
SEAWORTH - techniques to examine the effect of extreme hydrodynamic loads
SAFER EURORO - thematic network examining improvements to the design for safety of ro-ro ferries
NEREUS - developing design tools and methodologies to improve ro-ro damage resistance against capsize

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