A leap forward in shipping safety
Inspired by aviation practices in 'resilience engineering', an award-winning EU-funded project has developed technology transfer methodology, a 'Procedure Improvement System', aviation style checklists, training modules and a 'Resilience Assessment Tool' to boost safety and crew preparedness in the maritime sector.
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International shipping transports around 80 % of global trade (by volume). Vessel safety is clearly not only critical to prevent loss of life, but also to the global economy. There were 85 ships lost in 2016, which is better than the 10-year average of 123, according to the 2017 Safety and Shipping Review, but it is still unacceptably high.
‘Bigger losses at sea’ is an old saying that resigns seafaring to a class of travel that is inherently, unavoidably dangerous. But researchers in the EU-funded SEAHORSE project have dispelled that myth. Borrowing from the strict practices of ‘resilience management’ needed to safely manage rapid growth in the aviation sector, they proved that different transport modes not only learn from each other, but actively cooperate to boost overall safety and awareness.
SEAHORSE compiled a database of practices employed by airlines and adapted their ‘resilience’ guidelines to maritime conditions. The innovative approach and tools developed, which are already being used in more than one hundred vessels, earned the project the 2016 Maritime Safety Award given by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.
“SEAHORSE has shown that methods used to ensure high levels of safety for one form of transport can be effectively transferred to another,” says project coordinator Osman Turan from the University of Strathclyde, UK. “This breakthrough, now acknowledged by the award, is leading to even stronger cooperation between different modes of transport and the sharing of best practices to make ship operations safer, more efficient and vastly more resilient to fast-changing circumstances at sea.”
Resilience, a human factor
Building resilience into how organisations and people work is a guiding principle in aviation because it accepts that things can and will go wrong without compromising safety. People are trained for such contingencies and systems can cope. SEAHORSE applied that principle to good effect in maritime transport by looking very closely at the ‘human factor’ in safety as well.
Are procedures in place and fit for the purpose? Do crews follow procedures or practice ‘workaround’? What are the impacts of ‘workarounds’ or inaction during different stages in transit?
These questions and more were examined to uncover key systems and operational factors in both modes of transport that drive success or failure. By comparing the actions taken to correct an error or deviation on, for example, an air carrier’s safety checklist, a ferry operator can reinforce its departure and arrival procedures.
“We applied resilience engineering in SEAHORSE to increase the number of things that go right by understanding the things that go wrong and strengthening four capabilities: learning, responding, monitoring and anticipating,” explains Turan.
The project’s ‘Procedure Improvement System’ (PIS) was developed to identify a long list of potential weak points and evaluate ways to address them, making on-board practices safer and more robust. The system was first tested on 33 container ships, and later implemented on bulk-carriers, ferries and tankers.
A Safety Culture Framework was designed and implemented within four shipping companies ranging from bulk carriers to tankers to ferry operators. In addition, a ‘Crew Quality and Reliability Audit’ tool was developed which helps operators assess the crew’s capabilities and highlights potential training needs. The project even designed training modules to fill the skills gaps once identified, as well as communication tools to raise awareness of the project’s findings.
Representatives from both the aviation and maritime sectors were actively involved in project workshops and provided valuable data and feedback on the tools, which according to Turan has been a key element in the project’s success.
Participants in SEAHORSE’s industry advisory board included aviation experts and pilots from Airbus, Cyprus Airways, Logan-Air, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, Rolls Royce, as well as experts from shipping companies such as Hellenic Tankers, Sener Shipping, Seatec, MISC Berhad, AET, A. M. Nomikos, Zodiac Shipping, Teekay and GAS-LOG.
These solutions were tested in a simulator environment, by shipping companies and live demonstrations during the project, and can now be found on a dedicated virtual platform, which is available to shipping companies and maritime educators.
A range of companies from ferries, container ships, tankers and bulk carriers have benefited from the tools. CALMAC Ferries, a project partner, has adopted the SEAHORSE approach and implemented an aviation-based pre-departure checklist on a large number of its fleet.
The project has created significant awareness within the maritime community that safety can be enhanced by adopting borrowed and new approaches. Wider take-up of SEAHORSE’s tools and methodologies will help promote more human-centred design and operation of ships, according to Turan.
“The more shipping companies that get on-board, the faster the journey from a blame culture towards a joined-up mature safety culture across the wider maritime sector using the resilience engineering principles,” he says.
SEAHORSE is keen to build on this research by establishing industry-wide benchmarks to compare safety performance of shipping companies and to deeply embed resilience management in maritime education.