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The Roles of Complacency and Routinization in Maritime Accidents

written by: Chief Engineer Mohit Sanguri • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 11/10/2011

This article discusses how the negative effects of complacency and routinization lead to marine accidents. To avoid this situation, many shipping companies are formally recognizing the importance of a Safety Management System for shipboard jobs.

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    Safety is a matter of prime concern to the shipping industry today. Statistics have shown that a large proportion of accidents that result in the loss of life, loss of property, and pollution of the marine environment are caused by human error.

    With the introduction of the International Safety Management code (ISM), a lot of emphasis these days is placed on the competency of the crew for the safe operation of ships. This code mainly deals with the safe operation of the ship with competent crew members who can handle the ship during routine and emergency conditions in order to prevent loss of life, loss of ship, loss of cargo, or pollution in the marine environment. When a person has full competency and skills as required for the job, the there is no room for complacency and dissatisfaction.

    Today for economic reasons, the number of ship’s personnel on the board is constantly being reduced. Hence each man must be capable of doing his job efficiently. If one person is indisposed due to any reason, it increases the work load for the others, leading to safety being neglected.

    Each person on board must not only do his job, but also must be able do it safely in order to prevent accident and injury to himself and also to others on board. Each person on board is a part of a team. The success of each operation depends on the correct execution of his job by each individual member. A wrong action by even the junior crew on board could jeopardise the safety of the entire ship and all on board.

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    Case History

    A seaman after one contract on a cargo ship was sent on a tanker as the company had both types of ships. As was his usual habit on bulk carrier, he went to work on deck with a packet of cigarettes and a lighter in his pocket. During a break, he pulled out his cigarettes and lighter and was about to light up when one of his senior colleagues stopped him and warned him not to light cigarettes on deck because there could be gas around on a tanker.

    As simple as this case is, the incompetency and lack of training of one seaman regarding fire safety and prevention on an oil tanker could have led to a dangerous situation on board. On a cargo ship, smoking is not prohibited on the deck except during bunkering, but on a tanker, the deck is considered a hazardous zone at all times. During his sailing on cargo ships, he used to smoke on deck and even in the cargo holds during cleaning.

    Competency in their field is of paramount importance. As discussed in the case, before joining tanker the seaman should have been properly educated on the hazards, new equipment, new procedures, new regulations, and new dangers regarding the tanker by inhouse training. After undergoing the proper training, only then should he be allowed to sail in a tanker.

    As competency plays a major role in the safe operation of the ship, it is not sufficient that the seaman be shown the correct procedure for doing a task. More importantly, he needs to understand the "why" of how things are done in a certain way. This enables him to "think," so that he knows, understands, and accepts this responsibility for safety. Excuses for incompetency of the crew cannot be tolerated as they can lead to loss of lives of others and property damage. A job must be done safely the first time and every time, as there may not be a “next time."

    This above Case History is discussed from Marine Accident Investigation Branch under the category of Fire and Explosion.

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    Importance of Avoiding Complacency and Routinization in Marine Jobs

    After a certain time period when the "awe" is over and a crew member has learned his job, there comes a period of confidence followed by over-confidence and complacency.

    Complacency is defined as the feeling you have when you are satisfied with yourself or self satisfaction. This is the phase that is dangerous where a person thinks he has mastered his job and all things have become just routine business. The crew has to be told that there is more to the job and the dangers inherent to this attitude. This can only be done by advanced training and continuous training.

    Certification and Familiarization

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    The country's marine governing body must appoint masters who hold valid and internationally accepted certificates and who have the experience, training, or competence to command the vessel they are assigned to. He must be familiarized with the Safety Management System (SMS) prior to joining the vessel.

    All other ship’s personnel must have the required qualifications, skills, competence, and medical fitness to perform the duties required of them. This will be dictated by the type of ship, the trade she is engaged in, working load on the crew, and other factors. The company or crewing agency should keep a record of service for these personnel and investigate the service records of new employees from their past employers.

    The ship’s personnel must be made aware of their routine duties under the SMS prior to joining a vessel and be familiarized with the ship and equipment. This will include details of procedures incorporated in the safety management system for efficient operation of the ship and equipment such as the pumping system, the bridge equipment, type and operation of the main engine, planned maintenance system etc. which are necessary for the safe and proper performance of his duties. This familiarization may be carried out by training videos, office manuals, briefing, checklist, questionnaires, a guided program, handover notes, and proper handing over of watch by the relieved seafarer. The success of SMS will depend on the commitment and motivation instilled in the ship’s crew.

    Industry Guidelines

    Relevant personnel must be familiar with all international, national and classification society requirements relating to safe ship operation and pollution prevention. These will include information and guidelines published by industry organizations such as the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Oil International Maritime Forum (OCIMF), the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) and others. A library could be established on board and ashore where reference materials including the SMS manuals, company safety bulletins, magazines, etc. could be accessed by all.

    Continuous Safety Training Drills

    Safety training drills covering all likely emergencies must be regularly conducted as per the procedures and requirements described in the Safety Management System and as realistically as possible so that the crew gain confidence and control of any emergency situation. The results of these drills together with safety audits, analysis of accidents, hazardous occurrences, and non-conformities will help the company identify training requirements, material resources, and changes to the SMS procedures. Individual training and qualification must be valid and comply with international, national, and company regulations. The company may consider, in addition, the need for refresher courses, ship or equipment specific training, familiarization training, or human resource development/personnel management training for both sea-going and shore personnel.

    Importance of Communication among Crew

    In an emergency, the ability of the crew to understand orders and communication between themselves and the passengers is crucial. This ability should be reviewed at the recruitment stage, monitored during crew appraisals, and records should be kept by the company or its crewing agency.