Ship design and the concepts of risk based design

Safe Design

Normally when it comes to designing any sort of transportation whether automobiles, airplanes or ships we would prefer to travel in the most safely designed machine. But is there anything which is totally fault proof or risk free? Let us take a leaf from the past of the marine book

If history has taught us one thing about taking to the seas, it is that you simply cannot be too careful. Arguably the most famous ocean going vessel of all time, the Titanic, had at the time what many would have considered ample safety provision, to the extent where some famously, and erroneously, thought the ship “unsinkable”. Yet the reason why it is so famous is that the Titanic sank anyway, with a loss of life and a human impact that remains unparalleled in the history of sailing. If we can take one positive from the tragedy of nearly a century ago, it must be that we now know no ship is unsinkable, and all we can do is optimise the ships that are built today to ensure as far as is possible that they do not fall to the same fate as the Titanic.

Risk Based Design!!

The idea behind Risk Based Ship Design is that we can look at existing designs of ships and see with a critical eye where they might be vulnerable and how to prevent disasters. Every ship, at least initially, has its point of weakness, and it falls upon designers to take a risk-based approach in identifying the area of weakness and optimising the design to offer protection in all areas of the ship. This needs to be done in a practical way however, because for all the safety requirements a ship still needs to be able to sail efficiently.

Additionally for ships that are being designed presently, the concept of risk-based ship design is to see to it that any craft that is built from now on conforms to the appropriate standards and does not find itself on the drawing-board while costly consultations hold back its building and launch. Identifying risks early, and making provisions to enable these risks to be eliminated, is a major plank of the entire concept. It is now a standard within the shipbuilding industry that ships should go through this kind of auditing process prior to the beginning of construction.

Role of the IMO

The International Maritime Organisation itself is to ensure that any regulatory developments which happen under its auspices will first be checked for compliance with the needs of risk-based ship design. This is seen by many as long overdue, as the same kind of procedures have long been in place in the aviation industry, which is often looked at as being the more technologically advanced younger brother of the maritime sector. Regardless of whether it is overdue or not, the good news is that risk-based ship design is now being taken seriously to the extent that the European Union has funded SAFEDOR (Design, Operation and Regulation for Safety) in order to promote and aid the implementation of best practice in the ship construction industry. Making the improvements that have already taken place into standard practice may take some time, but it is a small price to pay if we are to avoid having another Titanic. Perhaps no ship is unsinkable, but the practices can make it so that sinking is less of a prospect than ever before.