Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Safe (or unsafe) manning

Safe manning… what is safe manning on most of the ships sailing nowadays? Shouldn’t we be referring to it as “economic manning”?

The IMO resolution A.890(21) notes that safe manning is a function of the number of qualified and experienced seafarers necessary for the safety of the ship, crew, passengers, cargo and property for the protection of the marine environment and that ability of seafarers to maintain observance of the requirements is also dependent upon conditions relating to training, hours of work and rest, occupational safety, health and hygiene and the proper provision of food.

According to IMO, there are several principles that should be observed in determining the minimum safe manning of a ship, although I will be referring only to those related to watchkeeping and navigational duties since it is IMO belief that safe manning of ships would materially enhance maritime safety and protection of the marine environment.

First thing, we all know that hours of rest are not duly enforced, and that the records of the actual hours of work performed by the seafarers are far from accurate… to say the least.

Second, although the master is responsible for ensuring that the ship’s complement are not working more than is safe in relation to the performance of their duties and the safety of the ship, this is actually hardly ever done.

How many masters do we know that have called the owners or the charters telling them “sorry but we have reached our limits relating to working hours so we will drop anchor just for a little nap…”. Are provisions for hours of rest being placed on the charter party?

As for the number of bridge officers required to man a vessel, taking into consideration the size and type of the ship and the frequency of port calls, length and nature of voyages to be undertaken, from my personal experience at sea and now on pilotage duties for the last few years I would have to say that this number should be considered as a minimum for some circumstances and not as the normal safety requirement.

The bridge officers have been overwhelmed in the last few years by the implementation of the GMDSS and the related disappearance of the Radio Officer, the implementation of ISM and ISPS codes with all the check lists, all sort of records and procedures, increasing the paperwork to an unacceptable level, as well as the shortening of the crew available for maintenance of safety equipment.

On most ships calling this port, the master is the only person on the bridge with the pilot whether with or without daylight. And I am not just talking about the small coasters, I’m also referring to some larger vessels. In these cases, the master will be steering the vessel, adjusting speed, checking the position, maintaining the lookout (visual and radar), will be in charge of communications (internal and external), exchanging information with the pilot, reacting to the inevitable bridge alarms, filling the bell book… is this safe manning?

What about an extra bridge officer? Would that really make such a big difference on owners or charters income? Shouldn’t we consider the safety enhancement that such a measure would bring to the shipping industry, now that the latest investigations reveal that fatigue is playing a major role on all kind of ship accidents…
Hope to have some inputs of our readers on this subject...


Shipmate said...

Dear Sir, Dear Colleague:
I’ve praised already before, your so outstanding und up-to-date remarks and records on sea transport industry and Harbour Pilot’s work. Now I’m glad you come with so an interesting subject.
As far as manning aboard modern vessels is concerned your information is of the utmost importance and I’ve read it carefully. My last ship was a pretty scrappy old tanker of 150.000 Tons. The ship’s name was “ALMIZAR”. The owner, “V- Ships” from Mont Carlo Shipping Managers. However, the ship’s papers registry was: “Almizar Company” – Monrovia, Liberia! Needless to say that such “company” didn’t exist! That was my only experience aboard a so called “flag of convenience” ship. And what an experience! I’ve putted on board at Marseilles. The day I arrived there, a taxi-cab took me to the port where a small boat was waiting to pick me up and to take me to the ship. The “ALMIZAR” was at anchor off the coast about five miles way. That all happened in January 1980, a particular cold and stormy month of January! In fact there was bad weather with strong “Mistral” wind and rough sea. Arriving close to the ship was I astonished! Some one dropped a rope ladder from up the main deck and a thin rope to tie my luggage up. The ship was only on ballast waiting to enter next two or three days to dry-dock. As an experienced pilot can you imagine how high one must climb a rope ladder up to the deck of a 150.000 tons tanker on ballast? I would imagine some 3O meters high at least. Am I wrong? T o make things worse I had no other choice but to jump to the ladder grasping it as firmly as I could with the hands. At that point was I thoroughly soaked with freezing sea water! And to my despair the little boat left immediately! Fortunately I managed to climb the blooming ladder and at the end I arrived on deck. There I met three starving looking small Filipinos that helped me with the luggage and showed me the way. I first was introduced to the Master who was German. The crew was as follows: Master and Chief Mate, Germans, 2nd Mate (I) Portuguese, third Mate, who arrive later, also Portuguese. Chief Engineer and 2nd Engineer Germans, 3rd Engineer, Filipino. A Radio Officer, British. Then an Electrician who was Czech, and Chief Steward, Cook and more eight ratings, including a Boatswain, all Filipinos. Those were to work either on deck or in the engine –room! They hardly could speak any English. Three days later we entered the dry-dock to general overall and repairs and I had the chance of having a better acquaintance with the crew. That day started my six months worse experience on my life!

(To be continued)

Luis Daniel Vale said...

Thank you for your input. I hope you can complete this so far interesting story soon...

best regards

Anonymous said...

Manning aboard modern Vessels - II

The first day in dry-dock I was called before the Chief Mate. Then he told me: “As a second officer you are in charge of safety aboard, so you must check all the safety equipment, lifeboats and rafts, fire extinguishers … By the way, take a Filipino with you now and start painting the lifeboats, here you have some paint and brushes...”
I didn’t expect such an appalling order! After a moment of silence I said: “It seems that there is some misunderstanding sir! I’m an officer aboard this ship, not a rating and I’m not supposed to perform such a job. Painting aboard is not a task for an officer and on the other hand I’ve got no experience as a painter.” The chief mate looked at me in a furious mood and said: “Come with me!” Then he took me before the Master and said: “Captain here I am with mister second mate who refuses to accomplish my orders. I told him to paint the life-boats and he refuses! He says that it’s not his job!” I interrupted the conversation and said firmly: “Captain there’s no problem at all! We are ashore in Marseilles and we can pick up the phone, call the Company Managers in Mont Carlo and tell them I’m just leaving the ship and I do not accept any job which is clearly out of the normal duties of a deck officer. Sorry, that’s my last word. Good bye!” That was funny mate! They looked astonished at each other and then the captain said: “O.K mister mate, but I suppose you don’t object to supervise while the Filipino paints the lifeboats…” “That I wouldn’t mind” I said. Later, the Czech electrician who had lived for many years in Brazil, told me in plain Portuguese with funny Brazilian accent: “You did it well pal! You know, it’s not easy to work under German bosses! Always remember that: it’s not easy to work with Germans. But I’ll tell you the secret: never, but never, loose your temper! Just make your point in a clear, firm and strong way! You did it well pal! ” And that was the beginning of a terrible period of daily struggle against the Germans who tried in all the ways to put me working 24 hours a day if it weren’t for my firm refusal to do so. Furthermore they would always draw my attention to the fact that my contract was a “lump sum” contract i.e. one had no right of being paid for overtime work.
The Filipinos were real slaves and they literally did every thing on board, lookouts during night watches ( during day light watches the officer was left alone at the bridge), working in the engine room, painting, cleaning tanks and obviously handling ropes at the ship manoeuvres on arrival or departure from the harbour. At the very beginning that was terrible for me. I couldn’t manage to perform a beautiful, net arrival or departure manoeuvre ahead in the forecastle as I used to do aboard Portuguese ships. There was a problem of communication, they hardly could speak or understand any English and on the other hand they were weakly built with little strength and very clumsy seamen. My first manoeuvre on arrival at Marseilles was a disaster! The German chief mate came to the forecastle and with contempt asked me: “What kind of bloody job is this? Mister mate?”
As a matter of fact I was feeling very ashamed. All the ropes in the forecastle were in a terrible mess and I had to call the three Filipinos again to put every thing in good order.
Later, after more two or three harbour manoeuvres I managed to create my own efficient style. That was accomplished through gesture language pointing at the right rope and helping them with it around the bollards.

(To be continued)

P.S. Sorry for disturbing you but I'm getting trouble in posting the coments. How can you be sure that your coment was sent. Is there any confirmation?

Luis Daniel Vale said...

Keep them coming!

Do not worry about confirmation, is just a matter of time because all comments are previously sent to my e-mail for approval.

bst rgds

Anonymous said...

Manning aboard modern Vessels III:

Obviously this would be a very long and boring story should I keep writing about all the troubles one can get aboard a vessel with a very poor technical crew. All I wish to show is how dangerous may a ship become with poor trained crew on board. In order to keep a general idea of this experience I would like to refer to the following points:
As far as deck- officers and deck ratings are concerned they all lack a minimum knowledge of the job. Should an emergency situation arise then it would be very difficult to handle with it. Actually I was very surprised to discover that the German Officers had no knowledge about some modern Astronomic and Electronic Navigation Techniques. I recall one day we were sailing in Guinea Gulf, destination Cabinda. At that particular day the sun meridian passage was close to our Zenith. Either the Master or the Chief Mate told me: “that’s not possible to get the “noon” sun position today!”
“Well” , I said, “ we’ll take circum zenith circles and plot a position.” . As soon as I plotted the position the captain, looking amazed, only said: “ Oopps!!! “ Other day, arriving at Houston, we were enforced by the Coast Guard to have an Electronic High Accuracy Navigation Device aboard. It was possible a choice among “Omega Navigation”, “ Satellite Transit Navigation” or “ Loran C” Navigation”. The Master choose the cheaper ”Loran C” but, no one on board could work with it! I said him: “ Now we need some “Loran Charts” otherwise it isn’t possible to plot the position.”.
“Are you sure? Don’t you manage it without the charts?” Hilarious, isn’t it?
And to t put an end to this already long story allow me just to report the funny adventure while departing from Genoa .
We had left the quay behind and I was already alone, as officer of the watch, at the bridge. Suddenly I noticed the ships’ bow turning to starboard. It was about eleven o’ clock in the morning, the weather was fine, and the ship was sailing trough a lot of other smaller vessels on the Genoa Bay. I promptly disconnected the auto-pilot and tried to come back to course with the helm wheel but it was hardly jammed to starboard! Then I had no other choice but to stop the engine with the telegraph. I rang up the engine room to explain the situation. Then I went up in the “monkey island” (upper deck above bridge) and lifted two black balls up in the mast in order to give the sign of “ ship not under command” . I finally rang up the captain, who was having lunch with other officers, and told him what was going on and what I had already done. When he arrived at the bridge he just picked up the phone to the engine room and started yelling at the engine officer something in German I couldn’t understand. Then he came suddenly to the ship’s whistle and rang seven short blasts followed by one long blast – the signal to abandon ship! Unbelievable! I was astonished but more I was when I realised that nobody paid any attention to the signal and nobody come to the bridge! I said: “Captain please relaxes! The ship is almost stopped, there’s no danger and what we have to do now is to drop the anchor as soon as possible, and find out what happened to the helm’s machine. Stay here please and I’ll call the Boatswain and the seamen. So at last, we managed to drop anchor and after nearly two hours later the helm was properly fixed. That was a happy end!
Nearly six months after being aboard such a strange vessel I finally left the ship in Philadelphia and came back to Portugal and resumed my duties in a Portuguese Airlines Company as a Flight Engineer. It wasn’t easy at all! The Captain refused me to take the leave. I had to send a telegram to the Managers in Mont Carlo asking permission to leave. And fortunately they agreed. Under the circumstances, at the end, V. Ships proved to be a good Company. They were always very kind to me and I had always my pay on time. No complains.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore the expression “minimum safe manning” is used in IMO resolution A.890(21), but I guess that in reality it turns out to be only “minimum manning”.
Although my seagoing career has been very short (only 3 and half years but my true intention is to continue it some day not in very far future), I have got quite a certain impression that paperwork is all that matters and nobody really cares what is really happening onboard.
Most of the time (almost 3 years) I was 2nd officer on a ro-ro vessel trading between Estonia-Finland-Germany. I cannot complain about lack of deck officers because as the vessel went onto scheduled voyages between Muuga and Helsinki, 3rd mate was added to the crew list. Only the distribution of duties and responsibilities was unfair. But as everybody (i.e. persons who had the power to make a difference) considered that rank to be only temporarily added, the duties of 2nd mate remained mostly unchanged. At he time I left the vessel, 3rd mate was responsible for the navigational equipment on bridge and for the documents needed to enter / to leave the port. The appropriate list for 2nd mate consisted of the following:
1)responsible for all life-saving appliances;
2)responsible for fire fighting equipment (the fixed fire extinguishing systems excluded);
3)responsible for the ship’s medical supplies;
5)navigational publications (nav charts excluded, this was also 3rd mate’s job);
6)2nd mate was the head of the catering department;
7)SSO (making SSA - those were terrible times).
Everything you did had to be documented because it was the one and only proof that you “really” had done it. The amount of papers to be made and filed increased with each year, so we made already a joke that it will affect the ship’s stability. In addition to all kind of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly etc. checks (check-lists to be filled on paper and most of them also electronically) at regular intervals or at certain cases, there was one a bit strange requirement made by the Company - to calculate in the end of each quarter how much did the crew save electric power (I proposed to master to make a note under this section that the vessel is underway without navigational lights to save some power, but master thought the Company would not understand the joke) and paper sheets and there were some items more which I cannot recall.
One of the main reasons I quit was the fact that new duties were put on 2nd mate and the reason was said that the 3rd mate is usually just graduated from the academy and chief is busy with cargo. The salary (consisted of so-called main and additional part) remained also the same as the present and future-to-be responsibilities were already included in additional part of the salary. All the work required had to be done during the official working hours (a few compulsory overtime hours included for which the crewmember had already been paid for under the additional part of salary). If you did not manage it was your own problem – it means you are not qualified enough to be working on this position.
I have been yarning a while here but my point is that although there are a lot of mighty resolutions and codes and conventions and other stuff (which all have one common feature – they are ment to enhance maritime safety and security and protection of marine environment) following their requirements is quite impossible in reality until safe manning = economic manning for those who have the power to make difference.

Luis Daniel Vale said...

Thank you for such an interesting comment that summarizes what is happening to the shipping industry nowadays. There are, of course, exceptions, but the vast majority of the operators know perfectly that regulations concerning rest periods are not being enforced onboard and lots of vessels are sailing undermanned.
There have been some discussions about changing the watch hours onboard (in order to provide more continuous rest hours) but the schedules I have seen are not going to solve the problem since there will be someone working too many hours in a row…
The solution to this problem is, as most of solutions are, the simplest: PUT MORE PEOPLE ONBOARD!