Building Bridges – Seafarers and Shipping Working for Maritime Safety

building bridges in maritime safety

There are many times in the operation of ships that officers’ onboard need to not just communicate with managers ashore, but they need to be have a shared sense of endeavour. How can this be improved?


Rough seas
Perils of the sea

The tragic loss of an ore carrier this month has reminded us, in the most brutal hard way possible, of the perils of the sea. Shipping has improved its safety record massively over the past decades, so to lose a vessel like this harks back to the past and to the many problems which the industry has faced.

In the 1990s, there were so many bulk carriers breaking up and being lost that it was almost an accepted fate. There is of course an inherent danger with going to sea, but thankfully a host of new safety and management improvement, as well as advances in ship design and goal based standards made a difference.

Hopefully the reported breaking up of the Very Large Ore Carrier (VLOC) “Stellar Daisy”, is an isolated incident. Just an unfortunate set of circumstances which seemingly led the vessel to start taking in water.

There are still so many lessons to be learned in shipping, whatever the circumstances of the loss. Not just the tragic technicalities of how a vessel can break apart, or of how so many crew lives can be lost, or of 260,000 tonnes of iron ore plunging to the bottom of the sea. Lessons about communication, risk assessment and of the human angle from loss.


30 years
30 years since the loss of “Herald of Free Enterprise”

Last month saw the 30th anniversary of the loss of the “Herald of Free Enterprise”. A tragedy which saw the deaths of 193 people. Looking back over the decades it is interesting to see the change in shipping, and so too the worryingly familiar.

On the evening of 6th March 1987 the Townsend Thoresen branded RORO passenger and car ferry capsized shortly after sailing.  The ferry left the Belgium port of Zeebrugge bound for Dover, but was consigned to her fate as the bow doors had been tragically left open.

A most tragic string of errors, from sleeping crew to a lack of alarms meant that one mistake could have the most fatal of consequences. The ferry went over with the loss of 193 people, which led to new international regulations and the formation of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

It remains the most fatal peacetime maritime disaster involving a British ship since the sinking of the “Iolaire” in 1919. While there have been undoubted improvements in safety, the loss of any vessel shows there is still much work to be done.


Another maritime disaster has been in the headlines again recently, as the South Korean ferry, “Sewol” has been raised from the sea bed in a mammoth salvage operation. The raising comes just three years after it sank in one of the world’s deadliest shipping disasters.

The “Sewol” sank on 16 April 2014 killing 304 people, almost all school children on a trip. It has been winched to the surface and a platform inserted under it and has now successfully been towed to port.

Maritime disasters may be relatively few and far between, but they still have an incredible power to shape opinion and capture the imagination. Indeed, the loss of the “Sewol” was partly to blame for bringing down the South Korean government. Raising the wreck had been a key demand from families, and so the authorities bowed to pressure to raise the 6,825 tonne vessel, one of the most complex operations ever attempted.

As with both the “Sewol” and “Herald”, lessons were learned, improvements made and efforts have gone into remedying what went wrong. Sadly it seems in shipping we are constantly on the back foot, with safety playing catch up to reality. The industry continues to lock the stable every time the horse bolts.


Making progress

Perhaps though it is time for real change, not just reactive sticking plasters over the broken bones of maritime safety, but with technology to the fore. Indeed, it seems shipping is at a vitally significant juncture. There are answers emerging which can make a difference, and it is to be hoped they do – for seafarers and shipping companies too.

It is hard to avoid the words “blockchain” and “digitisation” in the maritime press these days. There is a growing trend towards the modernisation of shipping, which could just impact safety as much as it revolutionises trade.

It might not be readily apparent as to how such technology can translate into safer lives for seafarers and for safety at sea. It can though, and for one very good reason. With such change will come a spotlight on shipping, there will be transparency like never before, and so there will be nowhere to hide and no way of concealing inadequacies.

The blockchain is about checks and balances, about the cold hard binary truth of what a crew, ship and company are all about. Standards will be upheld because all parts of the chain can clearly see what is going on. It means that due diligence has to be more vigorous, and that nothing will be let slip.

There are signs this could really be the paradigm shift that has been promised so many times before. Finally, we could see change that gets us ahead of the curve instead of always playing catch up and being caught out by disaster and tragedy.


Leaping forward
Leaping forward

The secret to the blockchain is there are no secrets in the blockchain. With data there will be no hiding place, and that should improve safety and operations. With transparency comes scrutiny. The eyes of charterers, lawyers, insurers and society will be on shipping, and any problems, issues or concerns will be there for all to see.

Everyone will see what has gone on and what is going on, and with such powerful data and oversight – then suddenly there can be no shortcuts, no excuses and room to get things wrong.

This new way of conducting business suggests that shipping should will be expected and required to make an operational “quantum leap” in technology adoption over the next 10 years. Today’s new ships are built with ever more automation and Information technology (IT) systems, and that will only increase as we move ahead.

However, this leap needs to be matched by the expertise to use and leverage it. It is clear that shipping needs the right people, skills and systems in place. Cyber security is key, but so too is the ability for shipping to manage risks and for every part of the chain to stand up and face its responsibilities and to all hold each other accountable.

What do you think? Will new technology boost maritime safety and make life at sea safer? Or will we be stuck in the same old cycles or accidents and remedies? We would love to know what you think…

About Rob Parkin 22 Articles
Rob has worked in the maritime communication and content industry for over 18 years, during which he has gained great experience and insight in to this essential and sometimes misunderstood service sector. Coming from a media background, Rob has developed a passion for the welfare and connectivity of those at sea. Rob is very excited about new technologies and media services that are heralding the beginning of a new digital chapter in shipping.