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Sink or swim: Safety at seas for passenger ships

by Jussi Siltanen, NAPA Safety Solutions

How would your passengers feel if they knew you were only doing the legal minimum to keep them safe at sea? It’s an age-old question about responsibility, and one which should challenge assumptions about the way in which a business is run. Should we expect our ships and crews to exhibit best practice? Good practice? Or only what the law requires?

In shipping, as with any other regulated activity, standards are set which everyone must adhere to. However, complying with these rules can be seen as cost burden that should be minimized. The problem is that, as often is the case in life, things can, and do, go wrong. It’s rarely deliberate, but it happens. Ships get damaged, service is interrupted, and in the worst cases there are human casualties.

The rules

In order to comply with the rules set for stability management, almost all ships are equipped with onboard stability computers. These will not only help load optimization operations, but also offer decision support in case of damage to the vessel. For passenger ships, SOLAS and the guidelines on Safe Return to Port also specify the minimum requirements for the stability computer’s set-up.

Many experienced shipping companies are willing to take extra steps in order to improve their processes, and work to become best in class for onboard and operational safety. For many of them, this is reflected in the stability and flooding safety of ships.

To the legal minimum. And beyond?

Let’s take as an example damage stability and flooding prediction, where the aforementioned regulation sets basic requirements for the stability computer. In an emergency situation, flooding damage calculations can’t be outsourced to slow reacting shore-based services. An immediate solution is required.

NAPA has been working for more than 20 years with cruise shipping companies and has become a leading expert on stability and safety processes in damage situations. Based on this experience and understanding the cruise lines’ requirements, NAPA developed an intuitive solution for onboard real-time flooding prediction and decision support. Nowadays NAPA Emergency Computer is installed on more than 30 new cruise ships, as well as older ships which have been retrofitted with the solution.

Safe, safer, safest

Is it correct to reason that only experienced cruise shipping companies should take stability safety seriously and invest considerable amount of efforts on this? Absolutely not.

In recent years the passenger sector has seen many new entrants. These include expedition cruise ships that are operating in remote and navigationally challenging areas. In these special conditions there have been far fewer voyages from which to learn, and the ship master cannot rely only his or her experience or on best practices. It takes best in class onboard decision support to provide the level of safety that passengers will expect.

Outsourcing safety and settling for onboard solutions that have a minimum set of features and simply complying with regulations is clearly not an option for them, when the lives of thousands and major assets are in question.

Next steps

Shipping companies have come to understand that keeping a ship safe is not solely dependent on the solutions installed onboard when the ship is built. These software solutions can be highly complex, and are not just dumb devices.

Again, let’s take the example of a stability computer. In the case of NAPA Loading Computer and NAPA Emergency Computer, these IT-based solutions gather and process information from various other devices and sensors onboard (sometimes more than 200 separate inputs) in order to provide decision making guidance. It must therefore be ensured that the various parts of the solution work seamlessly and are not outdated. Even high-end IT solutions require regular maintenance to get the expected level of performance.

Developing a culture of sharing best practices in the shipping industry is certainly still needed. Thinking and acting together enables us to go beyond just basic minimum requirements and make safety a common advantage.

I am encouraging all my colleagues in the industry to share your experience and suggestions in order to make best practices available for everyone. If you would like to discuss any of this, come and meet my colleagues Mikko Forss and Esa Henttinen at Seatrade Cruise Global from 8-11 April in Miami, USA – it’ll be an excellent opportunity to share experience and expertise!

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