Decreasing avoidable accidents at sea

A recent study looked at the causes of accidents at sea. And there are simple ways to approach some of the problems.

A recent study by the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) looked at a total of 693 accidents at sea and their causes that happened between 2002 and 2016 in the UK, Australia, the US, New Zealand, Germany and Denmark and came to some interesting findings.

According to the study, some of the most prominent causes of accidents were inadequate risk management as well as technical failures, contributing to a total of 55,7% of all accidents. But some other numbers are also interesting. A significant number of 115 cases, or 16,6% of all accidents that have been looked at, were caused by ineffective use of technology. But why is technology used inefficiently or inappropriately? Often this is caused by a lack of training to realise the full potential of a solution.

But trainings are expensive and time consuming. Does it have to be this way?

Maritime technology and software in particular needs to be changed to reflect today’s world and its need for solutions that are easy to use. A program that requires days, weeks or even months to get acquainted with is not only impractical but more importantly it costs time and money for training that could be used elsewhere.

When I founded my company and developed the first solutions, I always kept the iPhone and its intuitive usability in mind which had a great impact on how we approach every new project. We decided to put some extra time into optimising the user interface of our software as well as creating workflows that intelligently guide the users through their tasks instead of just pushing out solutions that heavily rely on trainings. This is the core value of my company, offering solutions that are easy to use and by that have a very high acceptance by the people that work with them on a daily basis.

This is one of the main reasons why we could not only establish our solution Cloud Fleet Manager in the market, already helping shipping companies to optimise processes for 10 years, but also continue to replace antiquated solutions in well-known shipping companies all around the world – making companies aware of the many benefits that intuitive solutions have to offer, not only in a financial aspect but also regarding the well-being of employees and crews at sea.

This leads to another big factor highlighted in the study: Fatigue of the crew, contributing to 10,2% of all accidents. This may in many cases not be the direct fault of the companies who are responsible for the ship management but should still be addressed. Most times the captain or a higher-ranking officer is responsible for collecting the rest hours of the crew and forwarding them – bearing the risk of manipulation. A simple way to approach this problem is to get the crew on board directly involved in the process. We addressed this issue by making the rest hours module of our crewing solution available for the seafarers on board to enter and access their data on their own. This way increasing the autonomy of the crews and making sure, that the correct rest periods are entered.

Also noteworthy aspects are the inadequate training of people on board as well as ineffective maintenance of the vessels. And even though software itself can’t ensure, that tasks are handled correctly or that people are properly trained, it can be a valuable addition as a tool on board that is easy to use, offers the crew a knowledge base for certain tasks (e.g. by providing safety procedures, collections of manuals or circulars that can be send from the office directly to all vessels, etc.) as well as by implementing reminders to not miss important tasks such as maintenance work.

In conclusion: The way we approach process management, development of solutions and the training of people needs to change to reflect the fast-paced and ever-changing demands of the maritime industry to help lower the number of accidents.

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