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Seamanship : Alive and Well or Dead and Gone?

What contributes more to safety?  Seamanship and common sense or the regulations and management systems that we currently use?  Captain Charis Kanellopoulos argues that seamanship onboard modern merchant vessels is almost extinct, leading to an increase in incidents across the industry.  You can read his op/ed at :

Seamanship : the Forgotten Factor

There is certainly some truth in what he says.  Does the additional administrative workload onboard contribute to fatigue?   Absolutely.  Unfortunately, the majority of regulations have been brought about by disasters or incidents where seaman have NOT used common sense and good seamanship.  Regulations are written for the lowest common denominator – the person that is not applying common sense and is prone to contributing to or causing incidents.  Is that fair to those who feel they are not that lowest common denominator?  Possibly not.  Then again, should they also feel relieved that there is some safety net that will catch an unsafe act before it becomes an incident?

So, I ask again.  What contributes more to safety?  Seamanship and common sense or the regulations and management systems that we currently use?  Perhaps, it’s a combination of all these factors…….

Lac-Megantic Derailment : Lessons Learned

The adage that you can learn something from everyone has been around for a long time.  The fact of the matter is that what you learn isn’t always what you want to do – it might be something you definitely don’t want to do.  The recent release by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada of the Lac Megantic, Quebec crude oil train derailment investigation report is most certainly the latter.

Living and working in the maritime world, many of the practices and procedures highlighted in the report are disconcerting to say the least.  Leaving a train loaded with close to 70,000 barrels of crude unattended with a locomotive running?  Can anyone imagine the outcry if you tied up a tug with a 70,000 barrel barge, left the engine running and caught a cab to a hotel for the night?  Creating a safety management system for a company in 2003 that has not physically been seen, let alone read and understood, by many employees in 2010?  Having a safety management system that requires annual internal audits that has not been audited in eleven years?

“The Company should carry out internal safety audits on board and ashore at intervals not exceeding twelve months…..” – ISM Code 12.1

Granted, mention the word “audit” and many, if not most, mariners will shudder and wonder when their relief will be onboard.  But, they are familiar with the concept, if not entirely embracing of the process.  There appears to be a world of difference between the ISM(International Safety Management) Code that was implemented in 1998 and the Safety Management Systems that became mandatory for rail carriers in Canada in 2003.  Whereas the system of internal and external checks and balances (audits) are firmly in place in the maritime world, the same cannot be said, using the Lac Megantic disaster as a snapshot, of the rail industry.

There are many similarities between the rail and maritime industries – spills, disasters and the carriage of goods aside.  One that stands out most prominently is the scaling back of crews.  In the case of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the crew on MMA-002 which derailed in Lac Megantic had been reduced to one.

One person to be in charge of five locomotives pulling seventy other train cars.  One person to set the hand brakes required to hold the train on a downhill grade.  One person with no one to watch his back……or check his work.

Within a very short period of time, both Canadian and U.S. authorities required trains transporting dangerous goods – in particular crude oil – to have at least two crew.  This recognition that crews had been reduced too far, contributing to a major disaster should be an eye opener.  The question is, will we see such a breaking point in the maritime industry?  What about the tugs with a crew of five moving 100,000+ barrel barges of crude?  Unfortunately, many safety regulations are “written in blood,” referring to the disasters that brought them about.

Could the maritime industry learn from the rail industry without having its own Lac Megantic?

The SOLAS(Safety Of Life At Sea) convention was brought about by the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew on the Titanic.  Carriage of immersion/survival suits was required after the loss of the Marine Electric.  With close to 80% of losses in the maritime industry attributed to the human element, can changes in safe manning be far off?

Fatigue is another common denominator between the rail and maritime industries.  While Transport Canada requires Fatigue Management Plans, the international maritime industry has the STCW(Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Code and rest hour regulations.   A looming question with regard to the rail industry in light of the lack of audits required by regulation might be, “Is the same lax oversight being applied to fatigue management?”  If so, there may be future incidents.  On the maritime side, increased emphasis on STCW rest hour implementation by PSC(Port State Control) inspectors is right around the corner.

Recent reports by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have publicized the fact that crewmember fatigue is increasingly being recognized as a major factor in maritime accidents… – American Bureau of Shipping, 2002.

The Lac Megantic disaster is certainly an example of an SMS being viewed as a “system of documents” instead of a “documented system of safety management.”  While the recriminations abound, there are some very serious lessons to be learned – both in the rail industry and outside it.

Radar – 10 Key Aspects….and more


There’s a new edition of “The Navigator” out and it’s all about radar.  Published by the Nautical Institute, the June issue addresses many of the aspects of radar use by the ship’s navigator.  Whether it is navigation or collision avoidance, radar plays a critical role on the bridge.  But, did you know that the performance criteria for marine radar hasn’t changed much since the 1940s?  Learn why and more – like 10 Key Aspects of using it – in this issue.  Don’t forget, Madden Maritime updates their links to digital magazines frequently.  Find all your favorite periodicals in one place!

Also from the Nautical Institute are the Alert! bulletins.  Addressing the many factors that play into the human element in the maritime industry, these bulletins have been published for over a decade.  If you haven’t read them, your eyes might be opened by the depth of information available.  The latest from May is available.  Titled “A design flaw that lead to a tragedy….“, issue 35 addresses some of the ship design elements that can create unforeseen hazards.  If you haven’t read these bulletins (or watched the videos accompanying many) or just want to review some of the older ones, they are all available HERE on Madden Maritime’s site.

Let’s be careful out there.

World Maritime Day – June 25th

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is celebrating the 4th annual Day of the Seafarer on June 25th.  Join in the theme of “Seafarer’s brought me…..” by posting your answer to the virtual wall at #thankyouseafarers or HERE on the IMO website.  With 90% of EVERYTHING being moved on ships, it shouldn’t be hard to find something within arm’s reach that has traveled that way to you.

Christine Klimkowski, ship’s officer and maritime educator, took the stage in Seattle last November to spread the word about the maritime industry.  Watch the video below and ask yourself how YOU can promote our industry in your community.