Tag: Merchant Marine

Continual Improvement at MITAGS – PMI

MITAGS (Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies) and PMI (Pacific Maritime Institute) bill themselves as The Leaders in Maritime Professional Training, Marine Pilot Licensing, Ship Simulation and Operational Research.”  Since the founding of MITAGS over 40 years ago, the curriculums have been continually improved to arrive where they are today – offering a full range of programs catering to all sectors of the maritime industry.  Whether it is the AB to Mate program, an evaluation of a company employee’s navigational proficiency or one of their many individual courses, MITAGS and PMI have continually improved the offered courses.

The Continual Improvement going on at MITAGS and PMI now, though, refers to a new series of workshops being offered.  These workshops, from one to two days in length, cover subjects such as Risk Based Internal Auditing, Successful Safety Management or Management of Change.  While geared more towards shoreside personnel, these courses provide senior shipboard management (i.e. chief mates and masters) additional tools with which to do their jobs.  In addition, the inclusion of both shipboard and shoreside personnel offer differing perspectives as well as valuable networking opportunities.

QSE Solutions provides the instructors and curriculums for the workshops.  With over 25 years of experience in the industry managing risk, ensuring regulatory compliance and continually improving operations through People, Processes and Performance solutions, they provides a robust base for discussion across a wide spectrum of the maritime industry.  With safety processes and management systems coming in ever sharper focus by individual companies and organizations, education such as this promotes understanding.

So, what have you done today in terms of your continuing education?


The Armed Security Response to Piracy…..and Some of the Hassles

MV Ocean Atlas, a U.S. flagged cargo ship fell afoul of Venezuelan authorities during a recent port call in Maracaibo.  Although the situation has been resolved, with Ocean Atlas said to have sailed on Friday, September 14th, this incident highlights a growing issue in the maritime industry.  Aside from the alarming trend of criminalizing merchant mariners, whether for pollution incidents or other serious marine incidents, there are many countries threatening criminal and civil penalties for carrying weapons on board merchant vessels for self-defense.

Somali piracy off the Horn of Africa has been at least temporarily suppressed, largely through the use of armed security teams.  Piracy off the West coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea off Nigeria, Togo and Benin is skyrocketing.  It is highly likely that Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC – an IMO designation) will find increasing employment off the West coast of Africa as well.

Armed security teams means that arms (weapons) will have to be on-board the ships.  But, how to get them there?  

Due to the difficulty of transporting weapons and gear through foreign countries en-route to a vessel, many shipping companies have found it easier to load weapons and ammunition in their home countries.  This eliminates the issues arising from transporting weapons through airports or shipping them to a ship’s agent in a foreign port.  When the vessel approaches the High Risk area, the Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP – another IMO designation) fly out, join the vessel and break out the weapons stored onboard.  Unfortunately, this tactic of having weapons on-board the vessel at all times, regardless of where the ship is operating, brings about exactly the situation in which Ocean Atlas‘s crew found themselves.

Another option that has gained some traction is the use of floating armories.  In this case, a vessel such as a converted oilfield supply boat, is stationed in the Red Sea, Straits of Hormuz or South of Mozambique to board provide passing vessels with security teams their weapons.  This eliminates the issues involved with merchant vessels arriving in port with weapons onboard.  It does however, create the necessity for an open ocean transfer of weapons and/or personnel.  Such a transfer is not always the easiest – whether due to sea conditions or time of day.

The following video is courtesy of ABC News and provides some good insight into the world of armed security onboard merchant vessels :

There are many countries that have implemented regulations and/or procedures for dealing with weapons entering their ports.  The following are some of the ones that have come up recently :

Egypt : Currently illegal to have weapons on-board while transiting coastal waters or Suez Canal.  In order to transit Suez Canal, the offload of weapons and land transport to the other end of the canal is required.

India : Weapons and ammunition must be secured in a locked weapon safe when entering Indian territorial (12nm offshore) waters.  Vessels transiting the Indian EEZ (200 nm offshore) and carrying armed security must make reports to Indian Coast Guard and Navy.  In either case, a complete declaration of security personnel and weapons must be made within 96 hours of entering Indian EEZ.

Yemen : Substantial “fee” normally paid by shipping agent to Yemeni Coast Guard.

Kenya : Weapons required to be removed from vessel and stored in armory ashore during port stay.

South Africa : 96 hours (4 days) notice required.  Numerous ship masters have been detained and charged under the Fire Arms Control Act.  Previously, 21 days notice had been required prior to arrival when carrying weapons for self-defense.

Venezuela : As per U.S. Coast Guard, “Vessels planning to enter Venezuelan ports and carrying security weapons, are advised to ensure proper registration and confirmation from the appropriate Venezuelan Customs authorities prior to entry, and to heed any concerns regarding their carriage by country agents.

Further encouragement is given to reconsider the need to carry weapons on your vessel during port calls in this country. This equally applies in other ports. There are still grey areas and ports may have rules that do not match with the country rules.

In all cases, weapons and ammunition must be declared to customs officials.  Not doing so will leave the imprudent master w-i-d-e open to criminal charges and penalties.  Contacting the company’s agent well in advance of arrival in a foreign port for advice is highly recommended.  This will allow time to make entry declarations and notices in a timely manner.

As piracy is growing off the West coast of Africa and the underlying cause of Somali piracy has not been addressed, the need for on-board security personnel and in particular, armed personnel, does not appear to be going away anytime soon.  Proper education in regulations and security procedures is essential for any deck officer sailing in High Risk waters.  If formal training is not available to you, there are ample online sources including  IMO, UKMTO, SAMI, IAMSP, ASIS, ICS/ISF and BIMCO to name just a few.  Regulations, procedures and security risks change on a daily basis – just because something worked or was acceptable on the last voyage doesn’t mean it is now.

Safety Management System (SMS) – A Fatigue Factor?

When asked about the Manila Amendments, a captain recently quipped, “What?  There’s new regulations for folders?!” 

The Manila Amendments refer to new wide-ranging changes to the IMO (International Maritime Organization) Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).  STCW is a comprehensive set of international regulations that attempt to ensure that all merchant mariners are held to a common standard – regardless of their country of origin or license.  These changes were agreed upon by governments in Manila in 2010 and will begin to be applied from January 01, 2012.  One of the more significant changes in the short-term are the new minimum STCW rest hour rules.

There are two changes to the STCW rest hour rules that will cause the greatest consternation on vessels.  One, the minimum amount of rest in any 7 day period has been increased from 70 hours to 77 hours.  Two, seafarers must always have 10 hours rest in any 24 hour period, with no exceptions, except during an emergency.  Previously, there was an exception that the hours of rest could be reduced to “not less than 6 consecutive hours” as long as the reduction did not extend beyond 2 days.  This allowed flexibility in the event operations were hectic – as they frequently are in port working cargo.  Now, there is an hour less of work allowed per day and less flexibility.

All the STCW work hour rules are designed to reduce fatigue and the accidents that result from tired mariners.  Unfortunately, the STCW hours are in juxtaposition to yet another IMO mandated code – the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.  Unlike the STCW work hour rules, the ISM Code virtually guarantees a heavier workload – paperwork that is.

The ISM Code mandates that each company that operates a vessel maintain a Safety Management System (SMS).  The SMS will contain procedures on all aspects of how a vessel is to be operated.  Everything from emergency procedures to the proper paint to be used might be included in a vessel’s SMS.  These procedures are invaluable to a merchant mariner first joining a company or vessel, as it provides a ready source of information that can be accessed easily. 

As procedures are updated and refined, changes will be made to the vessel SMS.  Frequently, these changes are driven by the needs of the vessel crew.  Other times, changes may be made at the behest of shore side personnel in order to better track performance or prevent safety issues on a fleet wide basis.  In time, the SMS may become saturated with reports and inspections at the request of shore side personnel searching for that critical data point.

While the intent of added inspections and reporting may be good – for example, there may have been many accidents or near misses due to corroded handrails.  As a result, a company-wide program may be implemented for the monthly inspection and tracking of handrail condition.  While the man-hours required for such an inspection – say it is 1-2 hours per month – would not appear to be excessive and the decrease in handrail near misses/incidents desirable, the cumulative effect of many mandated inspections in addition to the normal workload may cause senior officers to become fatigued.

The solution to this issue might be two-fold – incorporating adjustments and management decisions both by shoreside and vessel personnel.  Shore side personnel must understand that it is very easy to create substantial labor onboard the vessel through an innocuous email or inspection.  In this high-speed world of email, it is critical that requests for information from a vessel be well thought through before hitting the “send” button. 

On the vessel side, senior officers frequently bear the brunt of inspections and information gathering, as they are normally more familiar with the vessel and operations.  With the limited labor pool (13 hours per day) allowed under the Manila Amendments, it will become increasingly necessary to spread the wealth and knowledge by incorporating junior officers into some of these processes.  While initially more labor intense due to the need to train the junior officers in the inspection process, in the long run you will have a labor pool more job-agile and less likely to fatigue.

The SMS is there to help companies and crews to manage their vessels more safely.  Let’s make sure that it stays true to its origins and doesn’t evolve into a paperwork monster.