Headwind Of “Huh?” And Death In Spaces

The Viking Islay incident has sharpened up concern about the continuing number of fatalities in enclosed spaces aboard ships. The Maritime Accident Investigators International Forum, MAIIF, has got the bit between its teeth for a submission to the IMO. Talking to maritime investigators regularly what comes through is a sense of frustration at being called upon to investigate the same sort of incidents, with the same type of fatalities, time and time again. Their job, after all, is to find out the lessons to be learned from such incidents and disseminate those lessons throughout the industry, but not enough people seem to be listening.

What is especially tragic is that all too often seafarers die trying to save others who have got into trouble in enclosed spaces, often officers whose responsibilities include supervision and enforcement of safe entry procedures.

So what on earth is going on?

At the heart of this problem is competency, or competency assurance, a concept that seems to be having a hard time against a headwind of “huh?” from the industry. Competence is the ability to carry out a task safely to a given standard.

Successfully completing a course in, say, enclosed space entry, on board, on shore, online or on a computer doesn’t assure the seafarer’s competency in the workplace. It certainly doesn’t provide any assurance that a seafarer will remain competent in six months or a year’s time. People forget, they acquire bad habits, both of which feature in The Case Of The Silent Assassin. Sometimes they haven’t been adequately trained or simply don’t understand what an enclosed space actually is or where the danger comes from.

If there is to be a solution to the continuing unnecessary deaths of seafarers it must be holistic. It has to start with onboard assessment of seafarer competency to identify the training needs that will keep them alive.

It’s a fairly commonsense approach but one which the industry has yet to accept but until it does seafarers will go on dying in the numbers they do now.

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