The Obvious Art Of The Goldfish

If maritime news is the art of stating the obvious then the recent statement by DNV Maritime’s principal safety consultant Dr. Torkel Soma about the worsening situation regarding navigational accidents was big news. Certainly it came as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads the News and Mail section of Maritime Accident Casebook, or to anyone with a memory longer than the attention span of a goldfish.

It is particulary ironic following last year’s statements by the president of the International Association Of Classification Societies suggesting that safety was pretty much under control and class societies would have to re-invent themselves for more politically correct challenges like pollution control. Prehaps class societies might re-invent themselves with more of an eye on safety.

Anyone familiar with detailed accident reports will be struck by the number of occasions in which equipment approved or accepted by a classification society has turned out to be inadequate and not fit for purpose. Rarely has a classification society been found liable for not doing its job.

Lately, MAC has received reports of class surveyors being subject to threat and intimidation, in particular in shipyards in the far east which are doing well in the newbuild boom.

Of course, class societies are paid by shipowners for approval, a hare and hounds situation that, we are assured, leads to no impropriety yet still generates a feel of instinctive discomfort.

Dr. Soma does not discuss the role of class societies in safety, he puts the blame on the shortage of officers, faster promotions, lack of experience, increasing technical complexity, increased workload and commercial pressure. It’s a shortage the industry has known about for decades, the results entirely predictable.

What Dr. Soma doesn’t point out is that the industry is doing pretty well, which is why there are all those bright shiny newbuilds coming off the slips looking for crew. What the industry isn’t doing is sending a little of that profit into substantial improvements in training and education in creating a safety culture throughout an organisation. Nor is the industry paying attention to the clear and obvious need for competency assessment and management of crew.

What Dr. Soma’s figures show is the inevitable result of short-term thinking and an industry which declines to invest in the future, invests little in safety less someone holds its feet over the fire and consistently looks for a quick fix instead of a coherent and stable long term strategy.

Dr. Soma says that safety culture is “something which the maritime industry evidentially needs to focus more on” and he’s right. Class societies are an integral part of that industry and we’re looking forward to hearing Dr. Soma’s recommendations as to what those societies should be doing to play their role in creating and enforcing safety regimes among those who pay their wages.

After all, if class societies aren’t partof the solution, they’re part of the problem.

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