08 November 2013

Safety first!

Safety first.
I don't know how many times I've repeated these two words in my mind, like some kind of obsessive mantra, during my Merchant Marine years.
It seems that everything revolves around this sentence on the professional seafaring world, these days. However, a part of me can't help to see this policy as, somehow, hypocritical. Most of these regulations are technology-driven, instead of focused on human resources, like they should, increasingly, be.
With the present strategy, the biggest accomplishment made by IMO is to keep on feeding the gear-driven lobbies proliferating worldwide.
Confronted with the situation, ship owners are forced more and more to upgrade their vessels with some new high-tech stuff year after year.
But that, more often than not, isn't a revolutionary evolution (pardon the pun) in safety of navigation methodology.
Meanwhile, a true revolution still to come, the one focused on the management of human resources aboard is lingering, in slow-motion.
And by that, I don't speak about formation courses slash certification. Those we, seafarers, have already enough. To be at sea, as a professional, we have to collect, presently, a minimum of fifteen to twenty different plastic cards. Does this means that a similar evolution in the safe navigation procedures was accomplished? I don't think so. But they surely look nice on the wallet.
The problem goes deeper than a specific formation (although these are, by no means, less important!) or another credit-card look-a-like endorsement.
It's a question of the minimum safe manning aboard a ship to operate her safely. And these numbers are decreasing year after year, with the adoption of more and more automation systems.
In most areas of shipping (except some specific fields) this policy of crew reduction is already on the red line.
The market discovered long ago that it's profitable to place a single person doing the work of two, particularly if this person can work twice as much. In my opinion (and I think I'm not alone), at sea this is a receipt prone for disaster.
Because nowadays the philosophy is to do more and even more with less and less. And then, at sea, to overcome this, we decorate the cake with a few check-list pages and reports and a handful of assorted safety drills. Just to make all look nicer.
The opposite direction should be the goal of the maritime industry nowadays, in a future reform of the maritime careers. Embraced by seafarers, ship owners and governments alike.
Because the technology, just by itself is not a bullet-proof solution for everything. And the humans crewing ocean-going vessels are not entirely replaceable.
But, and meanwhile we all wait for the tide to change, we might as well remove the lookout from the navigation watch and leave on the bridge just the navigation Officer, with the dead-man alarm switched on.
Just in case the poor guy has a heart attack, when everybody is asleep.
In the picture: watertight door and Security Officer aboard a cruise ship.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1