July 30, 2004

U.K. maritime safety report faults STCW manning levels

A Bridge Watchkeeping Safety Study published today by Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch has, says its conclusions, "confirmed that watchkeeper manning levels, fatigue and a master's ability to discharge his duties are major causal factors in collisions and groundings, and poor lookout is a major factor in collisions. Endorsed by the MAIB's experiences during accident investigation, it illustrates that the hours of work and lookout requirements contained in STCW 95, along with the principles of safe manning, are having insufficient impact in their respective areas. Recommendations addressing the causal factors of fatigue, inadequate manning, and poor lookout are therefore considered to be justified."

The study followed an incident on June 29, 2003, in which the general dry cargo ship Jambo ran aground, and subsequently sank, at the entrance to Loch Broom on the west coast of Scotland.

The ship was carrying 3,300 tonnes of zinc concentrate, prompting fears of an environmental disaster,

The sinking was the latest in a series of r"emarkably similar accidents, the common features of which included fatigued officers, one man bridge operation at night, missed course alterations and no watch alarms."

This study was commissioned to establish the principal factors that cause nautical accidents, and to consider whether fatigue is as prevalent and dangerous as indicated by the Jambo and similar accidents.

The study has reviewed in detail the evidence of 65 collisions, near collisions, groundings and contacts that were investigated by the Branch. It has confirmed that minimal manning, consisting of a master and a chief officer as the only two watchkeeping officers on vessels operating around the U.K. coastline, leads to watchkeeper fatigue and the inability of the master to fulfil his duties, which, in turn, frequently lead to accidents. It has also found that standards of lookout in general are poor, and late detection or failure to detect small vessels is a factor in many collisions.

The study concludes that the current provisions of STCW 95 in respect of safe manning, hours of work and lookout are not effective.

Recommendations have been directed at Britain's Marine & Coastguard Agency to take the conclusions of the study forward to the IMO with the aim of reviewing:

1. The guidelines on safe manning, to ensure that all merchant vessels over 500gt have a minimum of a master plus two bridge watchkeeping officers, unless specifically exempted for limited local operations as approved by the Administration.

2. The requirements of STCW 95 to change the emphasis with respect to the provision of a designated lookout to ensure that a lookout is provided on the bridge at all times, unless a positive decision is taken that, in view of daylight and good visibility, low traffic density and the vessel being well clear of navigational dangers, a sole watchkeeper would be able to fulfil the task.

3. The requirements of STCW 95 so that a bridge lookout can be more effectively utilised as an integral part of the bridge team.

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