Safety management systems (SMS) and towage procedures should be clear, concise and easy to follow for tugboat seafarers to improve safety and reduce risk. The British Tugowners Association (BTA) highlighted the importance of having readable guidance for crews to lower the risk of seafarer injuries and tugboat incidents.
BTA chairman Nick Dorman said safety has improved in the towage industry, but there is no room for complacency and poor equipment use.
“Safety towage practices need to be understood at every level, by pilots, port authorities, owners, managers, regulators and ship operators,” he said at the BTA's annual safety seminar in London last week. “There have been examples of seafarers being injured.
“There needs to be a balance between safety and commercial requirements with all stakeholders understanding the challenges,” said Mr Dorman.
“The way ahead is to have simple SMS, risk assessments and procedures that are not too detailed”
He highlighted the need for more practical onboard SMS and for further guidance for tug crews on safe operations. “The way ahead is to have simple SMS, risk assessments and procedures that are not too detailed and are practical,” Mr Dorman explained.
During the seminar, Shipowners P&I loss prevention manager Carri Woodburn said inadequate procedures and guidelines were a contributing factor in multiple tug-related incidents.
She gave an example of a tug accident that occurred partially because seafarers had not read the SMS or updated onboard charts. “On the outskirts of an oilfield, the tug hit a charted obstruction and caused US$1.75M of damage,” said Ms Woodburn.
“The tug’s SMS had so many checklists that it was not viewed by the crew and charts had not been updated for two years,” she explained. There had been no risk assessment, no towage plans or operations procedures.
Ms Woodburn said the lessons learnt from this accident should be “to ensure the SMS and checklists are viewed by crew, are easy to read and charts are updated”. Other lessons from this and other accidents include ensuring that toolbox talks and risk assessments are conducted and crew receive regular skill assessments and retraining if necessary.
UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) chief inspector Andrew Moll set challenges for the towage sector to improve safety throughout 2019. This included insisting that tug operators understand the towage project requirements and for improvements in communications.
Mr Moll said tug masters should understand what is needed if projects change and there should be contingency plans. “They should insist that pilots fully explain plans to ship and tug masters,” he said.
Mr Moll also challenged the towage sector to ensure crewing levels on tugs remain at practical levels for the work they are expected to conduct.
UK Maritime Pilots’ Association secretary general Don Cockrill explained the risks of crew fatigue and the ease with which their awareness can be degraded. He explained that more automation on ships, such as using advanced autopilots and pre-planned routeing systems, means “seafarers can lose track of what is happening in the real world”.
Capt Cockrill explained that seafarer’s night vision can be affected by bright screens of bridge electronics as it takes time for the eye to adjust between the bright screens and the darkness outside the bridge window leading to visual fatigue during a long watch period. One solution Capt Cockrill suggested was to introduce a red-light environment on the bridge to reduce eye fatigue.