UK P&I: “All communications should be short and precise to avoid confusion”
Towage accidents occur due to a loss of control, breakdown in communications, poor working practices or deficient equipment. While most operations are trouble free, accidents can happen if deck crew lack competence in handling messenger and towage lines, says UK P&I Club senior loss prevention executive Captain David Nichol.
“Similarly, deficient port organisation and tug services negatively impact safe operations,” he tells Tug Technology & Business.
Accidents can be fatal to seafarers and lead to considerable losses. It may be unclear who is liable in these accidents, but it is often due to human error and poor communications.
Capt Nichol thinks tug operators, pilots, port authorities and shipowners need to collaborate to reduce accidents through better communications, teamwork and leadership.
“All parties are mutually reliant on each other for successful port towing operations,” he says. “Towage may be enhanced by promoting better understanding between tug and vessel crews on their respective roles and challenges.”
He points to a recent UK P&I Club Lessons Learnt bulletin for examples of mooring accidents that could have been prevented.
This bulletin described how a seafarer at the aft mooring station of a large bulk carrier sustained a serious injury while connecting a tow wire through the centre lead.
In this case, the ship’s messenger line suddenly parted when the tug’s tow line was being hauled on board and snapped back violently, striking the seaman on the head.
“The accident was attributed to a combination of excessive wear on the messenger rope and inadequate manning of the mooring station, consisting of a deck officer, able mariner and fitter,” says Capt Nichol.
“On a Panamax bulk carrier, expecting three crew members to safely manage a critical operation of this nature was surely asking too much.”
In another incident reported to UK P&I, a seafarer on a Capesize bulk carrier was killed after being struck on the neck by a messenger line jumping off the warping drum when attempting to connect a tow.
The accident report cited poor seamanship, teamwork and the inadequate mooring deck arrangement as being contributory factors. “However, it was notable that the mooring team comprised a deck officer, carpenter, welder, oiler and wiper,” says Capt Nichol.
“With three of the team not being dedicated deck crew, it is perhaps not surprising they experienced difficulties in performing an operation of this nature in a safe and efficient manner.”
There is no suggestion these vessels were not in compliance with minimum safe manning certification or that the seafarers involved were not holding requisite flag state STCW [Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping] certification.
“Unfortunately, it is often overlooked that this documentation represents a minimum level of compliance and not necessarily a standard of manning, training and competence good ship managers should aspire to,” says Capt Nichol.
He fears more accidents of this nature will occur in future because the progressive reduction in manning levels coincides with an increase in vessel size, “placing additional demands on vessel and tug crews”.
Mooring decks of large bulk carriers, tankers and container ships cover a huge area, “requiring mooring crew to perform as a well drilled team in circumstances where voice communications and line of sight may be inhibited,” Capt Nichol continues.
“Mooring decks may similarly be unsighted to the tug master and bridge team.”
Capt Nichol believes it is essential for tug masters to communicate effectively with the pilot and ship captain via VHF radio to prevent accidents and potential losses during mooring and towage operations.
“All communications should be short and precise to avoid confusion and include the name of the calling vessel or tug and the station being called,” says Capt Nichol. “Standard maritime communication phrases should be used as appropriate.
“Vessel mooring teams and tug masters are heavily reliant on the captain or pilot issuing clear, unambiguous information and instructions and should correspondingly inform the vessel bridge team of all relevant actions and crucially, where they have any concerns relating to safety,” Capt Nichol continues.
“Ideally, the responsible officer should be positioned to have a good view of both the tugs and his own mooring team.”
When multiple tugboats are involved, good communications over VHF between tug masters are also vital.
“Teamwork is key,” says Capt Nichol. “From the outset, a comprehensive exchange of information must be carried out between captain, pilot and tug masters to include a full appreciation of how the operation is to be performed as well as the characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the vessel and tugs involved.”
If these recommendations are followed, shipowners, tug operators and port authorities can minimise risk to seafarers’ lives, liability and asset losses.
Blockchain will revolutionise maritime insurance
Blockchain could be applied in areas of marine insurance to improve commercial processing, reduce security risks and enable real-time cover implementation.
It is a secure digital process implementing commercial agreements between multiple stakeholders one stage at a time, while keeping all interested parties in the communications loop.
North P&I’s Alvin Forster thinks marine insurers, including those covering tugboats, should consider using blockchain as shipping companies begin to adopt the technology.
“The characteristics of blockchain probably mean it is suitable for high-volume commercial insurance products,” says Mr Forster.
This could benefit marine vessel and cargo insurance by digitalising policies and terms into smart contracts and automating claims processing
“As prominent shipowners and carriers move to blockchain systems, P&I clubs may need to interact with these systems,” says Mr Forster.
P&I clubs should also understand the risks of transacting on blockchain systems and know if there is any increased exposure.
The world’s first blockchain-enabled insurance platform started commercial operations in 2018. EY and Guardtime set up Insurwave while working with software corporation Microsoft, shipping group AP Møller-Maersk and numerous insurance industry leaders, including Willis Towers Watson, XL Catlin and MS Amlin. Insurwave integrates and secures the streams of disparate data sources involved in insuring shipments around the world.
It leverages blockchain and distributed ledger technologies based on Microsoft Azure infrastructure and ACORD data standards.
Insurwave will support more than 500,000 automated ledger transactions and help manage risk for more than 1,000 commercial vessels in the first year. It connects participants in a secure, private network with an accurate, immutable audit trail and services to execute processes.
EY associate partner and Insurwave board director Ian Meadows says there is greater transparency and efficiency in marine insurance through blockchain. “This is disruptive technology, along with internet of things and artificial intelligence, to marine insurance,” he says.
“It is accelerating access to data assets. Our customers are looking at digital and omni channels for automatic risk transfer, efficient claims processes and live access to coverage.
Insurwave aligns industries with financial services for transactional flows of ship and cargo data. “Digital policies are smart contracts with 20-30 parties connected,” says Mr Meadows.
Mr Meadows believes further developing digitalisation in marine insurance will reduce administration and improve transparency. “It will benefit clients as without transparency there will be coverage gaps and shifts in demand the market cannot keep up with,” he says.
“We are already seeing behaviour changing, although it is still incredibly paper driven for audits and business trails.”
Mr Meadows expects more digitalisation applications will be introduced in marine insurance. “With real-time, AIS-enabled transactions and completely frictionless trade,” he says.
Shipowners, operators, insurers and financiers need to be ready for a blockchain future in marine insurance. “We are at a point of flux and perhaps making a wholesale shift into the future,” says Mr Meadows. “It is about being ahead of the curve and having a framework that makes this all work.”