Bridge teams need automation to manage alerts to reduce the information burden
Without the right alert management, bridge teams can become inundated with information, which can be just as confusing, and dangerous, as having none. Too many alarms and alerts on a bridge can cause accidents if officers are unable to diagnose issues and fix them in time, says DNV GL chief executive Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen.
“Experience from accident and incident reports shows there is a lot of information on the bridge for the crew and multiple alarms in a challenging environment,” he says. “Officers need to know which alarms are important.” They do not want to be in the situation where there are so many, some are ignored.
“These alarms need managing in a better way with better algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) to categorise alarms,” says Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen. Alerts need to be segregated in order of severity. “Recent accidents show there are huge problems with alarm overload,” he continues. “To combat alarm fatigue, we need better alert management.”
Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen says automation technology can improve alarm management and highlight only the most important, while dealing with lesser alerts through automatic diagnostics.
“There is a lot to learn from other industries in maritime’s automation and digital journey,” he says. “Automation technology will be accelerated in maritime and there will be equilibrium between automation and the right number of crew on board,” says Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen.
“Future developments will focus on having higher numbers of sensors on board and equipment installed for extracting sensor data and communicating that” to the bridge and shore facilities.
“There will be higher degrees of automation and connectivity on board to onshore control,” he says, for alarm and alert monitoring and management. There will also be higher levels of autonomous operations, machine learning and AI for diagnosing onboard machinery issues. “These capabilities will be developed as this affects equipment maintenance,” says Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen. “There will be an optimal balance between safety and risk. As more data is logged, anomalies can be identified using computers and algorithms.”
Having the correct alert management is essential for passenger ships as accidents can cause serious issues. Cruise ship operators mitigate these hazards through integrated bridge systems and high-level automation.
Genting Cruise Lines vice president for marine operations and safety Captain Havard Ramsoy says managing bridge information is a vital with these integrated systems.
“These systems must be user friendly, intuitive, secure and reliable,” he says. “It is very important the technology and systems support the user, not increase the workload.”
Genting’s ships have Wärtsilä Platinum integrated bridge systems with a track pilot, ECDIS, radar, conning and alarms management. It also has Eniram services for speed, trim and voyage optimisation, NAPA for stability and electronic logbooks and Navtor’s electronic navigational charts.
“We are using the adaptive track pilot extensively,” says Mr Ramsoy. “This effectively reduces the human element risk in steering by reducing the need for a helmsman.”
Wärtsilä’s integrated bridges provide greater levels or awareness to the bridge team through alarm management. “An important aspect is having mode awareness meaning officers know how to use the equipment and recognise the need for intervention,” says Mr Ramsoy.
“Our officers must know when to switch to more manual modes, such as hand steering, but also have the skills to detect and manage sensor errors,” he explains. “The combination of non-technical and technical skills is very important and will enhance the situation awareness and ensure much safer navigation.”
His officers have extensive familiarisation and teamwork training involving simulators to test their skills for managing alerts during scenarios. “We have our own bridge resource management simulator-training courses which all officers need to pass,” says Mr Ramsoy. “Participating officers need to demonstrate competence in soft skills of communications, decision making, situation awareness and leadership” using the information provided by the integrated bridge systems. “All our officers who have completed the bridge resource management training will recognise the situations when back on board,” says Mr Ramsoy.
“With the inhouse training focused on our own procedures, the retention of the knowledge and skills is more effective.”
Saga’s latest cruise ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, have Kongsberg Maritime’s K-Chief automation and K-Master input/output controllers all linked to the K-Bridge navigation systems for effective alert management.
They have input panels, AP alarm panels, stabiliser controls, MDS computers and multifunctional workstations for alarm display. They also have bridge navigation watch alarm systems with motion detector boxes and sounders to ensure officers retain situational awareness on watch and controls for ship thrusters.
Kongsberg Maritime general manager for propulsion sales Jussi Kuusisto says it is important to incorporate “accurate alarm indications on steering system control panels” for “enhanced safety, fuel efficiency, low-emissions operations and reducing operating expenditure” through improved operations.
Keep BNWAS switched on
Failure to have the right alerts on the bridge can lead to ship collisions and groundings. There are several ship accidents each year because of the poor situational awareness of watchkeepers on the bridge. They can become distracted or suffer from fatigue, so need to be reminded to remain alert through alarms.
Bridge navigation watch alarm systems (BNWAS) need to be switched on to continuously alert watchkeepers and ship masters if there is inactivity on the bridge. This would have helped prevent general cargo ship Priscilla from grounding in Pentland Skerries, in Pentland Firth, Scotland, in July 2018.
In its report into the accident, the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) discovered a single watchkeeper was distracted from his duties by watching music videos on his mobile phone instead of looking at navigation aids. He was not monitoring the ship’s position and progress against planned track and did not recognise a passage plan alteration, which put the vessel on an unsafe route.
MAIB investigators also found the vessel’s BNWAS was switched off, removing an alert mechanism on the bridge, and there were no other alarms in place to warn the officer of the imminent danger. Watchkeepers ashore noticed the vessel was heading into danger and issued verbal alerts.
However, the onboard officer on watch did not respond in time to prevent a heavy grounding. MAIB reiterated in a report the importance of BNWAS as a bridge safeguard for combating boredom and fatigue and ensuring high levels of supervision.
In April 2020, MAIB reported on an accident where BNWAS was defective on a workboat conducting guardship duties close to shore. A watchman in the wheelhouse fell asleep and was woken when the vessel ran aground on a sandbank.
MAIB investigators found the BNWAS was defective at the time of the accident, and there were no other alarms that were effective in waking the watchkeeper before the grounding.
Alarms can provide a safety barrier to help prevent incidents and BNWAS can help to combat this risk.