Although the maritime world is becoming safer, there are still multiple ship groundings and collisions every month, many due to poor navigation and communications. There were fewer salvage operations (216) in 2019 by members of the International Salvage Union than the 234 services in 2018, but that was still too many.
Lapses in navigation safety can put seafarers and passengers at risk of accidents, and risk asset damage and environmental disasters. It seems smart and safe navigation has not propagated throughout the maritime sector yet.
One of the latest examples of poor navigation led to a Capesize bulk carrier crashing into a reef on an Indian Ocean island at the end of July. Panama-flagged, 203,000-dwt bulk carrier Wakashio struck the rocky shore of Mauritius on 25 July despite warning calls from the local coast guard.
This 2007-built ship, operated by Nagashiki Shipping, was travelling at 11 knots under ballast from China to Brazil when it crashed into the island. It had 3,800 tonnes of fuel on board when it struck a reef close to the tourist destination of Blue Bay Marine Park.
Local reports said the Mauritius coast guard made several attempts to contact the ship’s master. When they finally got through, they warned the captain Wakashio was about to crash into the reef, but the master insisted his ship was on a safe voyage plan. We can conclude from this either the voyage plan was incorrectly set; not being followed correctly; the master had misunderstood something; or was not using radar or looking out of the window. This was not smart navigation.
To improve navigation safety, the whole industry needs to collaborate to ensure bridge technology is thoroughly tested and correctly installed, commissioned and set up. The alarms and alerts on ECDIS need to be set accurately, then voyage plans should be treble-checked and precisely implemented.
We need to improve communications between ships and shore authorities, and if warnings are sent, captains must heed them and react accordingly, slow down and double check before dismissing them.
Ships should also follow IMO collision regulations, while watchkeepers need to remain constantly alert. Bridge navigational watch alarms should be kept on and set correctly as too many accident investigations discover this is not the case.
When we get these basics right, shipping needs to adopt technology to optimise navigation to reduce emissions, and fuel and operating costs. This is enabled through advanced weather routeing, developing optimisation algorithms and analysing greater volumes of information.
This is where just-in-time voyage plans and port calls become important. Developing this technology along with implementing sea traffic management (STM) worldwide will bring dividends to shipping companies, port operators, authorities and harbour service providers. It will help IMO reach its long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reduce shipping delays.
Data sharing between ships, vessel traffic services and ports needs to be driven by IMO, implemented by member states and actively adopted by shipping companies. Projects such as STM Balt Safe could be expanded geographically and by ship type to gain the maximum benefits.
Optimising voyages and port calls brings worldwide institutional and commercial benefits. But before that is adopted, shipping needs to improve navigational safety and halt the continuous line of ship crashes, groundings and collision reports through accurate bridge technology implementation. Shipping needs to clean up its act through technology adoption and by navigating smarter.
Optimised ship operations and port activities will be discussed in depth during Riviera Maritime Media’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week, from 7 September. Use this link for more details and to register for these webinars