ECDIS familiarisation is a regulatory requirement and its training should prevent seafarers causing maritime accidents
Familiarisation training is far less costly than causing a maritime accident or having a ship detained in port, which could occur if crew are not provided with the correct training.
With ECDIS now mandatory on an increasing number of merchant ships, it has become even more important to ensure that navigation officers are well trained in their generic knowledge of ECDIS functions and in the type of ECDIS they are utilising on board. It is a key safety and regulatory requirement that seafarers using ECDIS as the ship’s primary means of navigation need to be familiar with its operation and functions.
In the past 10 years, there have been examples where crew unfamiliarity with ECDIS operations was a factor in causing ship groundings, such as when oil and chemical tanker Ovit grounded in the English Channel on 18 September 2013.
There are also numerous cases of ships being detained by port state control because the vessel was not equipped with the right navigation systems or crew were unfamiliar with ECDIS operations. In some cases, ships are detained until ECDIS trainers are flown in to teach the navigators. Having continuous deficiencies in navigation knowledge can also lead to ships being banned from ports.
In June, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) banned cargo ship Thorco Luna for three months after its third detention in Australia in eight months. AMSA said this ship had been inspected five times between November 2017 and June 2018, in which time inspectors found 34 deficiencies.
AMSA said the “most serious deficiencies stemmed from the fact that officers and crew were unfamiliar with the operation of critical shipboard equipment and procedures for navigation”. This included lack of knowledge of the ship’s electronic navigation systems and contravened the obligations under SOLAS chapter XI-1. “This presents an unacceptable risk to the safety of the ship, its crew and the marine environment,” said AMSA’s acting general manager of operations, Stephen Curry.
“This presents an unacceptable risk to the safety of the ship, its crew and the marine environment”
Other port state control authorities have found deficiencies in the knowledge of navigators using ECDIS. According to the various memoranda of understandings for port state control, issues with navigation equipment and crew familiarity is one of the top five deficiencies encountered on ships during 2017.
Therefore, it is in a ship operator’s best interests to ensure officers are familiar with ECDIS functions. However, the method of familiarising crew does not need a mandatory type-specific course.
Generic ECDIS training is a mandatory requirement under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). But this only takes trainees to a set standard of operation. With more than 30 different manufacturers with multiple models of ECDIS, seafarers need additional training to use what they encounter on ships proficiently. This familiarisation training is a requirement under STCW and the International Safety Management Code. And this is what port state control inspectors are requesting during their inspections.
Familiarisation training can be conducted at training academies or using e-learning courses. Safebridge has become a main provider of type-specific ECDIS courses after establishing two initiatives in Q1 2017. It formed an alliance with Seagull Maritime that enables seafarers to access Safebridge’s e-learning courses which cover more than 25 different ECDIS models. Seagull has added these courses to its onboard training systems allowing seafarers to complete them using their own computers.
In the other initiative, Safebridge joined forces with Videotel to offer ECDIS e-learning courses on ships through the onboard Videotel on demand system. These course include theory sections and practical training using the onboard ECDIS and Safebridge’s validation systems.
Outside of the Safebridge collaboration, Seagull provides e-learning courses for key ECDIS manufacturers. Its courses are based on the requirement for type-specific familiarisation and are approved by the ECDIS developers themselves. For example, Seagull has collaborated with Japan Radio Co (JRC) to provide training on the latest models including JAN-7201, JAN-7201S, JAN-9201 and JAN-9201S.
In April this year, Safebridge extended its courses to maritime pilots. This covers both generic topics and type-specific familiarisation to specifically address pilots’ requirements. Courses include an overview of ECDIS carriage requirements, electronic charts, ECDIS navigational functions and shiphandling with ECDIS. It also includes sensor integration, alert management and the latest changes according to the new International Hydrographic Organisation standards.
By the end of the course, maritime pilots should be able to understand the navigational functions of ECDIS and direct the selection of and assess relevant information. This should include understanding the potential errors of displayed data and the common errors of interpretation. Pilots should be familiar with the features common to all ECDIS systems.
Shipmanagement companies are one of the biggest users of ECDIS familiarisation courses as they manage large fleets of commercial ships that are often owned by multiple companies. In March this year, Marine Electronics & Communications discussed ECDIS training with Singapore-based shipmanagement group Thome’s president and chief commercial officer Claes Eek Thorstensen.
He said Thome’s fleet has ECDIS supplied by Furuno Electric, Headway, JRC and Kongsberg. Thome uses Safebridge online tools to conduct ECDIS training as it has programs covering the major brands and models installed on ships within the fleet. He also liked the fact that Safebridge courses could be accessed wherever there is internet connection.
Thome also uses accredited training centres around the world that have simulators with different ECDIS systems to train bridge teams to operate these devices, said Mr Thorstensen. One of the main centres used is Singapore-based Star Centurion, which provides classroom training. Thome also uses Furuno’s and Kongsberg’s own computer-based training courses.
Training simulator investment
Minerva Marine, a leading shipmanagement company based in Athens, Greece, has taken another approach to providing a full programme of seafarer training requirements, including ECDIS. It has established the Athina Maritime Learning and Development Centre in Athens and contracted Kongsberg Digital to supply bridge, engineroom and cargo handling simulators.
Kongsberg will supply a K-Sim Navigation full-mission Class A bridge simulator, which will include ECDIS, radar, conning and other navigation and communications equipment. This simulator uses mathematical and hydrodynamic models that allow vessels, equipment and marine objects to behave and interact as in real life.
Athina Maritime training manager Stelios Volakis said in May that the centre will be capable of delivering courses that enhance the knowledge and skills of seafarers employed by Minerva. He said training will be “similar to the actual onboard operating conditions”.
“Ensuring flawless, efficient and safe operations”
Minerva chief operating officer Sokratis Dimakopoulos said training is important for building the “competence of our seafarers” and “ensuring flawless, efficient and safe operations”.
Assurance of the competence of seafarers is also an important element of preventing port state control finding deficiencies in crew knowledge. Ship operators can use eMaritime Group’s Annual Competency Assurance Training (ACAT) for this.
ACAT contains online training courses and competence assurance tools that managers, operators and seafarers can use remotely. There is also an offline version that can be downloaded for ships without enough internet access to use the online course.
eMaritime said ACAT is used daily by shipping companies for ECDIS training assurance to ensure the competency of all officers with navigational duties on fleets of ships. In February, eMaritime released a new version of ACAT with a new module to ensure officers are up-to-date with the latest ECDIS and ENC standards.