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Safety lessons learned

Susan Parker

David Dingle, chief executive of Carnival UK

In May, the first IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting was held since the Concordia accident. While the evidence is still far from complete even today, some clear positive consequences emerged from that meeting, says David Dingle, chief executive Carnival UK and spokesperson for the Passenger Shipping Association and European Cruise Council.

“The IMO and particularly the MSC recognised that the cruise industry is doing a good job in establishing clear policies which, whilst generally comprising existing best practices, are being established as industry-wide, to which all cruise lines are adhering and which frequently go beyond SOLAS regulations.” On the basis that the inquiry will have been completed and the industry will have developed its own protocols by the next MSC meeting, this could be “a key moment in the drafting of additional policies”, in Dingle’s view.

What did come out of the May meeting was that the MSC is very satisfied that early progress is being made. “The industry is taking this very, very seriously, which allows the MSC more time to do the job properly.”

Policies already set in place this year relate to emergency muster drills prior to leaving port (February), transparency of marine casualty data (March), passage planning, personnel access to the bridge, lifejackets (April) and nationality of passengers and common elements of musters and emergency instructions (June). In April, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced it had appointed a panel of maritime and safety experts to provide impartial assessment of the recommendations developed by the cruise industry operational safety review

Another topic that has come under the spotlight is that of electronic charts, given the circumstances surrounding Costa Concordia hitting the rocks. “There is an opportunity to tighten policy round the use of electronic charts,” says Dingle. “It is not only their validity but how they are used. Depending on which resolution you use they can either be incredibly meaningful in their degree of accuracy or, if you zoom out too far, they can miss important details. We need to ensure that they are always being used correctly and that the practice around their use is as tight as it should be.”

One technological innovation that Carnival has not adopted is e-mustering, which now takes place on a relatively small number of vessels including Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas. “There are areas where clearly the greater use of technology can assist but whatever system you use you have to have processes around it,” cautions Dingle. “There will always be a human element.” Using various combinations of technology and personnel could be the answer. What matters, in his view, is that whatever system is used is robust. “I would think that there are probably opportunities on some cruise ships to tighten up and give greater certainty that you do have everybody at the right muster stations.”

Crew training is certainly being reviewed on Carnival’s ships, notes Dingle. “There are a host of things that have to be done in safety routines that can include failsafes as well as everybody being checked off into the muster station. We have staff making sure people are not in their cabins or elsewhere. There are a number of duties that go into ensuring people are correctly mustered. It means making sure the crew are properly trained and understand their own particular roles and responsibilities.”

For some those responsibilities will include assisting in evacuating the ship. Dingle comments: “Whether evacuation will be embedded in regulations or whether it is about ensuring existing regulations are properly pursued, there may be enhancements in the frequency of drills and what should go into them.”

One area that is sure to be under the spotlight is the communications between the bridge and the office. Dingle comments: “The effectiveness of the communications channel is absolutely something that needs to come under scrutiny. There are a number of ways for onshore management to understand more clearly what is happening on the ship. You have to be extremely careful, though, that you do not override the authority of the master or the management of the ship because they are the people who should know more about what is happening than anyone else.”

Bridge resource management is really at the core of all of this, argues Dingle. “The effectiveness of the bridge team as a whole is critical to ensuring safety so that everyone has a clear view of their role and responsibility – what they do, how they communicate and how they are empowered to challenge in a blame-free environment.”

Every Carnival brand now sends its bridge officers to the CSmart training centre in The Netherlands to learn the new protocols. Dingle acknowledges that not all of them will find it easy to change their patterns. “Some will find it more difficult than others but everyone knows they will have to adapt. In that situation there is almost a bit of peer pressure. It is not about one person, it is about a team.”

Dingle admits that the industry has “always been a bit reticent in talking about safety because it has no absolute. You cannot have perfect safety because it is a constant journey.” He is encouraged by the fact that the industry now sees a need to talk about safety and give assurances to passengers and would-be passengers.

Casualty and crime reporting has come under some fire recently because the only statistics available to date have been compiled from a number of sources in no particular format and with varying degrees of accuracy. This is all now changing due to the above initiative. Dingle remarks: “It is a must that the industry centralises its data and has a common reporting standard, otherwise you get wild statistics that have no firm footing.”

As these crucial lessons are absorbed by the industry, Dingle concludes by pointing out that the cruise industry has been historically dedicated to safety. “Even counting Concordia into the statistics, the overall track record is probably the best in the passenger transport industry.” Carnival can be expected to continue highlighting that fact as it emerges from one of the toughest periods in its history.

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