It is arguable that in this industry, not enough “good news” ever penetrates the outside world, with the media only showing its awareness of shipping when there is a casualty. But positives can emerge, even from negative incidents, as demonstrated by the recent 2014 International Maritime Organization Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea.

This annual celebration provides some welcome recognition on the world stage for just some of the devotion to duty, courage and effort that is shown when bad things happen in the often hostile environment of the sea. This year’s top award went to the crew of the Britannia Seaways for their heroic teamwork in tackling a fierce fire off the coast of Norway, when military vehicles on the cardeck caught alight.

Accepting the award, the Master of the DFDS ship, Captain Andreas Kristensen, attributed the success of his crew’s fire-fighting endeavours in extinguishing a raging inferno that could have overwhelmed the ship to regular drills and high training standards. His crew, aided by some military personnel who were aboard and the Norwegian emergency services, “did everything they were trained to do and a bit more”.

This was a brave and well-motivated crew, well led in a time of crisis, but the Master’s emphasis on the importance of drills and training will have resonated throughout the industry. Drills are not always popular, especially when they take place at inconvenient times, but there is no doubt that they do make a substantial difference, in the event that a crew has to react to a real incident.

The shipping industry has come a long way since the days of the “Board of Trade Sports” – the weekly boat and fire drill held at a pre-arranged time with a lot of rather bored crew members standing around wearing lifejackets, connecting up a hose and firing up the emergency fire pump. A well-organised crew will drill extensively for a whole range of emergencies, learning how to use the available resources and equipment, training with the laid-down procedures.

The purpose of drills is to mitigate the consequences of the unexpected, by anticipating it so that if it actually happens, there is a strategy, a team and the knowledge to deal with the emergency.

The latest issue of the Human Element Bulletin Alert! provides useful guidance on this matter, but also suggests that there is much that can be done with technology to learn from incidents without having to experience them. Film, simulation, even gaming technology, can usefully contribute to realistic safety drills, providing the realism without exposing anyone to any danger.

But drills need to anticipate that the worst may conceivably happen at the most inconvenient times, requiring people to assume different roles in the emergency procedures, so that the right skills are spread beyond what might be considered the normal “chain of command”. Aboard the burning Ro/Ro, they put their training into effect admirably, showing the importance of those pesky drills.

Author: The Watchkeeper                       Source: BIMCO