Fight Fatigue

By Matthew Bonvento
Fatigue is a well known factor as a cause numerous maritime and non-maritime accidents worldwide. In fact driving while fatigued is considered just as bad as driving while under the influence. The requirements under the new Manilla amendments call for vessels and seafarers to log their work or rest hours to meet the standards set out under STCW 2010 or the MLC 2006. Anyone who has ever gone to sea however can tell you that these measures, although a step in the right direction do not necessarily mitigate fatigue anywhere near as well as the IMO and ILO lawmakers expect.
This is especially true when we consider navigation accidents. The 1972 Collision Regulations cover many situations in regards to navigation, but the rules do not cover the state of the watch stander.
In fact Rule number 5 of the 1972 Collision regulations state “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”
One thing that I enjoy as a mariner is looking through older handbooks and textbooks. Recently I was going through the 1943 edition of the Merchant Marine Officer’s Handbook and what struck me as interesting is the fact that within the first few pages both the Carpenter and the Purser are mentioned. These positions, both of which no longer carried on board, is just proof to the point that we are decreasing crew sizes to the point where certain ship board positions no longer even exist in the industry. 
As an industry we are bound by IMO Resolution A1047(27) which lists the factors to be taken in to account when determining what the minimum safe manning of a vessel should be. These factors include the safety of the vessel while underway, at anchor, or in port during navigation and cargo operations. This resolution, too lengthy to be included in this article is the cornerstone of Minimum Safe Manning. 
So, why do we still see incidents and accidents relating to fatigue when there should be enough people to run the vessel, while others rest for their duties later on? What many vessel owners use as an argument for reduced manning is the increased automation onboard. 
But this does not take in to account that much of this automation requires maintenance. One great example is the request by a ship owner to reduce manning down to One (1) Chief Engineer on board a vessel when the Engine room is fully manned. No oilers, wipers, QMED’s. Just the Chief. What is that Chief Engineer to do when the automation for the Engine Room ceases to work while the vessel is underway?
It is very common item to see on Port state Control forms that either the crew is not getting enough rest as per the rules set out by either the MLC 2006 or STCW 2010, or you will see that the Work/Rest Hours log book has not been properly maintained. A good sign of an overworked and tired crew. Unfortunately there is not a universal interpretation or formula that can be used to determine what the minimum crew size should be.
What we are tending to see in the industry in terms of over reliance on automation Is that vessel owners are placing extraordinary burdens on the ship’s officer. An excerpt from the 1974 SOLAS, Chapter IV requiring the carriage of at least one Radio Officer on board a Cargo vessel. That burden now falls upon the shoulders of our Navigation Officers. Where there was a designated person whose sole responsibility was to handle the incoming and outgoing communications, we now have a few officers who handle that as only a small part of their duties.
Pursers were also a common sight on board ships. Tasked with handling crew documents and pay as well as ordering, this job is now the burden of an already over worked Master. One common theme asked after the accident is, “Where was the Captain”? Post Exxon Valdez many are swift to judge that the Master was in their stateroom, feet up, drinking a cocktail. The answer however is much more mundane than that. Most commonly the Master lays below as soon as possible to complete paperwork that piles up. However they are expected to watch the radar and ECDIS relays in their stateroom and listen in on radio communications to ensure that the mate on watch is doing their job. When are they supposed to actually get work done and still be available to assist the bridge watch in times of doubt? What can be done to prevent these near misses and accidents related to fatigue?
  1. Consider returning to a four mate ship. Let the Chief Officer be tasked solely with maintenance and cargo. Do not burden them with having to stand watch. But do not do so by demanding that the other mates stand six and six watches for days straight. By doing this some of the burdensome paperwork can be relieved from the Master.
  2. Night Mates allow the bridge officers to rest while in port. I have had night mates on liner run ships that would call every few days or so in to Tacoma. The night mate would come on so that the mates could rest and the Captain knew that the people on deck were familiar and experienced with the vessel. 
  3. Riding crews and working gangs. Relieve the engineering department of some of the over abundance of work dedicated to special projects, especially on an aging ship with greater maintenance requirements.
  4. Bring back the Purses and Radio Operator (Now called the ETO). Let them assist the Captain in handling message traffic, taking care of crew paperwork, etc.
Although many will argue that the new age of automation is great for shipping there is a counter argument. As automation increases on ships and crews decrease in size there will be a transition period at which the crew will become severely over worked and over fatigued until automation can completely take over and some operator in a control center ashore takes care of the operation of the vessel, while the crews are forced in to retirement. Until that time comes however fatigue will be an increasing concern for operators and ship Master’s.
The Author
Matthew Bonvento is the Senior Manager for Safety, Security, Regulatory, and Quality Compliance for Vanuatu Maritime Services Ltd. Additionally Mr. Bonvento is a licensing instructor in Long Island. Holding a Masters in International Transportation Management, and an Unlimited Chief Officers License as well as a 1600 ton Master license, Matthew has dedicated himself to the advancement of safety and environmental awareness in the Maritime Industry.
(As published in the July 2017 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)
Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 18,  Jul 2017

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First published in 1881 Maritime Reporter is the world's largest audited circulation publication serving the global maritime industry.