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Bulk Carrier Safety

The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo) gathered recently in New York City to discuss bulk carrier safety. Prominent in discussion were the results of the analysis of bulk carrier and OBO losses for the period of 1990-94. According to Bruce Farthing, consultant director of Intercargo, "Ninety-nine point eight percent of bulk carrier cargoes were delivered safely and without incidence this is a reliable, environmentally- friendly and cost-efficient service." The purpose of the seminar was to address the real issues affecting safety, including structural failure as well as navigational or human failure. As stated by Spyros Polemis, Intercargo chairman, "We are interested in improving safety in a realistic and practical manner. Real results will come not from naming names, but by realistically attacking problems." Published results presented at the seminar indicate that over the five-year period, 33 percent of losses were navigation-related, including collisions and strandings. Plate failure and "taking water" accounted for 28.6 percent of losses. Other reasons contributing to losses were engine room fire and explosions (10.7 percent), disappearances (9.8 percent), other fires and explosions (9.8 percent), engine room flooding (4.5 percent), and engine failure (3.6 percent). In 1994, one ship belonging solely to an Intercargo member was lost, and according to Mr.Farthing, "This is roughly four to five times better than the average and gives credence to our claim that membership of the Association is increasingly synonymous with quality." Speakers at the seminar included Cliff Abraham, president, Upper Lakes Shipping; Frank Iarossi, chairman of the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS); Commander J.M. Holmes, chief of the Compliance and Enforcement Branch of the Office of Marine Safety, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG); and Captain B.F. McKay, Canadian Coast Guard. Mr. Abraham, of Upper Lakes Shipping, presented a view of safety and the market from the outlook of the shipowner. Mr. Abraham viewed increasing safety regulations as a mixed blessing. "Regulation is not necessarily a bad thing. It presents an opportunity to drive out substandard owners and prevent disasters." He contrasted the public's view of safety with the shipowner's approach to safety, explaining that while shipowners tend to regard new safety standards as an overreaction, "The public regards every ship (tankers, bulkers, etc.) as a potential environmental disaster." He emphasized the extended party chain involved in the safety of every ship, and pointed out that, "The customer's needs involve more than fast, cheap transport from A to B." Mr. Abraham encouraged shipowners to emphasize safety and quality, stating "ultimately, you get what you pay for." Mr. Iarossi, of ABS, offered a class society view on the current standards of safety. He focused on SafeHull technology, and addressed four major areas: the importance of fatigue and corrosion; the complexity of bulk carrier structures; the lagging of technology; and the significance of cargo loading. He stressed that the standards and levels of safety need to be improved, and stated that classification societies, ship designers and shipbuilders must resist the temptation to compete on the basis of lowest steel weight, noting in his report, "Light scantling vessels are not a positive reflection on our industry. They certainly do not represent a step towards improved bulk carrier safety." Mr. Iarossi said that the industry must improve its ability to determine and control the actual weight of cargo in each hold, and that the structural design of all new bulk carriers should be analyzed using finite element methods, similar to those employed in the verification of tanker structures.

Cdr.Holmes addressed bulk carrier safety from a regulator's viewpoint, and explained the new mandates to the USCG Port State Control Program that are now in effect. The goal of the new mandates is to ensure "fair and simple national consistency and to take a hard line versus substandard ships," stated Cdr. Holmes. He explained the USCG's method of boarding priorities, and the corresponding point system assigned to vessels. The two determining factors in detaining vessels will be: one, if the vessel is determined unsafe for intended voyage; and two, if the vessel poses a threat to the environment. Cdr. Holmes stressed that the system is one of "intervention leading to detention," and added, "We don't have a check-list mentality." Cdr. Holmes noted that 73 percent of boarded vessels had no deficiencies, and that lifesaving and firefighting equipment violations were the most popular offenses in the remaining 27 percent. Addressing the seminar audience, he emphatically concluded, "Port state control is no substitute for other longterm solutions. No intiatives will be successful unless full cooperation is garnered by government, class societies, and all other aspects of the industry." Capt. McKay, of the Canadian Coast Guard, further discussed safety, port state control, and the related work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Capt. McKay spoke about cost-cutting strategies such as "flagging out," and obstacles such practices can present to safety standards.

The Intercargo seminar was a valuable forum on maritime industry safety, with an important message underlying each presentation: As recently attributed to Mr. Farthingin an Intercargo release, "One (vessel) loss... and particularly one involving fatalities, is one too many and Intercargo continues to work closely with its members as well as the international shipping community in efforts to further enhance the standards of quality and safety in the industry."

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