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Safety “on and around” ships will improve if the risks are prioritised correctly, the Dutch Safety Board’s chairman Chris van Dam has said.

He was commenting on the safety board’s latest six-monthly shipping occurrences report.

The report, covering incidents from July to December 2023, notes that accidents can occur at any time, and “everyone in the shipping world can cite an example of something that went seriously wrong because something unexpected happened”.

“In hindsight, it is often said that the unexpected event could have been foreseen, had the safety risks been understood and recognised,”it says.

“During the past reporting period (July through December 2023), the Dutch Safety Board published several investigations that make it clear what can happen if there is not enough awareness of safety risks on board or if they are not recognised at a crucial moment due to circumstances,”it says.

Three incidents are cited where risk awareness, or lack of it, was a “common thread”.

These include a collision in a North Sea traffic separation scheme in December 2021, where a trawler Z60 Blue Angel collided with the cargo ship Amadeus Aquamarijn above the Wadden Islands.

The mate of the trawler had not seen the general cargo ship and therefore did not divert. The cargo ship did warn the trawler, but subsequently did not check whether the trawler changed its course after being alerted. The collision severely damaged the cargo ship.

The two other incidents occurred in 2022, where there were two fatal occurrences on board historic sailing ships.

In May 2022, a boom fell into the cockpit, seriously injuring one passenger and killing another. In August 2022, a boom on another historic sailing ship broke, killing a young passenger.

The Dutch Safety Board had previously investigated safety on board the historic sailing fleet following a fatal accident on August 21st, 2016, where the mast of a historic sailing ship unexpectedly broke and killed three passengers on the ship.

“ The occurrences in 2022 prompted a follow-up investigation on the safety of the historic sailing fleet,”it says.

“The investigation revealed that not only the crew members, but also the inspection and classification society, lacked knowledge on the potential risks of sailing with historic ships,”it says, and notes “there is very little policy on the safety on board of this sailing fleet”.

“The investigation also showed that knowledge about maintenance, the use of the right materials and techniques is of great importance in recognizing potential risks. New equipment was being used, for example, which entailed other risks that not everyone was aware of and for which no policy had yet been formulated by the supervisory framework,”the report says.

“The lack of knowledge and lack of insight into possible risks made it impossible to assess the extent to which safety risks on board the historical sailing fleet were managed,”it says.

The Dutch Safety Board says has defined five focal points for an organisation's safety management to improve its handling of risks on board:

1. Understanding risks as the starting point. The first step is to identify the safety risks, the risk inventory. What risks do people on board face?

2. Drawing up a safety strategy. The overview of the safety risks is the start of a clear prioritization and the creation of a plan of action, the risk analysis. Step 1 and step 2 together, the risk inventory and evaluation, are also known as the RI&E.

3. Implementing a safety strategy - the next step is the practical implementation of the control measures that follow from the plan of action.

4. The safety approach needs continuous attention. It is important to keep the risk analysis and control measures up to date, for instance when new developments occur.

5. Finally, a safe learning environment is crucial for managing safety risks. This includes effective learning from incidents and unsafe situations. In this respect, it is important that people on board dare to call each other to account for unsafe behaviour and are encouraged to report incidents without fearing that their actions, omissions, mistakes or decisions will be punished (unless they are deliberate or grossly negligent out of unsafe intentions).

The Dutch Safety Board’s six monthly review is here

Published in Ports & Shipping
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