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Bringing safety back to the fore in a transforming industry

The accelerating pace of change in our industry can sometimes blur our vision. So why not sit down for a moment, remember the basics, sharpen our focus on what matters most, and think of ways we can make sure all that change is for the better. A commentary by DNV GL – Maritime's CEO Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen.

Today we are seeing a rapid transformation of the maritime industry characterized by tectonic shifts in three areas: markets, regulations and technology. These changes will have a significant impact on the future of the industry. At a time when shipping is rapidly transforming, I believe it is crucial to put our primary focus on safety, making sure it is at the core of all changes – whether they affect ways of working, technology on board, or regulations.

Markets: Increasing uncertainty

The markets have become increasingly unpredictable since the collapse of the oil price in 2014, leading to growing uncertainty. This sentiment prevails today, with concerns over global trade – especially the trade discussions between the US and China – Brexit and other geopolitical events. Along with this uncertainty, competition has likewise increased, with many owners and operators facing intense pressure and smaller margins.

Over the last few years, the pressure to turn around vessels in ports ever more rapidly has grown, and this can increase risk, especially regarding the danger of cargo liquefaction. There may be pressure to cut the time needed for proper measurement of the cargo to be loaded, which raises the risk of liquefaction of bulk materials.

In addition, the shift towards ever larger vessel sizes poses new challenges. We have recently seen incidents where fires from containers stored on deck led to a complete loss of the vessel and, in the worst case, fatalities. It is time for the industry to take seriously the contents of containers and the proper declaration of dangerous goods and flammable items. There are also concerns about the weight of containers.

Regulations: Environmental challenges

Regulations are changing as well. The most imminent change is the “sulphur cap”, which means the industry must address the issue of blended fuels, and, in particular, their compatibility when bunkering in different areas of the world, even if buying from the same vendor. There are concerns about clogging filters for example, and as an industry we only have limited experience with these new blended fuels.

The recent IMO strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will also have a huge impact. This is a particularly ambitious goal for the shipping industry – to be carbon-free by the end of this century – especially in view of the fact that we do not currently have any viable zero-carbon alternative fuels.

As for the intermediate goal of a 40 per cent reduction set for 2030, I believe we should have more confidence in our ability to achieve this target through the means and methods we already have in place. But there is more on the regulatory landscape, such as noise and recycling. Numerous other regulations are on the horizon. All this creates a complex environment for shipping.

Technology: Connectivity and digitalization

There are many discussions about digitalization, which is a very significant technological shift for shipping. We are seeing this at DNV GL, where we are using artificial intelligence (AI) to route and answer technical queries. By using machine-learning algorithms, we can provide higher-quality responses faster and more consistently. AI is a field that has a great deal of potential for many industries, with some industries advancing rapidly in this area.

Looking more broadly at technology, there are several obvious challenges as connectivity between vessels and shore increases. In particular, there is a need to build resilience against cyber attacks, which have proliferated over the past few years. This becomes even more critical as vessels develop higher degrees of autonomy. An increased reliance on sensors, the data they provide, and the interpretation of this data make the quality of both the sensors and the data a critical part of safety at sea.

Safety: What we can do to drive improvement

I have five concrete proposals to make, which I believe could benefit our industry and improve safety at sea. Firstly, we need to develop holistic regulations with safety at its core – this is a challenge to the IMO’s and the classification societies’ work on rule development. An example where we could do better in this regard is the EEDI regulations, which have, in some cases, led to de-rating engines. As a consequence, it takes vessels much longer to cross the critical barred speed range (BSR), which can cause dynamic vibrations in the shaft and result in damage or even shaft failure. IACS has been working on unified requirements, but they are non-binding guidelines only. DNV GL published specific requirements last year. This a good example illustrating how a holistic approach has not been applied, despite the best intentions to reduce emissions from shipping.

My second proposal is to improve the safety culture within each company. While 2018 saw by far the lowest number of total losses since 1990 according to the Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) Safety and Shipping Review, more than 75 per cent were caused by human error. The safety record is improving, but boosting safety culture could make a huge difference. We must keep this progress moving in the right direction.

Thirdly, data silos should be unlocked to provide deeper insight into incidents and near-misses. In many cases, the IMO does not even receive incident reports. Making the conclusions of all incident reports freely and rapidly available to the IMO would be a great starting point.

My fourth proposal is to increase transparency of the findings from various incidents. It is my concern that the industry seems to be quite reluctant to share those insights. It takes a long time before investigations are concluded, reported and made publicly available. This is not only a waste of time but a waste of good learning opportunities. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the public to have to wait more than two years before a report is finally published. This is an area where the industry has the potential to advance.

Finally, my fifth suggestion is to take inspiration from other industries. If we look at the aviation industry or the oil and gas industry, we can learn about barrier management and how it can be applied to create a much more proactive attitude and approach to safety.

Some of these proposals will take time and resources to implement; some will be difficult. But I think that, if we move forward in these areas, they could greatly benefit the industry. And if we keep to this path, there is hope that we can continue the positive trend in safety at sea across the marine industry.

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Anne Moschner

Anne Moschner

Communications and Marketing Director

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