Why is the Ship Incident Rate Steady Despite New Technology ?

“Of all the systems on board a vessel, a human being is the most complex, and perhaps the most difficult one to integrate into a system of safer transportation.” -Tracy Murrell, Director, Office of Marine Safety, National Transportation Safety Board.

For the last few decades, the maritime industry has greatly improved the reliability and user interface design of ship systems with the goal of reducing ship casualties and increasing operational efficiency. Integrated systems, advanced hull design, propulsion and increasingly more advanced navigational equipment have all added to the reliability and technology of todays ships. But still the maritime casualty rate is still high.

According to Geoff Gill, author of the book Maritime Error Management, the answer really boils down to the operators.In a speech at the Nautical Institute Command Seminar, Gill said the aviation industry has been in the forefront of human factor investigation and training and the maritime community must integrate human factors knowledge if the goal is to reduce the number and significance of incidents at sea. Gill also goes on to state,the goal of this industry must be the moving target of continuous improvement focused on the strengths and weakness of our people. “Simply put, we are not applying available new lessons from maritime casualties we are only relearning old lessons that we have failed to apply meaningfully,” commented Gill.

“Much has been learned about WHAT is involved in maritime casualties and HOW those casualties occur. Now the crucial issue is WHY? The answer may show us the way in which shipowner orders and crew training are put into practice aboard ships.” – MAIB, CP VALOUR GROUNDING REPORT

Human element studies can be thought of in two separate categories. First category involves thought processes of each individual, including cognitive processes, decision making and situational awareness. The second category addresses interpersonal aspects and group dynamics, such as within a bridge team.

The first category studied quickly and automatically operates with little or no effort on our part and with no sense of voluntary control. As an analogy, if you are taught the effects of different foods upon health, then will obtain the tools required to make better dietary choices.

Category two involves a higher order of thinking called more commonly known as critical thinking and results in decisions and action which, in these cases, may be defined as “thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed, taking into account that all available relevant information was considered objectively before acting upon any decision.” In other words, “critical thinking” is a process whereby a person, trained in cognitive skills, critiques the thinking process, in real-time, with an awareness of his own biases.

“When you are at sea, you have to be able to think, and you can’t think with your nose buried in a book of written procedures.” – Geoff Gill

Why Is This Important? “Our objective as an industry must always be to develop the most competent, capable and confident officer attainable. I advocate critical thinking and human factor management because they are the next step towards reaching this goal,” added Gill.