News Article 11/05/1997

Easing the Burden of ISM Compliance

11/05/1997 - Lloyd's List

We called it the "brains book" and it contained within its hard covers most of what we needed to know about the way we operated our ship.

It contained general information that the company thought we should be aware of, "company" information about the way our employers expected things to be done, and lastly, ship-specific information, because we moved around much more than people did today, between the vessels of the 30-ship fleet, which ranged between the brand new and the extraordinarily old.

On every voyage, or whenever the brains book was updated, the book was read by all who needed to see it, and a note to that effect was appended. We never thought too deeply about it at the time, but in its simple way it was our Safety Management Code and the way in which the management transferred knowledge from shore to ship.

That was life before that insignificant bump in the foggy Liverpool roads between the Guinness tanker Lady Gwendoltin and another ship, which remains forever nameless, a bump which reverberated around the maritime world once the owners of that stout ship were refused leave to limit their liability for (what seemed to us) the extremely specious reason that they had not specifically ordered their master to use his radar properly.

This neglect at stating the plainly obvious was swiftly translated into the first of the paper storms that swirled about ships at sea as their managements began the process of "ebt" (effective blame transference) to leave their hands clean and their liabilities limited.

It has been a long road down the years from the Mersey Bar to the present desperate circumstances, as owners now equip themselves with fresh libraries full of manuals in readiness for the International Safety Management Code deadlines.

The paperwork. most mariners and sensible shipowners conclude, has got completely out of control, the brains books by now a vast assemblage of information that is well beyond the comprehension of even the brightest human brain.

Much of the information which is contained in the enormous collection of manuals required to be on the average ship or in the owners' office is, according to Lyras Shipping's Dimitri Lyras, a complete waste of space; impossible to retrieve when it is needed, difficult to remember, or lost amidst the galaxy of surrounding extraneous data.

There is, he suggests, too much emphasis on auditing, too many messages from "policemen" threatening owners of what non-compliance might bring down on their heads: too little input from seafarers, who resent never being asked about things that are subsequently imposed upon them; too little reality and knowledge of the practical business of operating ships.

The code, he says, "should have been presented to the industry in a more positive fashion " safety awareness and commercial gain being far from mutually exclusive.

Mr Lyras, and a group of like-minded associates, have turned to the computer in an effort to reduce the avalanche of paper, devising what they have called the "ISM Solution" a program which keeps the information to its functional minimum and makes it easy to use. This is a dynamic system, organised around tasks rather than topics, a System, moreover, which "enriches the information" and presents it in a immediately usable form.

For any task, a few key strokes will present the user with relevant information on documentation, procedures, personnel and precautions.

Most hard copy manuals, he suggests, are the very opposite, boring the reader, who is forced to plough through reams of irrelevancies, quite witless. And in the absence of useful information for the task in hand, the chances are that the manuals will remain unconsulted, except when there is an auditor in the offing.

The ISM-S can be customised for the company, the particular ship and even the particular user; "targeting" the specific information to the person who needs to see it.

What is the point of a ship's officer wading through the whole of the Solas regulations? It is the practical provisions of specific requirements (as they apply in a particular context) that he needs to be aware of.

In the recording of information which is required by the code, there is a great deal of mindless repetition the computer, with this system, is able to take over much of this. By automatically undertaking these mundane documentary tasks, which are regarded as merely time consuming and of no particular value, the system becomes a platform to make things easier, both for the seafarer and the manager ashore.

Ease of access and of use are seen to be a prime consideration in the development of this system, which is designed to be as much about the everyday operation of a ship as it is about the verification of ISM "compliance".

Here the company has taken expert assistance from The Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, Illinois. The Institute's Ray Bareis, whose expertise is in the presentation of functional information, believes that users will find it a good system, providing information that is useful for their tasks.

Dr Takis Katsoulakos of Systems Ltd has, with personnel from the shipping company ashore and afloat, provided the technical and intellectual input to ensure that the solutions are practical and fulfil regulatory requirements.

There is a great deal of intellectual input in this system.

Ray Bareis began from basics, working from the premise that if the programs are easy to use, then people will use them.

He believes that the approach of the maritime industry to ISM has been somewhat flawed, with too much media attention being on the consequences of non-compliance, and the picture of something being "imposed" upon an unwilling industry.

In contrast, the approach with Task Assistant has been to devise something that would be positive, useful, efficient and simple; a task-oriented information and communications package that " almost incidentally " would provide an internal and external audit to comply with ISM in both the office and aboard ships.

The system has been tested this year by Lyras Shipping and a number of other Greek shipping companies and a full version will be made generally available in the new year. Ulysses Systems Ltd will have a direct sales force in Greece to market the product.

Dr Katsoulakos points out that the company has already received recognition from the European Commission, winning a contract as part of the EU Telematics Programme to research into the computerisation of rules and ship operation.

Further work is being done in conjunction with lntertanko and Athens Technical University in devising a range of "operational extras" that can be bolted on to enhance the system. It is important, says Dr Katsoulakos, that the user must have the power to develop own solutions to the problems.

Will it be a genuine measure of relief for seafarers who have seen so much paper imposed upon them, and are never asked about their ideas?

Dimitri Lyras is emphatic that the system, which has been devised for all the right reasons, will be seen as a help, rather than an imposition. It will be easy to tailor to specific requirements, and to improve. It is, in short, a system that ought, to use a dreadful clichι, to be user-friendly.