News Articles 05/07/2007

Shipboard management systems - The software that manages safety (Fairplay- Safety at Sea International, 05 July 2007)

Regulations and port controls are placing an ever-heavier burden of administration on crews. For many crew members, this type of work seems far removed from the practical seafaring that is their first love, and the time needed to complete such ''office'' tasks is often resented as a distraction from their ''proper job''.

Software companies have been quick to offer solutions that claim to lighten the seafarer''s load. Among them are products that can help with tasks such as purchasing, maintenance and ISM Code compliance. These can be used onboard or in the office, and with increasing ship-to-shore connectivity, it can sometimes be difficult to discriminate between the two.

Safety management software also features prominently, and its benefits are proving significant. Now that data collection and analysis has been simplified, owners can, for the first time, record and monitor the safety performance of their vessels. Software systems can also help users access information that would otherwise be difficult to obtain and make it easier for them to comply with correct operating procedures.

For Capt. Panos Hatzikyriakos the advantages are self-evident. As head of OSG Ship Management''s Quality Department he has first-hand experience of the benefits that shipboard software can bring to an organisation. The company runs offices in New York, Tampa, Newcastle and Athens and has a workforce of around 3,000 employees operating and crewing some 120 ships. The administrative load is considerable and, as Hatzikyriakos was quick to point out, "We cannot operate without software. The reporting requirements are such that it would be impossible [for us in head office] and the same thing goes for the guys on the vessels."

Making it easier to get it right

The company has been using software supplied by Ulysses Systems to provide crews with ready access to the safety management information they need. Hatzikyriakos gave an example of how the accessibility of safety procedure data ensures it is used.

"If someone has to go inside a tank he can easily retrieve the information he needs and they don''t miss anything and they save time. It could take an hour to research this information manually, which means that they probably wouldn't do it," he said. Calling up the same information on the computer might take only three minutes. "It makes it easier and when it's easy they follow [correct] procedures."
Monitoring the fleet's safety performance is an important function that Hatzikyriakos believes would be impossible without using appropriate software to perform a monthly audit of safety patterns.

"When you are monitoring the safety performance of the vessels you try to monitor trends," he said. "When you see trends developing you can try to change the procedures. Last year there were 2,700 non-conformities. Can you imagine the administration that this would involve [if it was done manually]? Without the software it would be impossible. If [crews] had to do it by hand they wouldn't do it. They''d prefer to pick up the phone and you'd lose valuable input."

Improving safety
Reliance upon computerised data does, however, impose particular demands to guard against its loss. Hatzikyriakos said: "We did some risk management on the loss of data and the results were very gloomy. Ther's a lot of back-up procedures needed to mitigate the risk and [without it] we'd need a lot more guys onboard to handle the monitoring and form-filling."

If data loss represents a risk, it appears to be one that most companies are prepared to live with and the dependence upon shipboard management software is now well established.

Branko Ostojic, safety and quality manager for ABC Maritime in Nyon, Switzerland, is another whose company has discovered the safety benefits of shipboard computer software. ABC Maritime has eschewed outside suppliers and has developed its own safety management system, which is now in use aboard all of its ships. As well as fleet safety management, it includes a facility to deal with all ISM Code, OCIMF and ISO 9000/14001 requirements. The system has brought benefits that Branko Ostojic believes have contributed to the overall safety of the company''s fleet.

"Best practices are implemented throughout our fleet with respect to safety and environmental matters," he said, adding that "the safety culture is continuously improving and personal accidents have significantly decreased during the past four years. Risk assessment exercises are [also] held on the regular basis. These make our crews aware of potential operational and environmental risks and of additional measures established to deal with them. The company has been able to increase environmental awareness and manage the maintenance of its ships in a more effective and less costly way."