Update Jun 2006

The importance of familiarisation and the role it plays in minimising potential legal liability

The London Shipping Law Centre, in conjunction with BIMCO of Athens, hosted its 3rd "ISM on Trial" event on May 5th. The event featured a mock cross-examination of a Designated Person Ashore (DPA). Ian MacLean, an experienced lead auditor and master mariner, currently a solicitor with Ince & Co., agreed to take the stand.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Lloyd''s List reporter Sandra Spears in which Mr. MacLean recounts his witness-box role as a DPA.

Sandra Spears: You also mentioned conflicts. Could you give examples of how these might be exposed in cross-examination?

Ian McLean: A good example of a system conflict would occur where counsel asks the DPA how the company requires a master to demonstrate that he has familiarised himself with the contents of the manuals. The DPA draws counsel''s attention to the requirement in the system for a master to sign a statement, before departure from port, that he has read and understands the manuals. Counsel then asks the DPA how long it would take a master to read the manuals, to which the DPA tells the court that it would take the master a "day or so" to read the manuals. This leads to the question of how it is possible for masters to familiarise themselves when, according to the records, reliefs are occurring in ports where the vessel''s stay is only two or three hours. The DPA could then be called on to acknowledge that it is impossible for the master to follow the requirements of the manuals and that this fact must have been known to the DPA.
No DPA wants to find himself in the witness box attempting to explain to the court why the system in place, for which he is responsible, is actually incapable of being followed.
A record conflict has the potential to be equally embarrassing. How is a DPA to react when presented with two checklists, one for a stowaway search and one for pre-departure familiarisation training, both apparently conducted by the same officer at the same time? The clear inference is that activities are being falsely recorded and that this should have been obvious to a diligent DPA. The DPA can be expected to be asked to explain to the court why he had not noticed this conflict.

The issue of familiarisation
This excerpt attests to the importance of familiarisation and the role it plays in minimising potential legal liability. Consequently, the challenge facing the shipping community is adequately demonstrating that crews and stakeholders ashore are properly familiarised with their Safety Management System, thereby ensuring that all statutory requirements are properly addressed. However, considering the increasing frequency of litigation, shipping companies must focus on improving familiarisation techniques to avoid future incidents, which may include detention, heavy fines, and messy legal disputes.

Situations where familiarisation becomes a critical issue
SMS manuals are extensive, containing both critical and non-critical information. Crewmen are required to familiarise themselves with all aspects of the ship''s operations, but with a very high crew turnover rate, there are often crewmembers onboard who are unfamiliar with the process of familiarising themselves with the procedures specific to that vessel. While all the information they need is theoretically at their disposal, the complexity and length of these manuals often makes the dissemination of that information very challenging, especially under strict time constraints. In the event of an incident, the courts pay close attention to the crew''s familiarity with the ships procedures, and how closely they were followed. In such instances, greater familiarity with manuals and timely access to the appropriate information can make the difference in high-stake court proceedings.

The Solution
A transparent system with a partitioned presentation of status in an intuitive and contextual format is essential to compliance with ISM requirements and international law.

Task Orientation, a type of software architecture unique to Ulysses, indexes business objects in accordance with how each user within the enterprise utilises them. Every instruction, every item of software functionality, every alert item, every response to an alert, is indexed and appropriately modified for each user/system interaction point which also functions as a corporate process node. By contrast, indexing conventions used by other software systems present users with tasks without explicitly providing the necessary contextual background. Instead, they only provide the navigational labelling of the application, forcing users to guess as to the intended end use of each object. Such systems are critically flawed as they neglect to differentiate between the relevant stages of an operation and the task at hand.

To provide an example, imagine having three different versions of a tank entry instruction, the selection of which is dependent upon circumstantial risk. Given that, assume there is no explicit or stated relationship between each choice and the context in which its selection is appropriate. In this circumstance, the lack of context provides a compelling impetus for improperly completed tasks and faulty record keeping, both of which can become powerful liabilities if exposed in court proceedings. What is more significant is that these situations are not isolated incidents, but rather characteristic of system-wide deficiencies. Faced with these situations, it is not surprising that liability issues arise such as unresolved defects, silos of contradictory information, and record conflicts born out of crew aversions to software usage.

The emergent necessity of shorter but more comprehensive familiarisation methods is especially significant in light of the industry's rapid crew turnover rates. With a steady influx of unfamiliar users onboard, Task Assistant"s dissemination of relevant information in an intuitive and contextually based configuration makes its deployment essential in order to avoid future litigation and issues of liability.

Why task assistant is essential to your business

  •  Promotes more accurate record-keeping which is instrumental in proving managerial competence to clients and if necessary before the courts.
  •  Reduces the occurrence of hidden silos of incomplete or contradictory information.
  • Leads to fewer incidents and potential liabilities caused by confusion and by the improper performance of critical procedures.
  •  Encourages greater systemic organization, which translates into significant operational cost reductions.
  • Results in less energy expended on managing information, and more time spent on managing ships.

Ulysses Systems executed a Training and Familiarisation Benchmarking test which proved that when a company uses a well-designed system like the Task Assistant, it can minimise the training expenses of a new crewmember by 29% -53%, while also achieving up to 42% more familiarity with the SMS System.

The Given Scenario was:

A Master was recently signed on the vessel that was new in the company.The ship is about to arrive at Port shortly and the master has to prepare for bunkering. However, before arrival the Ch. Engineer and the Ch. Officer inform him that they would also need to execute some urgent hot work in the Engine Room and the Deck respectively for loose material securing in the funnel area. They also need to be prepared for customary inspection on board, so the Ch. Engineer, who is also the Safety Officer onboard, proposes to have a Safety Committee Meeting.
Procedure 1- Hot work
Procedure 2- Ship Safety Meetings
Procedure 3- Bunkering operation

Conventional training methods do not guarantee memorization or familiarity with a company’s manuals or procedures. Instead, this incomplete training leads to situations wherein trainees have to repeat training onboard in the event of a change of the safety management system.
Even with detailed manuals, current training methods are not sufficient to ensure that users will successfully identify an interrelation between procedures if they are not linked to tasks. Consequently, these training methods do not guarantee correct prioritization at the point of decision making, which can lead to accidents and legal liabilities.

One should also keep in mind that manuals, which are more detailed, will result in longer training periods and greater training costs.