Update Feb 2007

Are common insured marine process failures easy to avoid?

Common and recurring failures in everyday ship operation

Do we lose anchors? The pilot orders the starboard anchor to be dropped to turn the ship in the tight space. The ship is still moving forward and the strain breaks the anchor chain. Is this common port practice? Of course! But why?

Could be any number of reasons:

  • Oil wells and loading terminals are not found in sophisticated ports, in fact they are not usually anywhere near a port.
  • Tugboats, if you can call them that, are often a regional fief. In fact in some regions tugboats are challenged to generate enough power to keep the navigation lights on.
  • Currents as well; plenty of currents if the terminal is nowhere near a port or up a river in Blues country

But it's not only in the outback that you may lose an anchor. How about the Mississippi? No problem with tugboats in the Mississippi.
But with the currents as strong as they can be, any error in manoeuvring when anchoring both anchors can strain the anchor chain beyond its yield point.

What about Messina? Simply can''t pull the anchor out every time

It's not only anchors either: How about trying to find a spot in the anchorage ahead of a typhoon. Any chance of collision? Of course!
What about a sunny day happily discharging alongside with a 200,000 tonne empty cape size manoeuvring in the basin next to you. Slightest miscalculation of wind effect and its "kissing" your forecastle.

And it's not just manoeuvring: Are ships generators expensive to repair, absolutely especially when the connecting rod "releases" a gaol kick against the cylinder block.
With Generators running 24/7 and lower end bolts having no voice to complain and poor communication skills anyway, this "release of frustration" is not so unusual.

And it's not just sudden component failures: How about engine noises that go undetected, can they culminate in the engine spitting out a mushroom valve?
And why should the chief engineer detect the noise in time, so he can be the reason for losing the cancelling?

And then there are the instruments: How much does it cost to reinstate a 400 point instrumentation that has experienced a "work around"? What goes on with machinery monitoring while you spend 6 month figuring out the work arounds?

And then there is the 18 man vessel: Who is going to worry about sorting out the instrumentation? And why do we have an 18 or even 23 man vessel when the condition of the vessel can demand anything from 16 to 36 men depending on how recently it was taken over.
Which hero is going to tell the owner that this vessel needs a 36 man crew despite the statutory minimum of 22 just to figure out what the previous owner was doing?
One may suggest dry docking for 2 months to open up all the questionable machinery, but who is to know which of the shut down machinery or piping during dry-dock is about to fail once the ship is underway again?

Last but not least there is crew experience: Who can say he has heard each engine make all its individual repertoire of noise at all RPM ranges throughout its 25 year life. If there was just 3 types of engine this may be just simply unlikely, but there are a lot more than 3 types of main engines simply by counting the variations of cylinder number, valve and turbocharger arrangements.
Are there a swarm of hard working courageous chief engineers knocking on each ship manager's door rearing to join a vessel and relentlessly carry out 40 overhauls a year with 3 engineers and 2 oilers? And are they "acoustically" and otherwise familiar with a thousand items of machinery of greater and lesser importance to more and more stake holders?

And then there is criminalisation: Do they get "stung" by port state inspectors who consider it a crime against humanity to not mention to the Pilot that the Shaft generator may stop if the engine stops? Or administer corporal punishment to the chief officer if there is a paint tin in the steering gear room? Or blacklist an entire management organisation if an old gas analyser is found that has not been marked as "out of order" and summarily stomped with a sledge hammer to stop people rummaging through the electricians dustbin to resurrect it?

Insurance coverage: It's all very well to say that insurance terms are favourable currently. But isn't the insurance industry cyclical?
And are the deductibles not high enough to make it worth being careful to avoid theses common incidents?

Is Planned Maintenance just for compliance or can it help avoid common incidents?

A planned maintenance system has lately been seen as a system to satisfy TMSA. Some companies have for a long time believed it is way to maintain information and know-how and to present it to interested parties at the time of need. But just as many have never believed in the benefit that can be gained.

If a planned maintenance system is relegated to being a reporting system it will fail because on board engineers derive no benefit in reporting to the head office especially if they are calling the shots due to short supply. Why should the chief engineer bother using the software to report experience if all it does is collect data for the office?

If the SMS system is relegated to being proof of compliance to ISM or a scoring tool for TMSA what is the incentive for masters and chief officers to pass their experience through the system to the rest of the fleet?

These systems cost approximately 30 dollars per ship per day including computers hardware training supervision and the like. Of this only 10 dollars or less constitutes software licence and maintenance. Is it not plausible that this minor expenditure can save some of the above rather regular occurrences? Could timely warnings and transfer of corporate experience save some of the above?

Most ships have hardware and software just to write letters and e-mails so half of the $30 is already being spent. The return on investment for the extra $15 per day can be achieved in any one of the following ways:

  1. Saving the superintendent time approving the spares requisitions made by the chief engineer
  2. Saving the chief engineer time making the requisitions
  3. Saving time creating a budget of forward spares and provisions expenses
  4. Last but not least saving time complying with some of the oil companies requirements which specify that shore staff monitor on board maintenance scheduling, as well as critical spares inventory.

As a by-product of these mundane time expenditures the company can gain some value in avoiding the above mentioned common incidents like losing anchors in places known for this, machinery failures in machines with known vulnerability, failures in highly reliable machinery that have been forgotten for far too long etc. For example machinery experience can be passed to the new chief engineer exactly when he is planning maintenance or reporting a maintenance activity. Process experience, voyage experience, port experience and machinery operational experience can be passed to on board staff at the time of need to compensate for turnover.

There is often a concern abut the validity of keeping a computerised inventory of spares on board. The spares inventory is of course vulnerable to the degree of diligence with which spares are added and removed from store rooms on board and assigned to maintenance. The reason why this has been difficult in the past is that keeping such an inventory basis via a paper or even computer approach has been cumbersome and of course chief engineers and second engineers are in short supply and very busy.

But a properly designed inventory system can make the maintenance of inventory very much easier and the recovery from even the most negligent house keeping on board easy and insignificant in cost. Even odd practices in spares data entry are easy to recover from in a well designed system.

The benefits arising from the adoption of a well-written planned maintenance system can be divided in two categories: those of efficiency and those of prevention. Like any good solution it must either increase efficiency of the people involved or improve a process.

Man hours saved from the retrieval of timely and relevant information by people who need it most is an example of efficiency while the avoidance of costly errors such as those described in the story constitute examples of prevention.

An ergonomic planned maintenance system can be an extension of the officers own experience on board providing vessel specific experience combined with prior corporate experiences and applying them to the contemporary issues the organization is facing.

The more instinctive the interaction with the system, the more man hours and thus the more money is saved. The more relevant the information is, the more likely it is for crew members to prevent incidents and inefficiencies.

Like an ergonomic mobile phone it will end up being used more and containing more useful information, thus helping get more things done in a day. In addition an ergonomic PMS will coordinate past experience with current action and save money.