The last few years has seen an upward expansion in the number of vessels designed to carry liquefied gases, particularly in the LNG trades. This event increased requirements to the staff and ship quality.
Similarly there has been an expansion in the number of terminals designed to handle these products. At the same time there has been a downward trend in the number of quality seafarers available to man and operate these complicated vessels to the standard expected by industry in particular and the public in general.
The lack of adequately qualified seafarers has come from three areas – expansion in the LNG trades, change in recruiting patterns and a reduction in marine engineers qualified in steam operations.
Inspection and vetting of oil tankers has been a way of life for a number of years and now we are seeing this developing into the liquefied gas trades. Although this is seen by many as unnecessary it should be encouraged if we are to maintain our place as a quality operation with an enviable record.
This paper discusses these problems highlights deficiencies and enlarges on the public perception of the business.
In the last few years we have seen an unprecedented growth in the volume of internationally traded LNG. This growth has come from an expansion of existing production facilities, new production facilities coming on stream and a growth in the markets for LNG; both actual and potential.
At the same time we have seen an increase in the number of trading LPG carriers, this has been caused by new buildings to offset the older tonnage that has either been scrapped or moved to ammonia trade. The increase in the LPG trade has not been as dramatic as for LNG but none the less technology has developed in the design of the vessels.
The safety record of liquefied gas shipping is an enviable one. Despite a very small number of minor incidents involving these ships there has never been an uncontrolled release of an LNG cargo. This is above all a testament to the robust construction of this class of tanker and the effectiveness of the standards set for LNG containment systems.
LPG has a similar record although there have been several ship fires and collisions resulting in cargo release.
Imagine a Ship as a Three Legged Stool
1 (a) Manpower
We are in a world with a major shortage of quality seafarers, we are seeing an expansion in fleets of all types. Especially passenger vessels and oil tankers, where replacement of old single hull vessels is concurrent with fleet expansion of the oil majors.
In the LPG and LNG we are seeing new vessels to meet replacement requirements and new projects. LNG vessels are being ordered and built with new owners and operators coming on the scene daily.
This is a concern for my organisation where we stand for high standards in every part of the marine supply chain. Where are the problems?
Ship owners will always endeavour to reduce manning costs because that is the largest part of the operational expenditure.
Initially in the sourcing of quality seafarers, traditionally North West European seafarers manned European operated ships, now we see East European and Far East manning taking precedence.
India has always been a major source of supply and I must in all honesty say that Indian officers and ratings have always demonstrated considerable quality in their operational work.
To ensure quality seafarers ship owners must provide continuity, suitable conditions and acceptable reward.
Manning is widely sourced from Third World countries this produces a dichotomy of language, experience and LPG Newbuilding Site Team Supervision & Training: An optional extra?training on board. There is also an inherent lack of loyalty to any one ship owner.
Junior Officers are only marginally better than ratings, good quality senior officers are becoming rare because of the conditions and the abundance of regulations and penalties.
It is at this point I quote from Lord Donaldson and the enquiry into the stranding of the oil tanker Brear off the coasts of Shetland in January 1993.
He identified a language problem on board the Braer and said in his recommendations:
- The master and officers must be able to communicate properly with each over.
- Some of them must be able to communicate properly with the crew.
- The senior petty officer must always be able to communicate properly with both officers and crew.
- There should be sufficient overlap so that orders given by those in command can be understood by the crew.
Let me now discuss another problem associated with the manning of liquefied gas ships, this time particularly the steam powered LNG fleet of which there are about 160 vessels.
Most of the worlds merchant fleet is diesel powered. An unusual feature of LNG carriers is that most have steam turbine propulsion. This high pressure, high temperature equipment requires specialist knowledge and certification from engineering staff for its safe operation. Where appropriate the ship operating Company should select and train engineering officers to ensure experience and suitable certification in steam plant operation. This is a matter of increasing importance as the supply of properly trained personnel reduces and because the LNG Fleet is almost unique in the world as a continuing user of such plant.
This difficulty is not only the ship owners, flag states should address certificate qualifying time requirements, taking into account on board training and reduced voyage lengths.
1 (b) Training
Training is another leg on the three legged stool, without adequate training sea staff will never learn or progress.
The STCW Convention is the primary IMO instrument specifying training requirements for all ships. It identifies special training for seagoing personnel employed on oil tankers, chemical tankers and gas carriers. The code also requires seafarers to have received appropriate instruction and experience.
The training of seafarers has always been laid down by IMO and Flag States but the experience is another matter which can never be off the shelf.
Seafarers must meet certain criteria to sail on ships. The training must not stop here. On board there must be a routine of training and knowledge transfer – underpinning knowledge.
Now this can be purely generated from the Captain and the Chief Engineer but much more effective if it is in Procedures not only issued by the ship operators but with the active participation of the ships staff.
Officers on gas carriers should have completed the following:
- Approved fire-fighting course;
- Specialist liquefied gas handling course;
- Obtained a Dangerous Cargo Endorsement (Liquefied gas).
Topics covered in specialist gas carrier training include:
- Regulations and Code of Practice;
- Chemistry and Physics of Liquefied Gases;
- Health Hazards;
- Cargo Containment;
- Cargo handling systems;
- Ship operating procedures;
- Safety Practices and safety equipment;
- Emergency procedures;
- Principles of cargo operations.
1 (c) Operational Standards
Default on any one of the three legs and the stool will collapse. 110 % involvement by a ship owner / operator is essential if there is to be any maintenance of acceptable standards on board.
The hand of the owner/operator must be seen in all activities on board, two main areas where the operator’s representative plays a part – frequent presence on board and up to date, well written and easy to follow procedures.
Where practical, operational procedures should be established in writing for cargo handling in each port for each ship, and operations should be managed accordingly.
Ship and terminal staff should jointly draft these procedures, thus ensuring a safe system of operation across the Ship/Shore Interface in Gas tradingship/shore interface. Procedures can be well written but if they are not complied with and not seen to be complied with they are useless.
As a minimum there should be the following manuals on board:
- Bridge, Engine room and Cargo Procedures.
- Shipmasters Guide.
- Cargo Operations Manual.
- Information and Instruction Books for all Bridge Engine Room, Cargo and Deck equipment.
Procedures should be written in a language that can be read and understood by the majority of the crew; personal safety guides should be available in the language of the crew. These should have abundant, comprehensive and clear illustrations.
This is probably where SIGTTO and the other Industry bodies come in. We prepare and publish recommendations which are designed to complement and supplement the mandatory regulations laid down internationally.
Now lets move to another subject which is close to many people at this time.
Responsibility for the observance of shipping law falls upon the ship owner.
Ship quality probably starts at the naval architects table or the designer’s drawing board. Discussions with the builder will have considerable influence on the final outcome from the yard. As will proper supervision of the vessel’s construction.
At the early stages of design we have the involvement with Class and Flag State. Ships are built to class but Class Rules are the minimum requirement. Flag State and Owners preference must be taken into account.
Flag State must be proactive here, acting as the policemen, so often there is minimal influence from Flag State and even when a ship runs aground or is involved in a collision and causes serious pollution Flag State is reluctant to be heavily involved.
Vetting and Inspecting
Vetting and Inspecting of LPG and LNG vessels is a fact of life, we have to accept that this will be done wither we like it or not. The oil tanker industry has had this for a number of years and it is coming into our industry now.
Along with inspecting we are seeing the requirement for CAP (Condition Assessment Programme) being asked for by charterers and provided by classification.
I based this article on Operational Standards on Liquefied Gas Shipping but my organisation encompasses Terminals as well so I would like to say a few brief words about the terminals designed to receive and safely handle these ships.
The challenge for any marine terminal handling liquefied gases will be to assure the safety of these operations, thereby preserving public and investor confidence in LNG and LPG as a desirable component of the energy diet.
In a relatively short but distinguished history LNG shipping and terminal operations have sustained an enviable safety record by adopting a three pronged approach to managing its operational risk:
- An intense focus on the technical integrity of LNG containment and transfer systems;
- A doctrine of protective separation. Ensuring that safe separation distances are established between LNG operations and potential threats from without.
- An industrial culture that has fostered close co-operation between terminal operators and ship managers; structured exchanges of operating experience between industry members; mutual adherence to criteria of best practise and a willingness to bear costs of safe operations.
Security has always been a problem on Merchant ships – alongside terminals, at anchor off ports and even at sea.
Pirates are still prevalent at sea. 63 reported allegedly committed incidents in the second quarter of 2003 and 29 allegedly attempted in the second quarter of 2003. 22 seafarers killed in 2003.
Security in port has been stepped up since the International Maritime Organisation issued their ISPS Code (International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.)
The regulations require:
- Ships to have an International Ship security Certificate;
- Operators to have a Company Security Officer;
- Carry out a Ship Security Assessment;
- Designated Ship Security Officer;
- Port to have a Security Plan;
- A Port Facility Security Officer;
- Conduct drills and exercises to test the Security Plan.
To the Future
Confidence in the industry’s commitment to preserve its reputation for safe and responsible operation will rest on all its members adhering to criteria of best practise – both in managing the operational environments within their control and ensuring these environments are adequately protected from incursions from without.
Ship and Terminal Managers must:
- Quantify the operational standards at their facilities;
- Judge the effectiveness of their emergency procedures;
- Understand their capacity to manage the risks of the shipping and cargo transfer operations;
- Detect trends.
Sustaining the existing culture of open discussion and cooperation in technical matters among industry members is essential to the propagation and development of best practise criteria.