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Technology to drive safety improvements but overreliance causes concerns

Safety-enhancing technology is already finding its way into shipping, from crew monitoring and electronic navigation, through to shore-based monitoring of machinery.

“Technology could bring huge advantages for the maritime sector, catching issues early, before they escalate into a major casualty,” says Chris Turberville, Head of Marine Hull & Liabilities, AGCS UK. “Human error remains the biggest problem for shipping casualties (see chart), but technology offers the potential to reduce human error, as well as reduce machinery breakdown,” he says.

Vessel telematics are one way in which human error could be reduced. By analyzing Voyage Data Recorder information, it is possible to study near misses and feed lessons learned to crew training and procedures. Improved communication is another area where developments could help improve safety. Vessels at sea are traditionally very isolated, but technology could revolutionize ship-to shore communication and support.

“With improving communications, we could see more decision-making moved onshore. It could also give ship’s crew access to more onshore expertise and technical support. This is something that should be developed further,” says Captain Rahul Khanna, Head of Marine Risk Consulting at AGCS.

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Human error has long been regarded as contributing to the majority of incidents
in the shipping sector. It is estimated that 75% to 96% of marine accidents can be attributed to human error [i]. In addition AGCS analysis of almost 15,000 marine liability insurance claims between 2011 and 2016 shows that human error is behind 75% of the value of all claims analyzed, equivalent to over $1.6bn.

Virtual reality technology is becoming more effective and could be used to improve safety beyond its current use in navigational training. “Virtual reality is the next best thing to hands-on training. It is already used in bridge and cargo simulators but it could be expanded to train engineers, for example on a particular engineering routine,” says Khanna.

More integrated and sophisticated navigational systems and digital charts are another area of development seen in recent years. However, while positive, these
advancements have also raised questions about how humans interact with new technology.

“The issue of overreliance on technology is ongoing and we are still seeing a number of incidents where officers and crew have relied too much on technology.
Sometimes replacing common sense decisions with digital inferences is not such a good idea,” says Khanna.

“Crew and officers have an increased responsibility to understand the shortcomings and limitations of technology. The human interface with technology will be an important consideration in future safety,” he says.

Technology is also being used to improve crew welfare. For example, offshore health problems can be difficult to address. Insurers, such as Allianz, are now able to offer crew 24/7 access to medical advice through “telemedicine” assistance services, which utilize tablet technology and on-board equipment. Such services could reduce the need to make costly route deviations to seek help.


VDR analytics – the telematics of the seas

AGCS is in the early stages of working with ship owners to use Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) analysis to improve safety. By analyzing VDR output it is possible to identify and influence the behaviors that drive risks such as human error, the key cause of casualties. Information from VDRs is already being used in accident investigation, but important lessons can also be learned by analyzing every day operations, explains Khanna.

“We can now analyze crew behavior and feed the insights back into training and safety. By analyzing VDR information we can learn lessons from near-misses and
identify the actions and behaviors that can lead to crew and officers making the wrong decisions,” he says.

AGCS is talking with a number of shipping sector companies about trialling VDR analytic technology. Eventually, VDR analysis should become standard practice, believes Khanna. “The results of VDR analysis can be used to compare the actions of the crew against industry best practices and to identify gaps, and advise our clients on where they can make improvements,” says Khanna. It is view shared by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum: “The proactive analysis of VDR data on a regular basis could provide an important tool for use in accident prevention and the reinforcement of a positive operational safety culture,” it has noted [i].

VDR analysis can be used to inform risk management decisions, and could potentially be reflected in insurance premiums. As is already the case in motor insurance, a form of maritime telematics could be developed to improve safety and better reflect risk in premiums.

“Ultimately such information could be used in underwriting. We could see each ship-owner’s risk management better reflected in their insurance. The better the result of the analytics, the better the risk score,” says Khanna.

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[i] Recommendations on the Proactive Use of Voyage Data Recorder Information, OCIMF