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Cruise ship safety – Star Cruises stresses human element

Editor's note: This interview was made and published in Cruise Business Review 3/2011 issue prior the tragic events of January 13, 2012.

By Henrik Segercrantz

Safety is a top priority at Star Cruises, whose vessels operate in some of the most congested waters and ports in the world. Star was the first cruise line to have its own tailor-made bridge simulator back in 1998, and a new simulator is being planned. "There must be a total commitment to safety, both onboard and ashore," says Gustaf Grönberg, Fleet Captain and Senior Vice President of Marine Operations. "This is achieved through teamwork, training, openness and professionalism. We think it is very important to recruit the right people for the tasks, because in one way or the other the human factor plays a major role in all accidents."

Cruise ships of today can carry 6,000 or 7,000 people and cost upwards of a billion U.S. dollars. Psychological assessment is a vital part of Star Cruises’ recruiting process for deck officers. "We want to recruit the best people, and we see the money spent on such programs is very well spent," Grönberg says. "The driving force in the next ten years will be the increasing sensitivity of the general public worldwide to damage of the physical environment and the loss of human life," Grönberg continues. "This will affect the shipping industry at every level, from the technical to the operational aspects and including the selection and training of officers. Response to recent accidents shows that there is zero tolerance for accidents that involve damage to the physical environment or loss of life." He also points out that as cruise ships are increasing in size, insurance companies are increasingly looking at liability issues.

"When looking ten years forward, in terms of selection and training and operational practices, I think the focus on the human element will have to further increase, including more psychological assessment work when recruiting but also in the daily working life of seafarers. Because the ISM [International Safety Management Code] does not address the human factors, error management must be developed and implemented as a vital part of a proper safety management system for the shipping industry. In aviation, it is understood that because of our limitations, human error cannot be entirely eliminated but must be managed. In this regard, the shipping industry and particularly the cruise industry need to follow the example of aviation."

Star Cruises is responding to these demands and already uses a system consisting of a written evaluation followed by an interview of each individual officer after every working period of eight weeks. "Progress has been made, though there is still much to be done," Grönberg says, but adds a wish: "Hopefully, the ISM Code will address also the real onboard human decision-making process in the future," Grönberg says. "I think the focus on all aspects of ergonomics, with focus on usability and on safety, will continue to grow in importance." When the SuperStar Leo and SuperStar Virgo were built, Star Cruises focused on the ergonomics of the wheelhouse. "We use a cockpit design where the panels are somewhat lower and the seat is not raised up, so that you can reach all important control panels from that position," Grönberg says, providing an example of their design philosophy. "The same layout has in fact been applied on all consecutive NCL vessels."

Another example is the SuperStar Virgo, which received a fourth dedicated working cockpit for the pilot when the vessel’s wheelhouse, including navigation system, was upgraded some two years ago. "This has become very popular. It is very important that the pilot is welcomed to be a part of the bridge team in order to avoid accidents." Grönberg definitely sees that bigger cruise ships need a separate safety officer relieving the officers on the bridge from other tasks not directly associated with safe navigation, "but the safety panels have to be adjacent to the bridge to maintain easy communication."

When talking about lifeboats and life-rafts, Grönberg thinks that using davits and cranes is becoming old-fashioned. "There are ideas to use an integrated part of a public space as a lifeboat, if required. This is a very complex system, which would also take away public space from the vessel and is a difficult question," he says, but he believes changes will take place regarding evacuation. He thinks the IMO SOLAS rule applied for ferries operating on shorter routes allowing evacuation using MES stations with chutes and rafts should also be applied to cruise ships. "Many argue that this system is safer in rough weather conditions than using lifeboats. I believe there might be a change here too in the years to come," he suggests.

"We enter Hong Kong and sail in the Singapore Straits every day. We operate in some of the most congested waters where vessel traffic is terribly intense and sometimes coupled with zero visibility due to dense fog. You really have to pay a lot of attention and make vital navigating decisions continuously. I am thankful that we have the best guys onboard. Although there are traffic control systems in these areas, the traffic is so enormous that there is no way they can be of any help," Grönberg says and notes further that in national waters, such as in the Hong Kong region, many vessels do not have AIS, and thus cannot even be identified. "I really hope that these systems will improve in the years ahead to adopt the system applied in the English Channel, where violation results in a fine. The legal responsibility though shall always remain onboard the vessels."


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