The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the new Vessel General Permit (VGP) on November 30, 2011. This is a draft of the permit which will go into effect on December 19, 2013. This draft has been released for public comment, so don’t miss the opportunity to provide your input.
I must commend the EPA for providing some constructive clarifications and procedures in this updated version of the permit. Here are some highlights:
* This permit does not apply to any vessel when it is operating in a capacity other than as a means of transportation.
Does your company have a safety management system (SMS), a safety program, or internal safety policies? Are there problems with implementation or making sure that all policies are consistently complied with? Are there items in the manual which do not apply to your vessels or operations? Does the manual call for unrealistic work practices? If you answered “yes” to these questions, rest assured you are not alone. Unfortunately, however, your company could also be in danger of severe financial penalties, and/or litigation. In some case, such as a serious accident, individuals, depending upon their position in the company, might even face imprisonment.
The latest trend in regulatory schemes is performance based regulations. This type of regulation usually requires the regulated entity to come up with a plan or system which will meet the performance based criteria in the regulations, such as International Safety Management (ISM) and the impending towing vessel inspection regulations. Some organizations also require member companies to implement an SMS such as the American Waterways Operators (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP). Regardless of the source, not fully implementing and complying with these plans can have serious consequences in the event of an accident.
Development of the ISM Code
A number of very serious accidents which occurred during the late 1980's, were manifestly caused by human errors, with management faults also identified as contributing factors.
Lord Justice Sheen in his inquiry into the loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise famously described the management failures as "the disease of sloppiness".
‘Too much paperwork’ is the cry of many mariners today. This has been brought about, seemingly, by the requirements of the ISM Code, Port State Inspections, vetting inspections and port entry and ship/shore safety checks. In human element terms, increasing paperwork can sidetrack the mariner (especially the master and the chief engineer) from his primary purpose of working the ship. ‘Routine clerical or administrative work’ is one dictionary’s definition, but it would seem that in the maritime world it is becoming far more than simply routine.
Electronic paperwork (especially e-mail correspondence) seems to have increased the burden on the ship’s master. While onboard a 15000gt LPG tanker (managed by a very reputable company), the Master commented, that he spends on average 3 to 4 hours a day on sending and receiving information by e-mail; he adds ‘one day I spent 8 hours dealing with e-mails - responding to a terminal message took one hour .......it is taking up my time; instead of doing Captain jobs and watching for the navigation,I am having to concentrate on the messages.’ He adds that on the tankers there are plenty of inspections, where the inspectors are looking for checklists.
On one major inspection, he was asked why he did not have a specific checklist for the changeover of the bridge watch, despite having his own company procedures printed out on the bridge. On his ship there are some 22 checklists for assorted bridge, deck and cargo operations. He adds:‘Very soon, you will have to have a checklist for going to the toilet!’ But this begs the question whether there is now a need for a checklist to check the checklists.
Port State Control (PSC) is a ship inspection programme whereby vessels entering the waters of a sovereign state are boarded and inspected to ensure compliance with the various major international maritime conventions.
Several countries sharing regional interests have grouped together to ensure that vessels trading in their area are not substandard. Currently, there are 8 such groups, covering Europe (Paris MOU), the Asia-Pacific region (Tokyo MOU), Latin America (Acuerdo de Viña del Mar Agreement), Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, West and Central Africa, Black Sea.
Concentrated inspection campaigns were held by the various regional Port State Control authorities between 1 July and 30 September 2002, to establish the degree of compliance to the ISM Code (which came fully into effect in July 2002).
Avery significant section of our Maritime industry still appears to be struggling to implement the ISM Code because of an inadequately functioning Safety Management System (SMS). There are, however, many examples of SMSs which can and do work. The reason why there is such a diverse range of experiences of ISM implementation is directly attributable to the way in which the individual SMS was designed and put into practice. Some of the common negative factors expressed by individuals involved in its implementation are:
•Too much paperwork
•Voluminous procedures manuals
The ISM Code offers a systems approach to facilitate the management of ship-board safety and pollution prevention. It lays down systems of work involving assessment and control of risk along with self-checking and self-critical measures for the purposes of verifying and improving its performance. However, its effectiveness has been the subject of much debate.
Previous studies based on Port State Control deficiencies and marine insurance claims and surveys using user perception failed to establish a clear causal relationship. Yet, everyone appears to believe that the Code can improve the industry’s standards and to be keen to see it realised.
The obvious question thus is: ‘what is preventing the Code from reaching its potential?’