Legislation is generally born of disaster and destruction. Unfortunately, losses have already occurred, and rules generally result to prevent them from happening again. But does compliance to regulation alone ensure the best Safety Management System?
The 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, leaving 1,517 people dead, led directly to the 1914 adopting of the International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS), the first primary international safety book from which most other policies and regulations sprang, including the ISM Code. Then, in 1934, the sinking of the Morro Castle, killing 126 people, led to the adoption of significant upgrades to SOLAS in 1948. It also served as an impetus for the U.S. Merchant Marine Act of 1936, federal officer training mandates and the establishment of the federal maritime academy at Kings Point, NY.
Would a Safety Management System and the ISM Code have helped avoid the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic? It would take until the 1987 Sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise for the IMO to publish the ‘Guidelines on Management for the Safe Operation of Ships’ (IMO Resolution A.596 and in 1989 IMO Resolution A.647), now evolved into the ISM Code. There is a long list of maritime disasters and high number of casualties, with specific incidents over the last 75 years standing out in terms of significance in helping to force and forge international agreement on safety, liability and environmental controls.
- 1967 – Torrey Canyon oil spill off the French and Cornish coasts, led to the Civil Liability Convention of 1969, activated in 1975, moving IMO into environmental and legal issues ensuring adequate compensation for victims of oil pollution resulting from maritime casualties and liability on owners. It also led to the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution (MARPOL).
- 1978 – Amoco Cadiz ran aground, splitting in 3 parts spilling 1.6 million barrels three (3) miles off the coast of Brittany, France. Very significant changes followed, including updates to MARPOL and SOLAS on safety and pollution, and the 1982 Paris MOU, establishing Port State Control safety and pollution audits, enabling international port inspection for non-compliant ships that can no longer hide. It also led to the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW, 1978).
- 1983 – Marine Electric, a WWII 1944 built rust-bucket, which sank in a storm off the Virginia coast led to the immediate scrapping of 70 similar WWI era vessels and what some say are the most important safety reforms in the second half of the 20th century, calling out lax USCG inspection policies. This resulted in mandated survival suits and the creation of the USCG Helicopter Rescue Swimmers Program.
- 1987 – Herald of Free Enterprise capsized after leaving harbor in Zeebrugge, Belgium. This British Roll-on-roll-off (RORO) car and passenger ferry disaster killed 193 of the 539 passengers and crew due to the bow door being left open on leaving port and extra ballast still in her tanks, with the victims trapped inside the ship, succumbing to hypothermia. Investigation determined a chain of events of sloppiness and negligence which Britain’s Lord Justice Sheen castigated the ships owners and a controversy whether there was criminal negligence enough to justify a charge of manslaughter. This led directly to adoption of the ‘Safe Management and Operation of Ships’ (IMO resolution A.647), requiring each vessel to have a working, audited Safety Management System, shipping companies to have a license to operate. This will later be referred to as the ISM Code. In 1988, UK implemented the Merchant Shipping (Operations Book) Regulations, S.I. 1988 No. 1716 (now superseded).
- 1989 – Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska releasing nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, the worst oil spill in U.S. history until the 2011 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Following this disaster was the establishment of the first Port State policy with international repercussions, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90) in the U.S. which mandated all tankers be double hull when entering U.S. waters. It eventually became a rule internationally, first with the 1999 Erika disaster and the 2002 Prestige, both oil spills/casualties in almost the same spot in the NW coast of Spain and France, which finally phased out all single hull tankers.
In 1994, in very similar circumstances to the 1987 capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the Ro-Ro Ferry MS Estonia sank in heavy seas, killing 852 of the 100 people on board. In this case the bow door failed. Following this disaster, the ISM Code would become mandatory. In 1998, the ISM Code becomes mandatory for passenger ships, tankers and bulk carriers, in 2002, mandatory for all other ships over 500 GT. By 2010, the ISM Code was further amended to include the concept of assessment, by the company concerned, of “…all risks to…ships, personnel and the environment and (establishment of) appropriate safeguards”.
Essentially, the risk management principles of ISO Standard 31000: 2009, are now virtually a part of the Code. The significance of the Code is that SOLAS, of which it is a part, is one of those maritime conventions that the United States has in fact ratified, and, because SOLAS is a part of the basic treaty law of all maritime nations, the most recent amendments lend themselves to universal application by means of domestic enforcement in each country. The recent 2013 revisions by the Maritime Safety Committee to the ISM Code, adopted and enforced by IMO in 2015, now spell out a requirement for companies to assess the risks to their vessels, personnel and the environment, arising from their operations. While the sinking of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise was the most significant catalyst in the making of the ISM Code, the MS Estonia was instrumental in making the ISM Code mandatory.
Deepwater Horizon highlighted significant deficiencies in the Safety Management System and non-compliance to the ISM Code. In April 20, 2010, a blowout occurred at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 oil workers and caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to spew into the ocean over an 87-day period. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) concluded that the blowout occurred due to “effective compression,” a phenomenon that occurs when there are extreme pressure differences inside and outside of drill pipes, causing them to buckle. When oil and gas spilled on to the deck of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the crew moved to seal off the well using shears that cut and shut the pipe. The intense pressure differences meant that the drill pipe bucked and moved off center within the BOP, rendering the shears ineffective, and with disastrous consequences. The drilling platform exploded, burned for about 36 hours and eventually sank, leaving a billion dollars-worth of equipment on the bed of the sea.
Prior to Deepwater Horizon, the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS), now the bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), had been working on the safety and environmental management systems (SEMS) rule. One of the consequences of that event was that the agency (now BOEMRE) speeded up the implementation process for SEMS. The rule was finalized in October 2010 (BOEMRE 2010). Companies operating on the outer continental shelf of the United States had to be in full compliance with this rule by November 15, 2011. The rule’s requirements are demanding. Getting into compliance would be a challenge, even for those companies that already have an effective offshore safety management system. Regulators may conduct audits at any time, and those audits could result is serious penalties.
On April 13, 2015, the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) proposed new offshore oil and gas regulations that will cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars. However, offshore oil and gas producers will have several years to comply with some of the more stringent rules, owing to the costs and the technical challenges involved. The proposed regulations establish design and operational requirements for critical well control equipment used in offshore oil and gas drilling operations, revising existing rules while incorporating latest industry standards. When enacted, there will be new minimum baseline requirements for the design, manufacture, repair, and maintenance of blowout preventers (BOPs).
On 13 January, 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized and sank after striking an underwater rock obstruction off Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, with a loss of 33 lives of the 4,242 people onboard. The Captain, who was found guilty of manslaughter of the 33 passengers, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. No charges were brought against the owners, despite the poor safety culture on board. However, immediately after the tragedy, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) created a Global Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review to inspect the safety practices of the cruise industry and suggest improvements. Within 12 months since the accident, the review board suggested ten (10) changes, all of which were accepted by the industry and implemented.
The 2015 sinking of the ro-ro containership El Faro in the Hurricane Joaquin between Jacksonville, FL and San Juan, Puerto Rico, killing 33 crew, highlighted once again the vulnerability of the aging U.S. fleet. The ship met applicable requirements for ‘intact and damage stability’ for its age. It was operating with a minimal stability margin with limited ballast capacity and available freeboard, leaving little flexibility. It would not have met standards for a ship built today. Consider also added factors of heavy weather – 70-90 knot winds and 25-30 foot seas, and lack of updated predictive weather technology. Built in 1974, she was beyond the age when most international commercial ships trading internationally are recycled, an average of 11 years old. Ships in the U.S. average about 31 years. This is largely due to the two principal requirements of the 1920 Jones Act. The first specifies that U.S. flagged ships must be crewed by American Citizens, rooted in a legitimate national-security interest. The second requires vessels engaged in intrastate transportation to be built in America. Building new ships in the U.S. is far too costly, and due to fulfilling Navy contracts, you would have to wait a decade to build a new ship in a U.S. yard. Consider the 1944 built, U.S. Maritime Commission owned Marine Electric which split in two in 1983 and subsequent immediate scrapping of 70 similar vessels. The El Faro, owned by Tote Marine, was 41 years old when it sunk in 2015. Nonetheless, three months following the El Faro tragedy, the sister ship, the El Yunque, was scrapped.
The biggest change we have seen in the last 35 years in global marine surveying and loss control is an evolution in how the industry approaches maritime safety. It is moving from engineering fixes to assessing risk for prevention and addressing the arguably more challenging element – human factors which account for 80-90% of all accidents at sea. An independent periodic review of your safety management system with the consideration of risk factors and prevention measures beyond compliance and getting a jump-start prior to enforcement of impending regulation may be the best practice for preventing loss.