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Actual modern navigation Bridge

During the investigation of ASIANA AIRLINES flight 214 crash at San Francisco Airport, CA., and the subsequent hearings into the causes some interesting points have been raised.  First the aircraft itself was in excellent condition with no malfunctions found by investigators.  What was found were differences of culture and training involving the technology fitted in the Boeing 777, in fact in describing the equipment the Captain confused some details of the Boeing 777 automation system with that of the Airbus A320 which detracted from the Korean flight deck Pilots ability to operate the aircraft safely.

The body conducting the investigation and hearings is the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) along with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).  The NTSB is the same body that investigates seafarers along with the United States Coast Guard (USCG)

The points raised in the hearings in reference to the flight deck Pilots attitude and its operation are similar to those found on a ships Navigation Bridge.  They apply equally well to the operation of a modern ship's Bridge with multi-national Officers with different cultural backgrounds and in spite of STCW sometimes different training or the lack of it altogether.  

With multi-national Officers and Ratings serving in most ships these days culture differences can become culture clashes quite easily, it takes astute management to prevent that happening and resolving it quickly if it does occur.  As an example the Pilots of flight 214 were Korean and Korean culture tends to inhibit those considered "junior" even when both are Captains to speak up about a developing situation even when it is a dangerous one to all.  Also they did not wear sunglasses which they needed to do due to runway glare because that is considered impolite among Koreans. 

In this Post NAUTICAL LOG will look at some of the problems involving maritime technology, and training to adapt to it.  A training protocol will be suggested which should be helpful to manage the current design, technology and equipment of a modern Bridge, achieve good Watch standing practices, while still keeping a sense of traditional seamanship.  This will be done in general terms and not try to designate training for each piece of equipment.

Regardless of whether a Trainee Deck Officer (TDO) has attended a Nautical Academy or not the TDO should complete 24 months sea time, that is actual time at sea which may take more calender time to achieve.  During that time the TDO will work with both the Ratings under the direction of the Boatswain and the Officers.  The TDO shall complete the basic training requirements as laid down in the STCW Code.  These shall be recorded in the TDO's Training Record Book (TRB) as shall the deck work completed under the Boatswain and signed by the Master when the training has been successfully completed.  The TDO will be instructed in all the Bridge equipment and how to operate it, also will learn to steer the ship in both open sea under various conditions for a minimum of fifty (50) hours and in pilotage waters for fifty (50) hours.  It has been noted that currently in cruise ships many Officers cannot steer the ship correctly and receive little or no opportunity to do so in pilotage waters.

On completion of their sea service the TDO will attend required courses for certification as a watch standing Deck Officer in accordance with IMO-STCW at an approved maritime training facility.  During that time ashore the candidate must attend a full simulator course at an approved school in shiphandling, maneuvering, instruction to fully understand the Bridge equipment and how it can assist the candidate in underway Watchkeeping.  Coupled with the background of actually having worked onboard ship for 24 months this is going to be much more advantageous to the candidate for certification as a Deck Officer.  Once the candidate has passed the certification examination he/she should return to sea immediately as a Junior Deck Officer (JDO) and start training to upgrade that certification for Senior Deck Officer (SDO) certification and on completion of that SDO certification return to sea to train towards completing requirements for a Master Certificate of Competency.  Between each upgrade certification 24 months sea time is required followed by attendance at an approved maritime training facility which should include further simulator training.

The idea behind this suggested protocol is TDO training that is straightforward, practical, with a knowledge of traditional seamanship skills, a full understanding of current technology, and its application to achieve high practical Watchkeeping standards.

As has been mentioned above the traditional skills of seamanship do not appear to be known in many cases by currently serving Deck Officers.  NAUTICAL LOG has seen this lack of knowledge firsthand, also heard it mentioned by Port Pilots and others qualified to make such judgments.

Many issues regarding the operation of vessels at sea have been addressed and multitudinous regulations published.  In the smaller vessels operating to these is frankly impossible particularly those with regard to off watch periods and rest.  If the weather is bad as it often is in European waters rest is virtually impossible and the reduced size of the crew means that there are no reliefs available. Yet in spite of this being known the genius team at the IMO continue to allow owners to reduce crews to a scandalous level below safe minimum manning and pump out more "safety" regulations impossible for these vessels to comply with.  Why ?

The Cruise Ships have adequate Officers on the Bridge but are they in actual fact adequately trained.  In recent years a European maritime safety investigation of the maritime training facilities in the Republic of the Philippines (RP) found conditions so poor and training equipment so bad that there was and still is a high risk that the RP maritime certification will no longer be recognized.  Yet one of the RP's biggest employers of both maritime Officers and Ratings for all onboard departments is the Cruise Line Industry.  How valid, in at least some cases, are the certificates issued to these RP crewmembers and how real is the actual training they supposedly received.  The European investigation raised serious questions along these lines which have not been properly resolved. 

As to the actual standard of Watchkeeping in vessels generally the layout of the modern Bridge can help tremendously however it can also hinder tremendously.  The instrumentation is grouped by its purpose and is of a much higher quality than just a couple of decades ago.  The Officer on Watch (OOW) is now seated in a chair within hand reach of controls or even with a set of controls built into the armrest.  Close at hand are screens which give the OOW all the information needed to keep a professional Watch.  However just the fact of sitting down could be a hazard because becoming relaxed and observing these same screens can cause the OOW to fall asleep, which has already happened in quite a few cases both reported and unreported but known in the industry - seafarers gossip - and is also a common occurrence on flight decks in the airline industry.  The young modern OOW seems to also forget that they should get up off that seat regularly, walk the width of the Bridge and observe the surrounding sea and horizon visually - that's what those windows are for !! 

Another navigational issue is the ships position.  This is continually plotted by the various instruments such as GPS to show where the vessel is but that position it is only as good as the data entered, if the Navigation Officer has made an error and the other OOW's do not take bearings, pay attention to tide and current effects it is useless rubbish.  On ocean passages so much reliance is placed on the SATNAV system that OOW's are not taking sextant sights and again if there is a problem with the SATNAV the OOW will quite likely be blissfully unaware until something goes terribly wrong and it is too late.

From personal experience when Master the Navigation Officer laid in a course from a waypoint to the next waypoint at a channel buoy which led right across a sandbar.  Due to NAUTICAL LOG always checking the courses well ahead of the ships current position and having excellent local knowledge we avoided a grounding.  The Navigation Officer, a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a B.Sc., and Third Mate Ocean license, was a much wiser young Officer afterwards.  If he had had those 24 months as TDO prior to being allowed to stand watch straight from graduation it might have made him a more aware Navigator and Deck Officer with a concentration of practical experience rather than just theoretical classroom training.

There are many more points to be considered than NAUTICAL LOG has addressed here.  Before we started siting negative examples we suggested a training protocol to address and correct them.  Owners need to do the same and write an Operating Manual for the ships Officers and Ratings with sections for each Department.  There should be a Masters Manual which covers the Owners instructions to the Master and these should be in a language that is understood by them - do not presume that that is English if you hire multi-national crews.  Certainly the originals must be in English but copies in other languages are going to have to be onboard the vessels in addition.

Finally and this particularly applies to the Cruise Industry listen to your Officers it is their profession and since most of you Cruise Line Managers are from the Hotel and Tourist Industries these days you really need to do so.  There are now 3000 to 5000 persons - "guests" as you call them - on board these floating recreation bases and in an emergency at sea you do not stand a dogs chance of getting most of them off alive in your "lifesaving" systems.  In a serious maritime accident the loss of life will be extremely high.  So now knowing this you had better start out with professional Bridge Officers with the highest level of confirmed training possible.

Good Watch.


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