Above and beyond the call of duty
Compliance is not enough when it comes to safety.
With approximately 1,300 vessels of more than 1,00 GT and some 1,800 fast ferries, as well as thousands of smaller vessels in operation worldwide, the ferry sector plays an important role in connecting communities across the globe.
According to Interferry, which has more than 210 members from 35 countries, the ferry industry transports approximately 2.1 billion passengers a year, 250 million vehicles and 32 million trailers.
And although much has been done over the last decades to improve safety, ferry disasters are still depressingly familiar, particularly in the developing world.
Amongst the steps to improve this situation, a new safety committee, linked to Interferry, has been established. This came about as a result of a number of conversations during and after the Interferry Manila Conference, in October 2016. The committee was proposed by Interferry Director Johan Roos and unanimously endorsed by the other directors. The committee is being chaired by BC Ferries’ Jamie Marshall with a blue ribbon panel of members representing various sectors and geographic areas of the industry.
Another example of this was when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Interferry recently formed a partnership to work with developing countries to help them improve their safety standards.
For Damen, safety has always been much more than just adhering to the latest regulations. It pretty much goes without saying that Damen builds its vessels to the modern standards of safety, whether these originate from the IMO, flag states or classification societies. Of course, every shipbuilder says this, so what’s the difference with Damen’s products?
Henk Grunstra, Damen Product Director Ferries, comments: “One difference is we pay very close attention to the environment the client will be operating in – the specifics of what the vessel is expected to do and what loads it will carry.”
By their nature rules and regulations – although stringent and of high quality – are often universal and they often don’t take the intricacies of local/custom needs into account.
Crucially, another part of the Damen philosophy is that it is never prepared to compromise on safety when faced with a lower budget. “Perhaps because we are a family-owned company, our family values extend into a moral obligation towards our clients: we go beyond the regulations. We take pride in looking after our clients and the safety of their people.
“A client may need a less complex solution and have a more limited budget for example, but this is no reason to compromise on safety. What we need to do, instead, is find smart solutions that cover safety without compromising on cost requirements,” stresses Mr Grunstra.
A great example is the extremely affordable Damen Ferry 1806, which encompasses several important safety features, such as four wide ramps for efficient embarking, redundant propulsion and steering, a sturdy steel monohull, an all-around closed bulwark of 1m high, emergency battery powered lighting and communication, a wheelhouse with a 360 degree view, and a fire system in the-insulated engine room, to name a few. Damen has recently received an order for 16 of these new ferries for Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.
“As a designer and a builder you always need to have a ‘safety mind’ – things such as ergonomics, redundancy, access to equipment and low maintenance requirements go a long way to encouraging safety. So what is to stop you making a vessel more watertight if you can do it with the same effort at the same cost?”
Melchert Baars, Project Engineer at Damen Services – Training adds that a Damen RoPax Ferry 5212 for a client in the Gambia is another recent example of where Damen goes beyond the regulations in the interests of supplying the safest vessels it possibly can.
Having sailed on RoRo and RoPax ferries himself for many years, Mr Baars explains: “When we provide familiarisation training at Damen for our new vessels, it encompasses safety and fire-fighting aspects, but it is not only generic; Damen also looks at what specifically applies to that particular ship.”
The passenger and vehicle ferry ‘Kunta Kinteh’ operates from Banjul, the Gambian capital, to Barra, across the mouth of the Gambia River estuary.
This RoPax ferry is built for inland shipping, but, for example, SOLAS regulations and best practices from seagoing RoPax ferries were taken into account, as they would apply to larger vessels.
“But still, even though it is not mandatory, we want to bring the safety standards up as high as we can. For example, though not required by the flag state, we introduced additional fire extinguishers on the car deck so they are close at hand in case a vehicle suffers a fire, extra life-saving appliances for passengers and extra CO2 fire extinguishers in the engine room.”
Damen also looked at other proven applications when creating the Safety Plan for the new Gambia ferry such as the Damen RoRo 5612, (for example, operated by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force). “Every time take lessons learnt from other Damen designs and aim to enhance safety aspects,” he adds.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force RoRo 5612, a disaster relief vessel, offered valuable lessons in improving safety on ferries.
The Group also regularly challenges its designers and engineers to come up with creative solutions to enhance safety. The addition of void spacing in engine rooms to give a buffer in the event of a collision and to minimise damage is just one example of this.
Training is another important factor in ensuring that safety levels are maintained and improved wherever possible. To highlight one recent initiative designed to mark the Interferry Conference in Manila in October 2016, Damen teamed up with the Netherlands Shipping Training Centre (NSTC), which is managed by the international maritime education and training organisation STC-Group. Rather than a traditional conference gift, such as a ship model, Damen approached NSTC and asked the organisation to put together a useful, safety-focused gift instead.
Damen and NSTC are now in the process of developing a training course for ferry crews in the Philippines, which features a number of elements, including rules and regulations (ISM Code), crew and crisis management and – important in public transportation – cross cultural differences.
Damen has worked with STC-Group for many years in the provision of seafarers’ training. As Martijn Voorham, General Manager NSTC, explains: “Damen and STC-Group have travelled the world together. Over the years we have frequently partnered up to provide crew training when Damen has delivered a vessel to a client.”
He continues: “Safety is our trade. In the case of the Philippines, it is of the utmost importance. This is an island nation where a large amount of transportation is carried out by sea and, especially on a ferry carrying passengers, safety is paramount.”
Mr Voorham stresses that the advantages of proper training in improving safety are clear. In cases where the crew is fully aware of safety procedures, they are shown to be up to 80% more effective in responding to an emergency situation.
Mr Grunstra adds: “Giving gifts at the Interferry Conference is something of a tradition for Damen. We wanted to offer something that would really make a difference. Teaming up with NSTC to offer this training is a sign of the commitment Damen has to improving maritime safety internationally.”
The NSTC agrees that safety is going way beyond mere requirements. “When developing the course we did not focus on compulsory skills, but instead two main things – cross-cultural awareness and situational awareness,” says Mr Voorham. “The Filipinos have already undergone three years of maritime education and training, which includes, but is not limited to, first aid, personal survival techniques, firefighting and rescue boat operation.
“If an incident occurs people tend to focus on what happened just before the moment, but we found that to really understand you have to look deeper. It is vital to have full situational awareness and the communication has to be at its best.” There is a feeling amongst shipowners that some of the compulsory courses have taken some of the communication elements and resource management out of training courses. The STC-Group has since received numerous requests to include these once again,” he adds.
“Research has been carried out showing that being on board an aircraft carrier is actually one of the safest places to be – which is not what you would expect. The fundamental reason is that the navies have communication down to a fine art – cultural and situational awareness is key.”
The new Philippines course will be tailor-made for the country, but will use elements from previous successful courses.
Damen also provided a specialised training programme for the crew of the new Gambian ferry. This involved training for the technical crew, and operational training for the Captain and crew. Here a Damen Training Engineer and Captain worked with the crew in Gambia to provide on the job training.
The tailor-made course included communication between the deck and the engine room, watch keeping in the engine room and on the bridge, how to load passengers and cargo, the Fire Control Safety Plan, as well as familiarisation with safety equipment (Emergency stops, Quick closing valves, etc.), fire-fighting equipment (including the fixed, internal fire-fighting system) and lifesaving equipment.
Mr Baars adds: “With a ferry, of course, it involves, passengers, vehicles/trucks etc… The last of can all be a potential fire hazard, so the crew needs to have additional specific instruction. And larger ferries also have hotel/catering staff on board, and they may not be seafarers. Again, this needs to be addressed. And indeed ferries may have several thousand people on board, so it is also important to know how to handle crowds.
“Damen takes all this into account when it arranges specific ferry safety training programmes,” he stresses.