We have seen two reports on groundings during the summer in which alcohol was involved. The Swedish Accident Investigation Authority’s report on the Atlantic’s grounding last year also points in the same direction. Another major problem taken up in the report on the Atlantic was lack of sleep. Steering ships and using alcohol is a no-go; on that we are all agreed. For a number of years in Sweden there has been a virtually zero-tolerance policy for all Swedish-flagged ships. The groundings seen in the summer were dry cargo vessels sailing under flags of convenience with no Scandinavians on board.
After the accidents Tomas Eneroth, Minister for Infrastructure, called for a meeting with representatives from the shipping industry to discuss how to increase safety at sea and tackle the problem of alcohol use. It was agreed at an early stage that the problem is not Swedish but international and that work must be carried out on several levels at once. It was also stated that the different parties involved must interact much more efficiently.
Future work will not only focus on alcohol; the culture of safety regarding tiredness/fatigue must also be improved from an international perspective. There was consensus on examining the whole transport chain, not only goods at sea.
If we focus on the problem in shipping, it is primarily small dry cargo ships, often with eastern European crews, where more safety culture is needed. Alcohol was long seen as a natural part of working at sea, particularly in the Nordic countries and eastern Europe. The tanker and ferry sectors of the industry have rooted out the problem themselves by introducing a zero tolerance policy, but there are no corresponding regulations for dry cargo vessels, particularly in the eastern European countries. The combination of flags of convenience and eastern European crews is very common on ships in the Baltic Sea and gives a further explanation of the two groundings. Given the intensity of traffic in the Baltic Sea, there are in fact surprisingly few incidents that occur. The issue of tiredness/fatigue is one factor that has not been widely discussed in this context, and we are pleased that the meetings with the Minister for Infrastructure and the Accident Investigation Authority have drawn attention to this aspect. It is a major problem on today’s ships, which have minimal crews for reasons of economics and competition, and essentially applies to all flag states and all nationalities of seafarers. Not having sufficient rest gives effects that are similar to the consumption of alcohol. There are international rules governing rest periods onboard, but the level of compliance is often an unknown factor. And who must take responsibility for an incident or accident caused by crewmembers’ lack of sleep? I believe that it is the shipowner, the charterer, the flag state and the supervisory authority that bear the real responsibility, and yet the blame still lands on individual seafarers at the end of the day.
Mikael Huss, VD Sjöbefälsföreningen