Despite risk assessments, checklists, exercises and safety systems, accidents sometimes occur. Some are serious with large losses; others are minor and easier to deal with. Whatever the event, good preparedness and rational behaviour is the best way to minimise the consequences. That is the opinion of the master, trainer and author, Tobias Magnusson.
In one respect, accidents at sea are more difficult than those that occur ashore. Rescue services are more limited and getting external assistance can take time, especially if the weather is bad and the ship is far away from the coast. In recent decades, awareness of the importance of preventive work has attracted an increasing amount of interest. It has possibly contributed to the falling number of accidents. According to the latest statistics from the Swedish Transport Agency, 99 accidents and incidents occurred in 2011 on Swedish-registered ships (seven of which were fishing boats). The corresponding figure in 2010 was 123. The fall is also true for the percentage comparison. But there are still serious accidents as well as near-misses and incidents. Among last year’s incidents, everything from groundings and collisions to machine breakdowns and leakages took place.
Tobias Magnusson is normally the master on Silja Symphony, but he also teaches crowd and crisis management to marine officer students and external participants at Chalmers University of Technology. In the spring he released his book Krisledarskap (Crisis leadership), which he wrote together with the sea captain, Ian Magnus Lewenhaupt. According to Tobias, the best way to equip yourself and the crew for an accident is through careful preparation.
”When an accident happens you often need to act quickly and efficiently. There is not always time to think and reflect. If a fire starts in a deep-fat fryer or a pan, you should know immediately what to do. The better prepared you are, the greater are the chances that you will act in the right way and that you do not panic through fear,” he says.
”Information provides security”
One accident is rarely the same as another and there are a number of different scenarios that may occur. It is not possible to practice for all eventualities, explains Tobias, but adds that the more you vary training with the crew, the greater are the chances of managing a live situation efficiently.
Inventive navigation officers
”On Silja Symphony we have imaginative navigation safety officers who challenge the crew in different ways when we practice. Suddenly there is a fire hose that doesn’t work, an emergency exit that can’t be used, or you can’t contact your immediate manager. Then you realise the importance of having a backup plan,” says Tobias.
Out of all the accidents on Swedish-registered ships in 2011, more than half (55) occurred on passenger ships. On ferries there is a risk that the consequences of an accident will be more extensive since there are many more people on board (both passengers and crew) compared with cargo ships. It also means there is a larger safety organisation to coordinate.
”On the Symphony there are about 220 people in the crew. Virtually all of them are in the safety crew and have a specific job to do in the event of an accident,” says Tobias.
The crew is divided into groups with different areas of responsibility.
”We try to make each group as independent as possible. When an accident occurs, officers may not be available all the time,” says Tobias.
Exercise provides practical skills but also a sense of security and safety that can help in contact with passengers. An important task for the master is to provide those on board with information on what is happening.
”Information gives security. Even when we do not have anything to report, it is still important to communicate and say, for example, ”Nothing has happened in the last ten minutes but we will give you more information as soon as we know anything new”. For passengers, it is nice to know that there is someone at the other end of the rope and that the crew are working to manage the situation.