Monday, 16 January 2012

Profits and the Sea

The press coverage of the capsizing of the cruise liner the Costa Concordia off the Tuscan coast has mainly focused on the actions of the captain and superficial similarities with the Titanic disaster 100 years ago. Hopefully the truth about the causes of this accident will be found and the culpability of the Captain or the Owners established. One thing we do know is seafarer's and their unions around the globe have been warning about the safety standards aboard ships for years.

There is much truth to the general view that those ships at greatest risk are those under "flags of Convenience" to avoid the more stringent safety and training regulations imposed on ships registered in the developed world. However as Andrew Linington of the Nautilus International union pointed out in his article for the Guardian (16/01/12) there are big safety questions about modern cruise liners too. The size of these vessels has doubled in the last 30 years whilst the lifeboats and evacuation procedures remain the same as 30 years ago. Regulators have not forced ship owners to adopt the newest safety measures and profit hungry owners are not going to spend any more than they have to. As with many industries it was workers organising and public outrage that forced many of the improvements.

Shipping has for obvious reasons long been the most international of industries. In the last 40 years this globalisation has intensified to a massive degree. Crews, more then in almost all other industries, are multilingual and multinational. The unions needed to respond to this by seeking to organise and campaign on a truly international scale, in general they have failed this challenge. Organising seafarers across the oceans of the world is not easy, but its vital to ensure safety at sea.

1 comment:

  1. A statement from the Nautilus maritime union:

    Cruiseship accident should be a wake-up call to regulators, says union
    The grounding of a cruiseship carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew two weeks into the Titanic centenary year should serve as a wake-up call to the shipping industry and those who regulate it, says the maritime professionals’ union Nautilus International.
    The union says the incident involving the Italian-flagged cruiseship Costa Concordia is the latest in a series that have highlighted its long-standing concerns over safety.
    ‘In this, the centenary of the loss of the Titanic, major nostalgia industry is already in full flow – but it is essential that everyone recognises that the Titanic offers lessons for today and that there are contemporary resonances that should not be lost,’ said general secretary Mark Dickinson.
    In particular, Nautilus is concerned about the rapid recent increases in the size of passenger ships – with the average tonnage doubling over the past decade.
    ‘Many ships are now effectively small towns at sea, and the sheer number of people onboard raises serious questions about evacuation,’ Mr Dickinson pointed out.
    ‘Nautilus is by no means alone in voicing concern at underlying safety issues arising from the new generation of “mega-ships” – whether they be passenger vessels carrying the equivalent of a small town or containerships with more than 14,000 boxes onboard. Insurers and salvors have also spoken about the way in which the sheer size and scale of such ships presents massive challenges for emergency services, evacuation, rescue, and salvage -- and we should not have to wait for a major disaster until these concerns are addressed.
    ‘The growth in the size of such ships has also raised questions about their watertight integrity and fire-fighting protection,’ he added. ‘In an address to a conference on the safety of large passenger ships in 2000, the then secretary-general of the International Maritime Organisation, William O’Neil, cited 12 passenger ship accidents in the previous six years and noted “…in retrospect we can see that it was to some extent a matter of luck – good weather, calm seas, and other ships in the vicinity, for example – that very few lives were lost”.
    ‘We believe that more attention needs to be given to such issues as the adequacy of life-saving appliances, and the quality and quantity of crews and their training and experience in operating these vessels and dealing with emergency situations, including evacuation,’ Mr Dickinson said.
    Nautilus says it is essential that inquiries into the Costa Concordia grounding examine reports of an electrical problem onboard – an issue on which the union raised concern following an explosion and loss of power onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
    It is essential that ships are built for safety, with adequate redundancy rather than a prescriptive minimum, the Union argues.
    It says the inquiries should also address human factor issues including seafarers’ working hours and adequate manning of bridge and engine room. Investigations also need to focus on crew competence and training issues, Mr Dickinson added.
    The Union is calling for a thorough review of regulations governing the construction and operation of passenger vessels - in particular, standards of stability and watertight integrity. Attention needs to be paid to existing evacuation systems and more innovative systems for abandonment.