Here we go again…..from a North Sea sand bar off England’s east coast: the U.K.’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its report on the May 12, 2008 grounding of the M/V CFL Performer on Haisborough Sand.
I quote, “The ship’s course had been laid directly over the shallow water of the Sand. The ship’s Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) was the primary means of navigation. Unfortunately, none of the ship’s officers had been trained in the use of the particular model of ECDIS installed. Thus, features on the ECDIS that might have prevented this grounding were not utilized.”
The vessel’s owners did, in fact, conduct onboard training for their crew and were obviously conscious of the importance of it. Their efforts are notable and commendable. But the original crew had rotated out and the crew onboard at the time of the accident had not received any training.
From Section 1.7 of the report:
“In November 2007, Radio Holland conducted ECDIS training on board CFL Performer for the master, chief officer and second officer who were in post at the time. The training occurred before the vessel entered service, and was specific to the Furuno ECDIS. The training consisted of two sessions, each lasting between 4 and 5 hours. No training in the use of ECDIS was provided for officers who subsequently joined the vessel.
Of the officers on board at the time of the grounding, neither the chief officer nor the second officer was trained in the operation of ECDIS, but both had used such equipment on previous ships. The master had no previous experience or training on ECDIS or any other form of electronic navigation system. None of the officers were aware of the significance of the safety contour, the safety depth, and the shallow and deep contours, and did not know how to establish a watch vector ahead of the vessel, or its significance. They also did not know how to use the ‘check page’ (Annex A) to ensure that all course lines and associated channel limits were clear of navigational dangers.
At the time of the grounding, the vessel’s owner was in the process of obtaining feedback from its ships’ officers regarding their experience with ECDIS, with a view to identifying future training needs.”
At some point in the future we’ll all likely have to attend mandatory ECDIS training because, time and again, we find that the adoption and implementation of exotic and complex new technologies often leads to the improper use of said equipment. The result is avoidable accidents that are directly linked to vessel crews’ unfamiliarity with the very equipment meant to improve safety. Training is meant to mitigate this problem, but the very generalized nature of most training of this sort subverts the primary goal: genuine proficiency with the equipment that you use on a daily basis, not the equipment that the typical less-than-ideally-funded training center happens to have on hand. The case of the CFL Performer is a good example of what is wrong with the attend-an-approved-course-and-get-a-certificate generic approach to training.
Every five years I, and all of my peers, have to attend a mandatory 1-day radar observer renewal course. Each time I go back I have to prove myself competent at an activity that I can honestly say that I have never once done on the job (plot vector diagrams on either a plotting sheet or on the illuminated screen of a radar for the purpose of avoiding collision) on largely obsolete equipment that no one uses. I won’t go into a rant about the sheer absurdity of it all: try this vector-plotting nonsense in the typical upper wheelhouse of a tug in New York Harbor on a typical busy watch when the “bridge team” is composed of me, myself and I. Suffice it to say that this “training” is pretty much a complete waste of time and energy. The poor instructors, if they have any self-respect, are forced to say things like “we know you’ll never, ever do this. But we have to go over it anyway and blah, blah, blah…..” I really do pity them, having to apologize for the blatant shortcomings of the course, repeating this over and over again, year after year. I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.
For certain kinds of electronic navigation and communications equipment (ECDIS, ARPA, AIS, GMDSS) a more specialized approach clearly would be likely to provide significantly better results at the user’s end. There could be a concise “general” course requirement that covers the basic theory and operational aspects of a particular type of equipment, followed by a make-and-model specific training module utilizing the actual units that the trainees will be using on board their vessels. This would probably require, in most cases, on-site training (like that which was provided by Radio Holland to the crew of the CFL Performer), at least for the latter part. A system like this would clearly be best geared toward smaller groups of mariners working for individual companies that have chosen to standardize the equipment they install on their vessels (which is generally a good practice to get into the habit of anyway). And it will certainly cost more, and be somewhat more difficult for the authorities to administer than the current course-approval process. The on-site instructors would need regularly updated familiarization training themselves as new models are released, so as to competently instruct others, and so more would be expected of them. It would make more sense for this stage of the training to be conducted by CG-approved instructors employed directly with or contracted by the equipment manufacturers. More expensive? Probably so, but the benefits would be considerable.
The alternative is to continue doing things as we do now, which will continue to yield disappointing results while wasting a lot of time, effort and money on training that clearly isn’t getting the job done. Which costs more in the end?