Open Knowledge: In your experience, what were the biggest risks to ship safety?
Rahul Khanna: One of the key issues I faced in the latter part of my career was the declining quality of crew members. It was getting harder to find quality people who had enough experience and training, especially on specialized ships like tankers. And that has a strong impact on safety.
One example was a new Chief Officer who on paper had experience of the type of tankers I was commanding. He was responsible for loading the oil cargo but he made some critical errors and we had a massive pressure surge.
Luckily the shore systems tripped in time to avoid a pipeline break and the resulting pollution. The investigation found that he wasn’t experienced enough with these operations.
These are not isolated issues. One part of the problem is that, although training is in place, training standards vary from country to country, culture to culture. The other problem is the lack of experience. Senior officers need a few years under their belt to understand and mitigate risks.
Why is there a shortage of good crew members?
The problem arises from many years ago. As the economies of traditional European seafaring nations improved and better opportunities were to be found ashore, seafaring no longer was a preferred profession. The industry looked eastwards for new sources of manpower.
The cycle repeated itself when the Asian and Indian subcontinent economies developed. This led to shortage of experienced and skilled manpower as key skills were not necessarily transferred during these transitions.
Couple this decline from seafaring nations with the shipping construction boom from about the year 2000 onwards and you have a serious shortage of quality crew.
What would you like to see happen to improve crew quality?
Companies must put more effort into training and their internal standards because it will take years for the IMO (International Maritime Organization) to do that. Companies must realise they would benefit from more expenditure on safety and training rather than cost cutting.
We used to have a saying in the industry: “If you think safety is expensive, try an accident.“
Some companies do go to extra lengths to do seminars, training, even accident simulations when the crew is ashore. They have an open dialogue between crew and management. These forums are very helpful.