In an earlier interview with Allianz Open Knowledge you identified poorly trained crew members as one of the biggest risks for shipping safety. Could ghost ships or drone ships reduce this risk?
Khanna: The Exxon Valdez incident changed tanker shipping for good. It had a lot of far reaching consequences with regards to different factors such as the design. Double hull technology protects in case of low intensity collisions and grounding. But it is still debatable how much it saves the tanker from spilling oil in a major accident. So the biggest change that came out of the Exxon Valdez incidents was the implementation of the so called the ISM-Code (International Safety Management-Code) of ships and the protection of the environment. The ISM-Code focuses on human factors.
Donney: That’s about right. The Exxon Valdez incident really showed that we needed to do something. If you looked at the Exxon Valdez, by any measurement at the time it was run by a good company, the ship was in Class and by every measure, this was a quality ship, yet here we had this big disaster.
Khanna: You can have a very good ship, high quality operation but one small error from any person on the bridge or any other officer can lead to a disaster. The operations are still handled by the people on board. Human error still counts for roughly 80% of all accidents at sea. On the contrary, it is very difficult to say that if you replace the crew with machines it’s going to work better. In spite of these 80% of accidents caused by human error, I think humans still can assure and provide the key element of instant risk management that include decisions which need to be taken instantly.
Donney: In the late 80s, a passenger ship ran aground on the North American continent. The crew was relying exclusively on their satellite receiver for navigation. They ventured out of the shipping channel but didn’t realize it. What happened was: the wiring had become loose so the satellite receiver in the wheel house had lost the signal. The receiver defaulted to dead reckoning, that means a basic mode of operation that only measures the ground speed and course, but doesn’t take into account other significant factors like the current or wind. Not watching anything other than their satellite navigation system, the crew ran aground.