Why does commercial shipping need a human touch?

| Aug 28, 2020 | Maritime Law |

Have you ever traveled to the coast and watched the tankers and container ships sail past the horizon? They can be an inspiring sight. Giant and majestic testaments to human ingenuity. These ships carry tons of freight and goods over the seas and across the globe. The modern model of trade and commerce rides within their holds.

Yet for all their bulk, for all the millions spent in their creation and for all their technological advances, these ships demand a human touch. In fact, a series of recent accidents remind us that the shipping industry isn’t deeply impersonal and mechanical. Skilled, trained, attentive humans remain just as important as ever.

Machines cannot yet take your place

Marine Insight recently reported on a string of incidents that show just how important it is for captains and crew to do their jobs. Properly. And always. Over a period of just two months, the site reported on two grounded car carriers and one ship collision. In all these incidents, we see the signs of human failure:

  • Inaccurate stability calculations
  • Inadequate training
  • Poor decision-making
  • Failure to maintain watch
  • Disabling key systems
  • Sailing too fast for conditions

In addition, the grounding of the Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius reminded us of yet another failure:

  • The consumption of drugs and alcohol

In that incident, the ship’s captain allegedly permitted the ship to sail closer to the coast so that his crew could get better cell phone signals. The report also suggested the captain was attending a birthday party, with alcohol, at the time of the accident. The reporters were unable to identify the officer on duty.

Training, skill and attention can still prevent disaster

Fortunately, none of these reports cited any fatalities or major injuries. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t serious. Each of these incidents carries a significant financial cost, and every accident at sea carries the potential for injury.

Because sailors and other maritime workers don’t get workers’ compensation, it’s important for them to understand who or what is to blame for their injuries. In some cases, the fault may be theirs alone. But in many cases, the fault lies with someone else’s decision to drink instead of keeping watch or an officer’s decision to ask too much of an untrained crew member. The fault may even lie with a company’s decision to shortcut its training programs. Despite all our modern technology, most accidents at sea still start with human error.