Seafarers need special training to deal with rising tide of data, insurers warn

2 May 2018

Concerns raised over crews’ ability to cope with impact of cutting-edge technology.

There is an increasingly pressing need for seafarers to get special training to be able to understand and handle the high volumes of data being produced onboard their ships, insurers have warned.

Presenting its latest hull casualty statistics,the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) said it was concerned about the 'ability of crews to manage cutting-edge technology and assimilate growing amounts of data'.

IUMI warned that there is some evidence that the frequency of collisions is increasing – possibly as a result of the introduction of modern technology.

'It is important to stress that this upcoming problem is not limited to shipping, but interlinked to all businesses,' IUMI secretary general Lars Lange told the Telegraph.

'Technology is becoming more complex by the day, systems are becoming more automated and crew members need to learn and understand how this technology works in order to work with it appropriately.

'All the new technology and automated systems that are part of our industry need to be fully understood and will need to be operated by properly trained crew to reduce risk and ensure safety at sea,' he added.

Mr Lange said insurers expect to see problems arising from automated and connected systems. 'For example, main engines can be monitored onboard and online from the office. This needs to be properly and safely organised,' he stressed.

Similarly, he said, there should be a smooth information flow between ship owner, ship and terminal in the use of chronologically advanced cargo-handling systems.

'Employees need to be trained and there must be proper communication between all parties,' he added. IUMI is particularly concerned about cyberattacks on ship systems, and it says that training crew on 'easily avoidable issues such as not opening emails or using USB sticks from unknown parties' will help minimise risks.

'Many of the problems that may arise from a cyber-attack on ship's systems are easily preventable, and this is where IUMI is focusing its attentions,' Mr Lange explained.

'For example, for system updates such as updating ECDIS, there is a need to check – properly – before clicking "update".'

12 recommendations for onboard IT and OT procedures are being planned by IACS
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BIMCO and the Comité International RadioMaritime (CIRM) have recently published an industry-wide standard for software maintenance which crew members should follow, he added.

Mr Lange said there is a need for regulatory change as well as the development of 'best practice' guidelines. He noted that the International Association of Classification Societies is developing 12 initial recommendations for IT and OT (Operational Technology) procedures onboard, which will require additional crew training.

'More crew training will also be needed when cyber resilience becomes part of the onboard safety management system following the International Maritime Organisation maritime safety committee's decision to include measures against cyber threats in 2021,' he pointed out.

Mr Lange said IUMI also notes the need for onboard systems to be designed with safety in mind from the outset – ensuring that they are easy to handle, robust, and easy to update.

'It is in IUMI's and all stakeholders'interests that this challenge is actively dealt with,' he added. 'We believe that it is not limited to just cutting-edge technology but applied to all systems – and it is vital that crew members are fully trained in these new systems.'

Top image: Seafarers training at City of Glasgow College. Will courses on operational technology data-handling and assimilation be on the curriculum soon?