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   Report on Freak Wave Seminar

   Held on Board HQS Wellington
8th December 2003

   The Objective.
Thoroughly to examine seafaring issues involved in extreme weather conditions and to consider the economic and political implications of improving and regulating standards of shipbuilding and maintenance.

The seminar was attended by over 100 delegates representing a wide spectrum of international interests.

   The Seminar Programme.
Delegates were welcomed by the Master Captain Simon Culshaw, who spoke from personal experience of the violent conditions which can be encountered in the North Atlantic in wintertime, particularly off the coast of Newfoundland.

   The Honourable William O’Neill
the outgoing Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reviewed several tragic losses of vessels in the last few decades. He made the point that the general public have the wrong criterion, by making the comparison, in public awareness, of the loss of a bridge, without loss of lives, and the loss of a ship, with resulting casualties, and there is a need for a wider education in maritime affairs.

   Making seafaring a safer career and ship owning a better financial investment must be key objectives for the improvement of the industry.

   Achievable goals can, and should be set, ships should be built to the highest possible, but agreed, standards, and maintained under a strict set of rules monitored by IACS
and regulated internationally by IMO.

   Emeritus Professor Douglas Faulkner
underlined the necessity of avoiding extreme conditions, stating that constant vigilance, on the part of mariners, is vital. He gave the frightening statistic that in the year 2001, 111 ships were lost , resulting in well over 1000 seafarers losing their lives. This must be totally unacceptable.

   It is necessary to use all means, including modelling and simulation to establish a survival design, and then agree a timescale to put these standards into effect.

   He maintained that the cult of cheapness in all maritime aspects is strangling the industry.

   Captain Chris Hartnoll.
a ship owner, stated that an imposed time factor was frequently the imperative for the ship-owner and charter. Distances of up to 600 miles a day for a 25 knot vessel were written into contracts. This frequently resulted in ships being driven too hard in adverse weather conditions.

   Patrick Mellis.
Managing Director of Three Quays International, stated that there is a need to change the rules. Polluted beaches rate 10 while the lives of far eastern seafarers rate 1, in public concern and awareness. Freight rates have been driven down and down by the abundance of sub standard ships with inferior manning. This has resulted in the entire industry working to minimum standards He stated that as an industry we have killed a lot of seafarers over the years, with little response.

   Even today a constructive total loss is likely to produce more profit than running the ship. The owner of quality ships has great difficulty in obtaining a reasonable return on the investment in a fine ship.

   Driven by this commercial imperative, the industry adopts the philosophy, one design fits all and cheap ships are still being built.

   However, he went on to state, Britannia does not rule the wave anymore. The IMO
must take the lead in imposing higher scantlings. There must be a formal safety assessment with a cost/ benefit analysis so that each improvement can be cost justified.

   Mr Michael Grey.
Well known in shipping circles for his ‘Viewpoint’ articles in Lloyds List presented a hard hitting paper.

   He stated that financial conditions are driving down standards in shipbuilding and in ship manning. The result of over capacity in availability of ships is financial distress, severe economies and a culture of cheapness. The price must be right upon delivery, this results in a cheap ship.

   His contention is that no eyebrows are raised at safety related matters, but there must be a total rethink and re-evaluation of how we can rid our oceans of death traps for seafarers and hazards for the environment.

   Doctor Helge Rathje
. Germanischer Lloyd. Dr Rathje gave a technical presentation describing instrumentation which measures serious stress and bending moments , this is combined with information received from x-band radar and provides a visual display which can guide the mariner. The equipment is presently fitted to two vessels as a trial.

   Professor Peter Kjeldsen
.Trondheim Maritime Academy.

   This paper was in two parts. Firstly it described research work done on the Norwegian Continental shelf, initiated by the off-shore industry, and the losses and damage resulting from abnormal waves and weather, secondly the presentation of a new Heavy Weather Avoidance System (HWAS).

   The losses of the platform Ocean Ranger near Newfoundland and the loss of two well found ships M/V Norse Variant and M/V Anita, both large bulk carriers were described. The losses occurred in extremely violent storm conditions in the North Atlantic, in the same area and at the same time, in the case of the M/V Anita there was not any time to send an emergency signal and the loss of life was heavy in each instance. These losses were most probably the result of freak waves and they were most likely to have been breaking waves.

   The paper went on to describe the HWAS as a tactical decision making aid for ship’s officers.

   Experience had shown that several ships had suffered losses and damage, mainly at night, when the severity of the conditions was misjudged. However, twelve ships of a large Norwegian shipping company have now been fitted and the results seem very promising.

   Captain Leonard Holder
supported the view that there is a need to increase the survivability of modern ships, and there is a need for better education for ship’s officers in ship handling in severe weather conditions. The time taken and the method of evacuation in the ultimate situation also requires research and training for sea-going personnel.

   He reminded the seminar members that one cubic metre of salt water weighs more than one tonne and a ship can expect to encounter 300000 waves in one month of passage making. The danger of breaking waves is obvious.

   He did however raise the point of building for ultimate strength, as in Blue Funnel, and being overtaken by ship development, as in containerisation. Nevertheless he recalled the Ben Liner, which was severely damaged in a violent storm off the coast of East Africa, which had lesser scantlings.

   In relation to training of senior officers, Captain Holder specifically mentioned the Japanese Ship Captains’Association’s research , interactive video training and also publications such as Seaways (The International Journal of the Nautical Institute). These describe the recent and relevant experience of serving senior officers.

   Alan Graveson.
NUMAST. Alan is himself an ex Bulk Carrier Officer, and contended that there had been a significant decline in building standards over a number of decades. He recalled a Bulk carrier smashed up in a North Atlantic storm on which there were 158 separate items of serious damage. He also expressed serious doubts about the design and strength of some passenger vessels to withstand violent storm conditions.

   The ‘Open Discussion’at the conclusion brought interesting and salient comments from the assembly. There was a feeling that another sea-going disaster is not going to be long delayed.

   However, much work is being done on model testing and in efforts to improve standards all around the maritime scene.

   It was accepted that the competitive factor in freight rates and in shipbuilding are destructive and are driving down standards in shipping internationally.

   One commentator suggested that it would not require a vast amount of money to considerably improve safety standards.

   It was agreed by the attending seminar members, that there must be improved design and increased scantlings for shipping internationally, coupled with a determination to rid the oceans of rogue ships. This must be driven by members of IACS and monitored by IMO.

   There should be some incentives for those ship-owners who consistently work to improve standards and operate ships which are Fit For Purpose.


"Reproduced with the kind permission of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners".

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