Free Article: DPA – the next step in your career?

30 May 2023 Institute News

Steve Window discusses the role of the Designated Person Ashore (DPA) with Peter Werner, the NI’s lead lecturer on DPA training, and how the NI’s new course supports professionals taking up this important position.

Steve Window FNI
Peter Werner MNI

The ISM Code requires all commercial shipping companies to have a trained DPA as a point of contact between the company and seafarers operating their vessels. The DPA monitors the safety and pollution prevention aspects of the operation of the vessel and follows the requirements of a Safety Management System (SMS) and all other mandatory guidelines.

The DPA is both a direct and essential line of communication to upper management within the company. They are required to be contactable at all hours of the day in case resources are needed to ensure the safety of the crew, vessel, cargo, and environment. It is a high-visibility and safety critical role, and seafarers must have the means to contact their company’s DPA.

Our lead lecturer for the DPA course is Peter Werner. Peter designed and introduced the course for the NI earlier this year and the uptake has been very encouraging. I’m delighted that he has been able to share some of his insights with us:

Steve: Peter, what do you see as the main role of a DPA?
Peter: The role of the DPA is defined by ISM

Code Element 4 and there are three key roles:

  • Verification and monitoring of the safety and pollution prevention aspects of the operation of each ship;
  • Providing a communication link between ship and top management;
  • Ensuring that there are sufficient resources and shore based support as required. In our course we speak in detail about these three key roles.

Steve: So, why is training in the role so important?
Peter: Some flag states have DPA training as a mandatory requirement. The IMO addressed the importance of training with detailed training requirements (MSC – MEPC.7 circular No 6). Even when training is not required by a flag state, we nevertheless recommend that people going into the role attend a course. The reason for this is that the training course provides the individual with a thorough grounding in both management system tools and modern management practices.

Our focus has been to provide relevant, focused training that can make a positive and cost-effective impact upon our members careers.

Steve: What’s the difference between a DPA and a Superintendent?
Peter: The DPA is required by ISM, and the DPA has a clear monitoring role. The DPA isn’t responsible for day-to-day operations, which is the role of a superintendent. The DPA must have sufficient financial and other resources to ensure the fulfilment of their role – and be given enough time for supervision and monitoring of the vessels and their operating environment. This includes monitoring compliance with mandatory rules and regulations as well as ensuring that applicable guidelines and standards are taken into account. Also, the DPA has direct access to the top management levels for the reporting of non-conformities and results of incident investigations. This is a higher level of interaction than a superintendent would normally be exposed to. Steve: Has the role of DPA made shipping operations safer?

Peter: If the DPA is doing their job correctly, then the risks of accidents will almost certainly be reduced. While there are no explicit statistics regarding this, losses have been reduced since the implementation of the ISM code.

Steve: How many ships should a DPA look after?

Peter: There are no legislated specific requirements. However, it would be sensible to employ deputies in larger fleets in order to keep the workload within sensible parameters. The use of deputies would also be advantageous in mixed fleets of different vessel types, since the DPA is required to have knowledge of specific vessels. For example, passenger vessels, container vessels or tankers have significantly different risk areas and associated weighting of that risk. There are also questions of workload. If we take Liberia as an example Flag State, it has a requirement that a DPA must be available at all times – so having a deputy is effectively compulsory. 

Additionally, where no DPA or Deputy is appointed, this would be a major non-conformity

Steve: Is it a good career move?

Peter: The role of DPA could be described as a next step after that of superintendent. It requires a deeper understanding of management systems and the DPA has direct communications to the top management levels of the company. A good DPA will need to refine their ways of thinking and communicating effectively in the corporate environment. Moving on from DPA, the next progression could be to a technical manager position in the company, perhaps leading to the Board of Directors. Alternatively, routes into Flag Administration or class societies may open up. You could even set up as a trainer! There are a lot of options.

Steve: What one piece of advice would you give to a newly qualified / in-post DPA?

Peter: It’s difficult to confine the answer to one piece of advice. I would say that it’s essential to gain as much management expertise as quickly as possible. This requires the DPA to concentrate on system tools and to assess and analyse what’s happening. Where incidents occur, then they must adopt a pro-active view to define proper and effective actions to prevent recurrence. They must understand the ISM Code as a toolbox with proper management tools – and they should not allow themselves to be bogged down in operational issues. That’s the superintendent’s role!

Steve: How long is the course and how much does it cost?

Peter: The course takes 4 1/2 days, taught online, with an assessment at the end (70% pass mark). The successful delegate will receive a NI certificate of completion. The course costs £1,500 for non-members and £1,200 for members. The NI also offers in-house courses for shipping companies which could be delivered over two full days in the customer’s offices.

Steve: Thank you Peter!