Managing the impact of the human element on risk

The International Union of Marine Insurance, which speaks for marine underwriters worldwide, fully supports quality and safety standards and, equally, is fully committed to improving maritime safety.

All insurers are aware that the biggest obstacle to a lasting improvement in casualty experience is human error. Statistics collated by IUMI indicate that human failure is a lead- ing cause of total and partial losses of vessels and, often, the valuable cargoes they carry.

So the human element in shipping operations and its impact on risk is critical. Proper training and experience are essential to produce good, reliable mariners, of course, but this applies also to the underwriters, loss control professionals and surveyors who assume and manage the risks associated with international trade.

These also benefit from having a maritime and/or logistics background, whether shore- based or at sea; but practical job training is also very beneficial for those with no prior maritime experience.

Today, marine insurance companies carry out far less on-the-job training in these areas than in the past, so underwriters and surveyors are often required to attend external courses to gain experience. They need to be knowledgeable about how the transportation supply chain works - specifically in relation to terminals, cargo, vessel operation and the required qualifications of the personnel who work on board ship or ashore.

Crew selection and training, maintenance in terminals and on board ship, as well as basic operations such as loading and discharge, can all be positively or negatively affected by economic conditions, as we have seen during the course of 2009, and marine professionals must be aware of the potential impact on their business.

Underwriters and surveyors need to have a practical understanding of the standard operating procedures applied by the vessels/ owners they insure/survey to fully appreciate and evaluate constantly evolving risks.

Today’s modern ship, of whatever type, is a highly complex piece of machinery, largely controlled by computer programs and systems, from the bridge to the engineroom. Training in this new technology, and the time to undertake it thoroughly, is therefore vital, especially for officers and cadets on board but also for shipmanagers and supervisors ashore.

Language is another big issue when crews from many different countries come together with little or zero common language skills. Commercial marine insurers and the protection and indemnity mutual clubs are largely agreed that, in an ideal world, shipping should take its lead from the aviation industry, where English is the unchallenged common language.

Things may indeed be moving that way, albeit slowly. In February this year the European Parliament advocated that all communica- tions between ship and port within the European Union should be in English. A common language would reduce confusion and cause fewer admin delays, it was said. It appears that the coastal shipping network in European waters is the focus of this Brussels initiative, but obviously it could develop into a wider picture.