Mind that rig!

01 Jun 2013 The Navigator

Daniel Wood looks back at what he has learnt from years of voyage planning at sea, in the navy and on cruise ships, and shares insights on voyage planning from the shore side from his current position as Vetting and Inspection Captain in the marine department for the world’s largest oil and gas company.

I joined a ship as first trip navigator with some nervousness. Satisfaction took over as I successfully planned and executed my first voyage. This was truly rewarding.

To describe voyage planning as ‘the planning for and efficient prosecution of the voyage from berth-to-berth’ is perhaps something of an oversimplification. Voyage planning is a fundamental safety-critical function in the world of ships and seafaring. Without proper voyage planning, ships could not do what they are designed to do.
Why do we plan our voyages? Because we want to get from A to B safely. This fulfils our three main responsibilities as seafarers:

  • Preserving the safety of life at sea
  • Preserving the safety of the ship
  • Protecting the marine environment from pollution.

If we do not plan properly, we are doomed to failure. In the 21st Century with instant media coverage and technology allowing unlimited access to any resource we can dream of, people are substantially more informed than they were in 1912, for example. The Costa Concordia incident threw voyage planning into the spotlight. Ask me who the first officer was on the Titanic and I could not tell you, but I do know who he was on the Concordia. Voyage planning is no less important now than it was in 1912, and it certainly is more publicised.

Learning to plan
As a cruise ship officer, I worked my way through the various ranks until I was promoted to first officer/navigator. I joined a ship several years ago as first trip navigator with some nervousness. This was to be my first time in the hot seat. I was going to be the officer responsible for voyage planning onboard. The nerves soon went, however, and satisfaction took over as I successfully planned and executed my first voyage.
I worked with the Captain on a one-toone basis, absorbing every last intricate detail on navigation and voyage planning that he passed on to me. The bridge team followed the plan that I had crafted, deferring to me on many matters of navigation. This was truly rewarding.
I immersed myself in voyage planning for the next three years, navigating the different ships that I served on all over the world. It was a sad day when I was promoted. I would no longer hold the coveted title of navigator. They say that the two best ranks as a crew ship deck officer are the navigator and the Captain. I still worked closely with all of the first officers under me, passing on my own knowledge and experience.

Moving into gas and oil
After leaving the world of cruise ships, I took up my current position with an oil and gas company, with literally hundreds of vessels and thousands of officers working for us. We are responsible for ensuring the safe operation of our vessels at all times, and of course the protection of our marine assets.
When I speak of marine assets, I am referring to miles and miles of pipelines, well heads, offshore structures, platforms, jack-up barges, drilling rigs and the like. One of the key elements that we focus on to achieve marine asset protection is voyage planning. Our unit carries out our inspection and audit regime with an unbeatable attention to detail. It is one of the most important aspects of our job.
We do this by closely scrutinising voyage plans and ensuring officers’ understanding of the identified risks in our area of operation. Our voyage plan checks are also closely aligned with our officer evaluations. This goes some way to help reduce the so-called 80% human factor attributable to marine incidents.

The preservation of marine assets
One thing I hardly ever considered when I was a navigator was other fixed marine assets. I focused on planning to keep my own ship safe, looking at hazards in relation to my ship only. I never gave much thought to assets belonging to someone else, or how a collision or grounding affecting an asset would be viewed by the owners; what their responses would be and how it would affect them. I suppose this is quite normal if you are not exposed to the various different elements that make up the wider world of shipping.
I have often heard people talk of voyage planning being similar to risk management. This is, in fact, precisely what it is and what we do. Our team incorporates a risk management strategy in our voyage planning checks. We:

  • identify and characterise threats
  • assess the vulnerability of our assets to specified threats
  • determine the risk
  • introduce control measures, in line with the ALARP principle
  • utilise a strategy to prioritise risk reduction measures.

The system works very well for us and ensures that our assets are adequately protected.

Taking risk responsibly
My advice is to plan your voyages to eliminate or minimise any risks, just as you would conduct a risk assessment. First you need to identify the hazards, whether they be pipelines or offshore structures, as in the oil and gas industry or the shallow water, weather, and heavy traffic that all mariners need to take into account.
When you assess the risk to these consider what impact could be on your ship, commercial infrastructure and the environment and then identify appropriate actions. This should insure that your control measures will result in increased distance from navigational hazards and better Under Keel Clearance (UKC).