They say everyone chooses their own kind of hell. For shipping, it just might be the rules.
By Ryan Skinner (email)
It's total sacrilege, but I'm going to say it. Maybe DNV f*cked up.
Now, I have all the respect in the world for the guys over at Høvik. They're brilliant. Even if I kind of panned their Quantum thingy, they're still leagues ahead of most outfits in this business. They're what passes for bleeding edge in (let's be frank) an oftentimes dull industry.
But consider this ECDIS business. Over and over again, people pushing ECDIS cite the DNV studies, which demonstrated that mandatory ECDIS would reduce groundings by some dizzyingly high percentage. It was more or less on the back of these studies that the IMO went whole-hog and made these chart computers mandatory on all SOLAS ships PDQ.
The rules logic goes awry on the graph where x = some not-too-distant point in the future and y = a metric tonne of rulebooks. Suddenly, a rule requiring every master to have his mother on the bridge to hold his hand, doesn't work. The sheer weight of rules sinks the ship.
Now, I'm a big fan of ECDIS. It's ingenious like the GPS in a car, which I don't use but love on rentals. And perhaps that's the difference. No one mandates a GPS. No one argues that every GPS operates a little differently. No one moans about the need to update a GPS now and then. No one needs to take any special training to use one.
Would it not be better for regulators to get far out of the way, and let technology adoption take its own natural path? If ECDIS is just an example, is the profusion of rules making shipping safer, or more dangerous?
In order to apply a little science to this question, I've created/found a few graphs that help illustrate the problem. The first illustrates the expanding stack of rules that apply to shipping operations:
As we can see from this well-documented study, the amount and detail of rules-making has grown out of control. This chart is anecdotal, yes, but anecdotal evidence from shipping companies suggest it's approximately true. Is it having a beneficial effect on safety? Here are two charts taken at (relative) random regarding maritime casualties.
Granted, increasing volume of accidents and value lost may easily stem from a much larger world fleet. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem as if more rules = more safety. Is it then wise to create, yes, even more rules?
When considering mandatory ECDIS, perhaps it would be best to look at accident figures for high-speed craft (ferries and the like). ECDIS has been mandatory on these for many years; has it resulted in fewer incidents? Anyone have the data on that?
Both shipowners and officers are rightly grumpy about ECDIS mandation. Many people are simply PO'd that this thing's being pushed down their throats. Officers hear that they will get dual ECDIS and paper will be gone, and they worry. What about viruses? What about system crashes? Others rejoice.
I know the ECDIS fan-boy crowd is going to come down on me hard for this. They argue (in many cases, rightly) that without mandation the merchant fleet simply won't do ECDIS. Why? Because it's costly. And that may be true. But costs come down. Applications increase. And pretty soon ECDIS would be mandatory for entirely different reasons, not legal ones.
You can legislate yourself into a thicket, and I fear this may be happening more and more often in shipping and at the IMO.