Posted on | December 17, 2009 | 3 Comments
When the Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on November 27, 2007, in a heavy fog, it became an exhibit in the ongoing debate about the importance of crew qualifications.
The San Francisco Bay pilot, John Cota, had a medical history, and appears to have been taking, in the words of the National Transportation Safety Board, “…a number of medications, the types and dosages of which would be expected to degrade cognitive performance, and these effects were present on the day of the accident.”
The NTSB report also related that the pilot and the master “failed to engage in a comprehensive master-pilot information exchange before the ship departed the dock.”
Among other things, the Board found that the master failed to implement several procedures found in the company safety management system (SMS), and the manual containing these procedures was only in English, not in Chinese, which was the spoken language of the bridge crew.
The crew, moreover, were new to the vessel, new to the management company, and had not worked together previously. It found that the crew were inadequately trained in vessel operations and safety procedures.
Finally, the Board found that the United States Coast Guard had failed to require that mariners, including pilots, report changes in their medical condition, between medical evaluations: “The USCG, which had the ultimate responsibility for determining the pilot’s medical qualification for retaining his merchant mariner’s license, should not have allowed the pilot to continue his duties because the pilot was not medically fit.”
When the Cosco Busan struck the bridge, the damage to ship and shoreline as a result of spilled bunkers came to $70m for the clean-up, $2m for the ship, and $1.5m for the bridge – - not to mention the numerous dead birds, tallied by the local authorities.
All of this is food for thought, when we talk about problems of crew hiring, management and training. One of the unsolved challenges of today and tomorrow is how to compensate for the treatment of seafarers as a mere commodity. This state of affairs is probably the greatest threat to safety at sea at the present time, at least among commercial vessels.