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Sustaining Compliance with Safe Return to Port

fire

By MarEx 2016-05-14 23:00:57

The SOLAS Safe Return to Port (SRTP) regulations place significant responsibilities on seafarers manning new medium and large passenger vessels and highly occupied Special Purpose Ships. Dr Luis Guarin, partner and naval architect at Brookes Bell Safety at Sea, explains the implications of SRTP requirements on crew, and the measures shipowners and operators can take to prepare their teams for flood or fire emergencies:

The SRTP regulations represent a step change in crew responsibilities during flood and fire emergencies. Under the regulations, crew are required to contain emergency fire or flooding incidents defined in SRTP regulations and recover the operability of affected essential systems and the ship. Working under the philosophy that a ship is its own best lifeboat, a vessel’s essential systems must be demonstrated to remain operational following fire and flooding damages that do not exceed a certain pre-defined casualty threshold.

While a simple concept in essence, SRTP regulations present significant and multi-faceted challenges. Although the regulations came into force almost six years ago on July 1, 2010, it is only recently that many affected shipowners and operators have realized the full scale of the challenges SRTP poses during vessel operation. This is because adherence to SRTP regulations is the responsibility of the ship builder up to the point of vessel delivery, at which point the ship owner or operator becomes responsible for compliance. 

This trend for shipowners and operators to typically engage with SRTP regulations at the point of vessel delivery was foreseen by Brookes Bell in 2010, at which time we identified the need to introduce processes that made SRTP compliance more integrated between ship design and operation. By introducing measures to improve the flow of this transition, the aim is to make SRTP easier to implement for seafarers and more efficient and cost effective for owners and operators.

Thousands of manual tasks

The scale of the SRTP compliance challenge is considerable, but not insurmountable. To achieve compliance, shipbuilders typically carry out Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) for each essential system, culminating in an extensive FMEA report for each system approved by a class society on behalf of a vessel’s flag state. 

When a vessel is delivered, the crew must interpret the outcome of the systems documentation and results of FMEA studies for each essential system and use the information to develop procedures that ensure compliance in an emergency. 

For a single flood or fire scenario, the number of manual tasks the crew must complete to contain damage and recover essential systems varies significantly. It could involve a few individual actions, or hundreds, depending on the nature of the incident. 

To compound the issue, the crew must be able to contain damage and recover essential systems when impacted by all flood or fire scenarios defined in the SRTP regulations. The total number of individual damage scenarios varies depending on the size of the ship, but could include 100 or more. 

In one industry example, all this meant that 100 different manual actions were required to contain damage and recover the operability of an essential ship system in a single scenario. For this vessel, a total of 200 possible scenarios required SRTP compliance. Therefore, the crew required training to implement a total of 20,000 manual steps to ensure compliance in emergency situations.

This may sounds like an overwhelming task to prepare for and instigate when necessary. However with the right preparation, compliance processes between shipbuilders and shipowners, operators and crew can become more integrated and the flow from vessel design to operation more fluent.  

Route to compliance 

Upon delivery of a new vessel, design assumptions made in the FMEA studies need to be validated to ensure any discrepancies between compliance during vessel design and operation can be addressed. To do this, shipowners and operators need access and sufficient resources to review the information, which is extensive and at times difficult to interpret. These steps are all necessary to ensure results of FMEA studies can be effectively applied to ensure SRTP compliance during vessel operation. 

Once crew procedures to recover the operability of essential ship systems are defined, continuous and systematic drills must be conducted. This will ensure that the crewmembers tasked with carrying out manual actions are familiar and competent with the emergency control procedures in line with the correct design intentions and for all SRTP scenarios. 

While effective, this strategy has its own associated challenges. For example, planning and conducting SRTP drills is likely to require extensive efforts due to the large number of scenarios and associated manual actions. Manual actions may involve sequential steps carried out at different locations throughout the ship, requiring, for example, specific access arrangements. This logistical information (not necessarily provided in the FMEA studies) needs to be defined and recorded in a systematic manner and made available to crew throughout the life of the ship, including all possible maintenance work and modifications.

Furthermore, SRTP compliance is made more difficult by the high crew turnover inherent within the passenger and cruise industry. Steps need to be taken to ensure acquired SRTP knowledge is not lost when people move on and that the process of increasing competence for new crew members becomes faster, more efficient and controlled.

A unique regulation requires a new approach

Ultimately, SRTP is a unique safety regulation that requires an innovative approach, excellent teamwork, modern tools and application of best practices. It is a life-long process, which needs to be well planned and organized throughout the lifecycle of a vessel. It should include new crew training so that seafarers can confidently contain fire and flooding damage, and recover affected essential systems and the ship in an emergency. Furthermore, measures should be taken to ensure SRTP compliance can be maintained throughout all upgrades and possible conversions, and support the crew during maintenance work. 

If clear and well-demonstrated processes such as Brookes Bell’s Systems Analysis Modeller can be introduced to achieve this, SRTP compliant vessels will become easier and more cost effective to operate and maintain.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.