A new competence management system for the dry bulk industry

With bulk carrier safety once more a focus for regulators, Seagull Maritime’s Bulker Industry Training Standard (BITS) offers the sector’s first cohesive, structured package designed to develop safety-critical crew knowledge and competence.

Bulk Carrier Safety regulation has recently focused on the strengthening of the International Maritime Solid Bulk Code (IMSBC) covering the loading and transport of bulk cargoes, with new guidelines mandatory from January 1, 2015.

The new guidelines offer the regulatory response to concerns over continuing incidents of cargo liquefaction, and specifically the dangers identified in transporting nickel ore. The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo) has described nickel ore as the world’s most dangerous cargo and attributed the loss of 66 lives in South East Asia from 2009 to 2011 alone to cargo liquefaction.

Allianz Global and Corporate Specialty cited liquefaction as the primary cause of two bulk carrier total losses witnessed in 2013 – the 48,891 dwt Harita Bauxite in the South China Sea (15 fatalities) and the 56,824 dwt Trans Summer en route Indonesia-China. Both of these ships were carrying nickel ore.

In doing so, the insurer also highlighted the importance of proper cargo handling and stowage of bulk cargoes. Tim Donney, Global Head Marine Risk Consulting, AGCS said that many of the loading ports involved were public terminals with limited experience on the proper handling and monitoring of these types of cargoes.

“A lesser risk would be a terminal that is dedicated to the handling of a specific bulk product; then you have people at the terminal that understand the risk better and have tighter controls and procedures,” Donney commented.

Training imperative

In fact, the specialised skills it takes to load, unload and operate dry bulk carriers have proved a common denominator running through ‘bulk carrier safety’ issues, which began to be addressed in earnest at IMO from the late 1990s.

Intercargo has placed its concerns on the availability skilled seafarers to meet the future needs of an expanding bulk carrier fleet on record. In 2012, the industry body said it believed “that it will be necessary to give far more attention to the quantum and quality of seafarers’ training if the future Bulk Carrier fleet is to be manned and accidents reduced”. It subsequently formed a Training and Manpower Correspondence Group to consider seafarer supply and demand, and competency issues related to the STCW Training Regime and the human element.

The International Association of Classification Societies has offered insight into many of the cargo handling issues concerned, not least through its booklet ‘Bulk Carriers – Handle with Care’. Each of the items on the publication’s checklist of cargo handling risks offered in ‘Handle with Care’ has a training dimension. They comprise: poor ship-to-shore communications; ignoring Loading Plans; inadequate pre-planning of cargo operations; improper load distribution between holds; overloading by high-capacity systems; and physical damage during discharging.

Skills in BITS

As a direct response to a clear industry need for a coordinated approach to training in the dry bulk sector, Seagull Maritime recently launched The Bulker Industry Training Standard (BITS). An industry first, BITS is a computer-based package that delivers a complete training and competence management system to dry bulk operators. It offers owners the assurance that they are in compliance with international requirements and the tools to improve knowledge and competence among their crew so they perform their duties beyond compliance requirements.

In preparing BITS, Seagull Maritime has drawn on its wider industry experience of harmonising and enhancing maritime competence standards to ensure owners meet and exceed statutory requirements from IMO and other industry bodies.

Exemplary has been its development of electronic versions of TOTS, Intertanko’s Tanker Officer Training Standards scheme. Seagull Maritime has also developed electronic versions of SIGTTO (Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators) competence guidelines for operators of LNG and LPG sectors, as well as electronic copies of the cadets/ratings Training Record Books published by the International Shipping Federation.

“We believe that building a competent crew through continuous training, gap identification and assessment is the key to improving ship performance,” says Roger Ringstad, Managing Director, Seagull Maritime AS. “While there are plenty of high quality operators in the bulk industry, there is no universal standard for competence.”

BITS uses the “competence-based methodology” found in STCW, but also in other industry competence standards, to cover: Navigation; Cargo Handling; Controlling Operation; Marine Engineering; Electrical; Maintenance & Repair; and Radio Communications.

“STCW does not necessarily introduce an effective mechanism to provide competent seafarers, whilst the many Certificates of Competency are not always sufficient to ensure the much needed competences of all stakeholders,” comments Ringstad. “Besides, different companies require different specific skills.”

The new tool links into Seagull Maritime’s Competence Evaluation Standard (CES) and Computer Based Training (CBT) modules via the Seagull Training Administrator, in order to offer a complete training and assessment solution for officers. Electronic records of all completed tasks and assessments are available both onboard and online for the individual officer and supervisors.

As a result, BITS can support the monitoring and reporting of training and competence activities which will ultimately improve performance and enhance officers’ skills.

Other than providing a benchmark for industry competence, BITS can also assist with the development of company specific competence requirements either based on Seagull Maritime’s generic library or through complete customisation.

Furthermore BITS provides an automatic transfer of all records belonging to the officer between vessel and shore, whilst a complete overview of all officer development and level of competence is available for the training manager ashore.

In its initial version, BITS focuses on crew competencies for coal, grain and iron ore, but additional cargo types are planned for incorporation in upcoming versions.

Core competencies

Competence management identifies some competencies as critical (they must be in place before the person can fill the position) while others are non-critical, and can be addressed shortly after the person has been promoted. Having such a system in place will ensure a career path based on accumulated excellence, as personnel are nurtured through the training process, with crew supported in each step of their career development, from recruitment to retirement.

Like all other Seagull Maritime’s assessment and management tools, BITS will ensure that the correct people are recruited and trained to suit their specific role and promoted when ready. It specifies competency profiles for junior and senior positions onboard ship alike, providing individual officers with a path to competency development and a career planning tool to identify promotional requirements. 

 “Clearly, this approach is as appropriate to the dry bulk carrier sector as it is in any other sector of the shipping industry,” says Ringstad. “Our experience is that this is the best way of helping companies motivate determined people, as well as improving job satisfaction.

He adds: “After many years of collaboration with various companies in developing competence management systems for tanker applications, we are convinced more than ever that their use improves professional competence and confidence. These two attributes will over time contribute to reduce accidents, incidents and unwanted costs associated with it.”


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