Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Adm. John Nadeau recently spoke at the International Safety @ Sea Conference in Singapore, organized by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore. The conference was convened to share best practices for safety at sea and included over 250 international maritime professionals. Nadeau’s keynote address August 22 kicked off a week of activity that included the inaugural ‘Community of Practice’ Forum, where 23 different maritime administrations, classification societies and NGOs focused on the topic of ferry safety. Nadeau’s remarks are not ‘as delivered’ but provide a condensed version of the highlights.
Submitted by Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy
“Good morning. It is an honor to be with you today. I’d like to thank MPA, our partners and leaders in maritime safety, for hosting this forum and inviting the U.S. Coast Guard to participate.
I wanted to briefly talk about three items: 1) global trends in the world that may impact the maritime transportation system (MTS) in the future, 2) changes already underway and the need for global governance, and 3) the safe operation of ferries around the world.
First, some observations about global trends to provide context for discussions this week. Technology is providing incredible opportunities. Consider artificial intelligence, machine learning and the “internet of things,” which allow unprecedented sharing of information between components, systems, vessels, and facilities and increase the linkages between ship and shore. Or blockchain technology and secure, distributed ledgers – how will this capability influence the many transactions, contracts and records in the shipping industry and transform the global economic and social systems we use today? Radical advances in materials science and engineering and nanotechnology are emerging every day. Stronger, lighter composites, polymers, and alloys are increasingly available. And, as you all know, there is lots of excitement surrounding autonomous vessels. This topic received a great deal of discussion at the IMO Maritime Safety Committee meeting in June. Though ships have been operating with automation, reduced manning and ‘unattended machinery spaces’ for decades, it was clear from the many different comments put forward by member states and NGOs that there is considerable interest and diversity of views in this area.
These technological advances and other disruptive innovations present new opportunities, but are not without risk. We must consider associated vulnerabilities and incorporate new technology responsibly. One area that has received considerable attention is in the realm of cyber. Hacking, malware, ransomware, infections, phishing, and incompatibilities between systems present active and dormant threats, and introduce vulnerabilities and risks that must be assessed and managed. These are some of the things I’m thinking about and I challenge you to also consider how these will impact the MTS. How can we use them to improve safety, security and environmental stewardship of the MTS?
Beyond the new technological advances, there are also many other complex challenges in the global environment. How will physical, social, economic, political, and security changes in our world affect operations in the MTS? What about other phenomena such as rising seas, increasing populations and migration, more sudden and extreme weather, more virulent infectious diseases, and stress on regional water supplies?
These may still be beyond the horizon and their impacts yet uncertain. However, I see three significant influences already affecting the MTS today. First, there is a need to increase the capacity of the MTS. There is a growing demand to expand the capacity of our ports, waterways, and infrastructure, which in turn creates operational risks that must be managed through better situational awareness, enhanced navigation safety, and other means. Second, this increase in capacity is expected to occur simultaneously with a decrease in the environmental footprint left by shipping and the MTS. As evidenced by the current focus of work at IMO, stakeholders are increasingly focused on reducing waste streams and environmental impacts associated with vessel operations and the MTS. Lastly, this increase in capacity and reduction in environmental footprint is occurring amid ever-growing complexity. As outlined above, technology is introducing new opportunities, threats, and vulnerabilities. My predecessor eloquently described these three contemporary influences on the MTS the “triple challenge.”
To meet these challenges and ensure continued safety, security, and stewardship in the MTS, we need effective governance. It is important that our governance structures remain nimble and keep pace with the rate of change. Our regulatory schemes, safety management systems, and enforcement strategies require regular review and adjustment. Gatherings like this facilitate the exchange of ideas, encourage collaboration by leaders from around the globe, and demonstrate the shared willingness to work together and meet whatever challenges might arise. Collectively, we must identify mutual areas of interest and strive for continuous improvements to safety, security and stewardship in the global maritime commons. More than ever, we need effective governance involving leadership from the maritime industry, port states, coastal states, flag states, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
Turning to the focus of this week’s discussions… ferry safety. The risk associated with ferry accidents is high, and increasing. The number and size of ferries is growing, and they are carrying more people. Today, there are at least two dozen ferries in ten different registries that each can carry more than 2,500 passengers. In addition, and as mentioned earlier, the waterways in many places are becoming more congested. Together, these factors increase the probability and consequences of ferry incidents.
Although it may be incomplete, available data indicates there have been at least 40 ferry casualties resulting in more than 8,600 deaths since 2000. Most of these tragedies involve blatant violations of fundamental safety and can be avoided with increased focus on the basics, such as stability, proper loading, watertight integrity and seamanship. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, including master, crew, operator, owner, classification society, and flag, port and coastal states. Efforts should focus on the basics to prevent and avoid ferry accidents. But we need to also remain prepared to respond to the worst.
With focus on the fundamentals and a corresponding reduction in the frequency of ferry accidents, mass rescue operations are low probability but high consequence events. Serious incidents are likely to overwhelm local resources that are normally available. It is a significant challenge to plan, coordinate and execute an effective rescue of a large number of people in the water. The weather, distance to rescue resources, capacity of medical facilities, and a host of other factors need to be considered. Successful planning for a mass rescue operation requires close partnership between industry and first responders, and relies upon a ‘whole of government’ approach.
In closing, thank you all for attending this week to focus on this and other critical safety issues impacting the MTS. Your presence here is encouraging and positively reflects your commitment to continuous improvement. Again, many thanks to MPA for hosting us. The U.S. Coast Guard is eager to continue partnering and support efforts to improve safety, security and stewardship.”
This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.