by Vittorio Vagliani, Director, Safety at Sea Ltd
[Originally published in IMarEST Marine Professional magazine, Issue 4, 2023]
Since 2010 and the introduction of the Safe Return to Port (SRtP) regulations, shipyards and designers have been dealing with the new design rules and requirements to prove their design passes and to provide the operator with a clear set of SRtP-related actions for each applicable casualty. The focus in most recent years has been on the operational requirements that cruise and ferry owners and operators need to deal with. In terms of documentation, apart from IMO regulations, the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) is the main flag state to have published a clear interpretation for operators on the operational SRtP requirements. These can be found in the BMA Marine Notice 03.
A commonly adopted solution is the adaptation of kill cards, used in the wider maritime industry for managing on-board situations. The concept behind kill cards is very intuitive: a set of printed sheets with a list of actions detailing subject, location and any additional important information, subdivided by crew and/or location in a logical manner to provide the crew with clear actions for a particular area of the vessel. These cards are normally created by the designer and provided to the vessel through an on-board system so that the vessel is able to select the correct casualty and casualty type (for example, Compartment X, Fire) and the system will print these action cards that can be distributed to the SRtP response team.
This is likely the most widely used SRtP response methodology due to it being an understood process and a straightforward solution to the problem. The main disadvantage to be considered, from our experience, is that, once delivered on-board, the kill cards are static and therefore difficult to update without the support of the original creator. Vessels, on the other hand, are not static – there may be changes to valve locations during build, changes can happen as part of normal operation, engine upgrades, decarbonisation initiatives, and there are refits to be considered during the lifetime of the vessel.
Digitised kill cards
Based on the same concept as above, but delivered to the crew through tablets, this solution provides a digitised version of kill cards to crew members. Upon selection of an appropriate casualty, crew members will pick up a tablet loaded with their specific action details. The digitisation offers a number of advantages over paper-based kill cards: in a practical sense, in a digitised format, more information can be provided to the crew, such as P&ID diagrams relevant to the casualty, notes, iconography. The use of tablets is also much more prevalent in everyday life and hence could enhance general usability and take-up. However, this is still a decentralised solution and, by design, still relatively difficult for the operator to maintain the quality of the data throughout the life of the vessel.
A further step in digitisation, the provision of a centralised SRtP database, aims to improve the process of response in two core aspects: flexibility and centralisation. At the core, tablets are provided to crew with their specific actions to perform.
The flexibility of the system is due to the core idea of an onboard database which understands what actions are required for each casualty. The distribution to the crew is, in opposition to the first two systems described above, done on demand, rather than predetermined at design stage. This allows the system to provide the chief engineer greater customisation over the process- actions can be distributed by location or by system or be further customised to the needs of the vessel. Strategies can be updated post-drill for continuous improvement and remembered by the system on a casualty-by-casualty basis. Furthermore, the data within the system can be modified and maintained by the crew to a much greater level.
A second core improvement is the centralisation of the process – a single person on-board runs the SRtP response and can visualise progress by receiving near-instant feedback from the tablets, understanding where there may be issues and having access, through the system, to design documentation to problem solve as the response is in progress.
Within the notice, the BMA sets out guidance for conducting surveys of SRtP vessels, thereby setting the standard expected by operators. In essence, the operator must provide – in paper or electronic format – a clear list of all containment and restoration actions required for each casualty and ensure the crew is trained and competent in performing an SRtP casualty response. Importantly, the notice also confirms the requirement on the operator to complete the SRtP response process with one hour for the most important systems. Further requirements are put on the operator to, as a minimum, perform an SRtP drill every three months to ensure that the SRtP actions are maintained as correct post upgrades and conversions, and during maintenance operations. Further details of the requirements can be found in the Marine Notice itself.