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Emergency Situations on Board Merchant Ships

Updated on March 31, 2020
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Merchant Navy Engineering Officer on passengers ship since 2008

In order to prevent the situations mentioned above that could be transformed into a marine accident with several damages to one or the other three parts mentioned, so the regulations provides for the effective treatment by acting on the three parts: human, technological, and organizational.

Internationale Maritime Organization has proposed a solution through the STCW Convention and the ISM Code in the form of exercises and training for the crew members, as well by developing a safety management system commonly known as SMS (Safety Management System); which contains specific emergency manuals and procedures for each case.

Emergency Situations on Board Ships

According with ISM Code approach in maritime safety and the Chapter IX of the SOLAS Convention, common emergency situations, for all types of ships, could be described as follows:

  • Propulsion System Loss: Defined by any emergency failure resulting in the loss of the vessel propulsion, it relates to the main engine or the propulsion turbine and boiler, the shaft line, the propeller, and any critical auxiliary machine.
  • Electric Energy Loss: Commonly called 'Black-Out', resulting in the shutdown of the main electricity production provided by the generators and all the electrical installation equipments ensuring the electrical power distribution. However, an emergency power source (Emergency Generator or Accumulator Battery) provides emergency services temporarily.

  • Loss of the Steering Gear: Defined by the loss of ability to steer the vessel to the desired direction. The steering gear consisting of an hydraulic system and a rudder by it the ship could be manoeuvred and the regulation provides a rescue plan, however this later system is only a palliative to reach the nearest port.
  • Collision: When two moving ships collide or come into contact with a shock in a broad sense it called collision. this later may extend to harbor structures or any floating object likely to damage the hull of the ship.
  • Grounding: Defined by the following incident " the vessel touches the bottom unintentionally whether on a sandy bottom, on shores or rocks.". The event results in the loss of the maneuverin and propellong ability.
  • Fire: Interpreted by the finding of a destructive violent fire on any part of the ship : deck, machine, accommodations, or cargo likely causes serious damage to the structure of the ship or its cargo and persons on board.

  • Ship Abandonment : Defined by the voluntary action to leave the ship and evacuate all person on board following an imminent danger.
  • Medical Assisstances: This is the situation that requires external medical assistance leading to the evacuation of a wounded or seriously ill by helicopter or a service ship.
  • Pollution: Any spill or accidental release of oil substances or other substances harmful to the sea as defined by the MARPOL Convention.
  • The Waterway: It is an unexpected or accidental entry of water follows by an opening or loss of integrity of the ship hull below the waterline.
  • Man at the Sea: A situation caused by the falling of crew member or passenger overboard into the water, forcing the vessel to perform the Williamson Turn or Boutakov maneuver and to deploy the means of adequate rescue.

  • Loss of Mooring or Bilge Docks: Any failure resulting in the loss of the function of the mooring system (windlass, chain and anchor) or panels to control the bilge valves for the dewatering operation causes an emergency situation.
  • Other Emergency Situations: Depending on the type of ship, there maybe other emergencies specific to the activity or construction of the ship.

Example: Shifting of cargo and lodging, damage discharge valve on a LNG carrier or radioactive emanations on a nuclear ship.

Evolution of the Emergency Situation

From the occurrence of the emergency situation, the emergency plan is triggered on the operational side. A chronological sequences of events continue according to the logic of the procedures applied. At the end, if the staff on board well manages the situation and eliminates the potential danger, in this case we avoided the accident and the event is classified as a near-accident (reference should be made to IMO Circular MSC 1015 of 2001 concerning the notification of near misses). In the opposite case and for lack of one of the following elements: means, competence, experience, organization, or preparation, the danger is imminent and the situation becomes a sea accident. The opening of a technical invistigation is obligatory in accordance with the IMO Investigation Code.

Risk Coping Groups on the Ship

In accordance with ISM, the shipping company that manages the ship must take all possible means to ensure that the company's management is able to handle all known risks at any time on all ships of the company. The risk-fighting groups on the ship have many actions carried out in various emergency situations on the ship. Each of these groups has a head and the team consists of a group of workers on the ship from different sectors together such as the surface and machines, so that the equivalence of knowledge and competence can be achieved for each team separately.

Emergency Head Quarter

Is a store on the main deck of the ship. In case of emergency, the crew members gathers to make sure that all the personnel are present and to obtain the necessary equipment for the fire fighting. This meeting centre must be isolated from the adjacent ship parts with non fireproof materials and contains the following elements:

  • Fire detection panel;
  • Remote control panel;
  • Safety equipment panel;
  • Assembly list and Checklist;
  • Breathing apparatus, additional cylinders and air compressor;
  • Fire protection allowance;
  • Portable Radio, Batteries and Charger;
  • Rechargeable safety lights with additional batteries;
  • Saving rope with belt;
  • International Beach Link;
  • Additional fire hoses;
  • In some ships, the center contains foam tanks and their tanks.

The Contingency Plan

According with ISM's Emergency Preparedness Code, the shipping company that manages the ship must prepare a contingency plan for each vessel and approved by the Flag State Maritime Administration. Planning and preparing for emergency response is the best solution to deal with various emergencies and deal with them, which leads to speed of action and decision-making.

Emergency plans are used to respond to emergency situations only and not to critical or unexpected situations. Therefore, they are used in the following cases:

1. The state of emergency has already occurred;

2. When the ship or individuals or the environment are in imminent danger;

3. In the case of failure of preventive means or could not be used;

4. Used as a measure to overcome the emergency.

The main objective of the emergency plan is to preserve life, ship and cargo, protect the marine environment and the need for a quick and appropriate reaction to overcome the state of emergency. Each crew member must be trained on this plan in order to know his or her duties to do in this case.

This plan must be posted and made available to the rescue teams. It contains the role of the crews and the distribution of tasks in the main critical situations: Abandonment, fire, oil pollution, waterway, and emergency medical assistance. There are also regrouping areas in the case of ship evacuation.

The Emergency Procedures Manual

As part of the onboard safety management in accordance with the ISM Code, the shipowner shall include the ship-specific emergency procedures manual in the on-board safety management system (SMS). This manual describes the emergency situations that may occur on board ships as well as the procedures and roles defined to remedy or eliminate the hazard. Simulation exercises are required by the regulations to train crews in such situations to expand their knowledges and increase their effectiveness in real situations. Four (04) training exercises are required and mandatory by SOLAS Convention as follows:

• Fire exercise;

• Abandon ship exercise;

• Emergency steering device maneuvering exercise;

• Exercise of access to a confined space (ballast, empty spaces, cofferdams, crates, forward or backward peak.).

© 2018 Freedom of the sea

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