During the recent Sea-Japan exhibition, we were fortunate to be able to interview leading Japanese shipowners to discuss their progress in the digital navigation transition. In our series of features on Japan’s ‘big three,’ Takaai Inoue, chief engineer and general manager of safety operations for Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) talks about the challenges of adoption, training and flag state implementation.
ECDIS is not new to MOL; the company has used a combination of Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) and Electronic Chart System (ECS) on its owned fleet since 2006. The process which it will adopt going forward will be a complete move from unofficial ECS to the approved and SOLAS-compliant ECDIS.
This process is made somewhat complicated by the fact that MOL is both shipowner and operator. Currently MOL owns 310 ships and has an operated fleet of a further 950, which means it must monitor the progress of its owners in complying with the mandate.
“For the chartered ships we will see how their owners respond. We will observe what the shipowners do and how they are intending to introduce ECDIS,” says Mr Inoue. “We make regular inspections of chartered tonnage, we visit and confirm that the vessel is compliant. We don’t make direct enquiries, but we check the status on an individual ship basis.”
Of MOL’s owned fleet, he says almost all have ECDIS installed but he says there is no distinction by ship type in terms of priority for moving to digital navigation. At present, the skillset remains with the paper charts that seafarers have used for many years.
“A key part of the challenge is to change the mind set of seafarers, particularly among middle-aged mariners. A typical example would be that when a mariner is on watch, the older generation looks out of the window and the younger tends to just look at the radar and ECDIS. There is a huge gap in terms of mind set among the generations – a gap in terms of behaviour,” he says.
“Changing the mind set of elder seafarers will be a key challenge but this is also true for the younger ones,” he continues. “We need to convey the spirit of the change, simply sending a document out to the fleet to be shared is not an effective method of communication for the younger generation. It must be conveyed on-site through the experience of a respected and trusted captain.”
To address this need, MOL uses training superintendents, who provide on-the-job training and are regularly dispatched to the ship to give ECDIS instruction to junior officers.
“The captain and the chief are very busy so we rely on senior staff to provide on the job training to younger seafarers to supplement the training. Through this exercise and instruction they can provide the onboard familiarisation,” he says.
In terms of classroom training, his department’s focus is in the first place on ensuring adequate capacity. He says some 2,700 MOL masters and officers need to be trained, of which 800 have already completed generic training. How the company fulfils generic training varies depending on nationality – Japanese and European seafarers are trained in MOL’s in-house training centres whereas its Filipino, Indian and Russian personnel are trained through third party training facilities.
And as he points out, the requirement for generic ECDIS training runs for the next seven years, after which newly qualified officers will have satisfied the requirements for ECDIS as part of their basic training. But he is clearly frustrated that the requirement to satisfy type specific training is spread between so many different manufacturers.
“The training is a problem mostly because there are so many different designs of ECDIS available. We have to involve the manufacturers in the process but the functionality is so different between them. We need to have a basic design or agreed standard. As a user I feel if we could do that it will accelerate our maturity with existing devices and make the process easier.”
There are other frustrations too, notably the decision by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to effectively make ECDIS regulations mandatory at its ports from July 1 this year. As major trading partners, the change affects Japanese owners directly.
“The general process of compulsory carriage of ECDIS means we need to advance the introduction of ECDIS but even before the deadlines, some flag states are behaving as though the rules are already in force. How to respond to those flag states is something we have to consider.”
Mr Inoue is concerned that this represents an additional unnecessary burden on operations.
“When ECDIS is listed as safety equipment Australian port state control will require complete evidence of training and certification even though the rules are not yet mandatory. To be frank this is an annoying situation. Port state inspections were previously vague on requirements and now we have to quickly put more structure in place.”
Mr Inoue says he doesn’t expect to see a big change in terms of operating procedures when MOL replaces paper with ENCs. But he does expect the availability of the latest updates and overlays to improve safety of navigation.
“Reducing the workload means officers can concentrate on the lookout. Maintaining a good lookout by every possible means is the most important contribution to safety of operations. We have to encourage the young not to depend on technology too much, that would be a mistake. Young people should use all five senses – this is something we have to convey,” he says.
By Neville Smith