LNG - Safety @ Sea?
MEMBERS MAY have seen reports in the shipping press regarding the worldwide shortage of LNG
trained crew and the effect that this may have on safety. A major concern has been that commercial
pressures have led not simply to wage inflation but to the recruitment of incompetent crew. The shortage of suitably certified masters and officers has allegedly led to individuals being employed when a check of their references would have revealed their employment record was less than satisfactory.
The Club recently dealt with a claim in which the manager was accused of recruiting a crew with inadequate gas ship experience. The managers had faced real difficulty in sourcing crew as the flag state limited the selection to their own nationals. A more extreme case reported in the press was where a master had allegedly been dismissed because of a drink problem. He was subsequently placed in command of an LNG ship for another owner.
That is not, however, the worst case of inappropriate officer selection. The Club is aware of one incident where an officer had deliberately caused a fire on a ship. It subsequently emerged that the crew manager had accepted a photocopy of his certificate with an explanation that the original was in London having a spelling mistake corrected. No basic checks of his employment record or qualifications had been made. A check would have shown that there had been a history of such incidents.
Managers should be able to reject claims for damage caused by crew negligence on the basis that their responsibility is for the selection of the crew but not for their conduct on board. The actual position is not always so simple. The fact that a crewmember has proper certification is not, of itself, sufficient if a reasonable manager would have realised he was not competent.
Lawyers working for shipowners have observed that, in an increasing number of cases, cargo claimants have attempted to look behind the certification of the crew. The claimants’ tactic is to see whether they can expose the crew as incompetent and the ship as unseaworthy. The claimants’ lawyers will investigate not only the interview process, but how the individual had been placed on board. A typical allegation would be that if the owner or manager had arranged for a proper induction, then they would have realised that the individual was not competent. Ship manager members of ITIC have faced detailed enquiries into their systems. Appropriate records of recruitment, training and reviews must therefore be maintained. Members should check local regulations regarding the length of time for which documents should be kept. Although, as reported later in this claims review, it is sometimes necessary to research employment records for previous decades, it is clearly not possible to retain records indefinitely. As a general guide the Club recommends records should be retained for at least seven years.