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ISM Code is more than paper compliance

Mr. Theophanis Theophanous, Managing Director of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) Greece, highlights that mandatory implementation of the ISM code, has had an advantageous impact on maritime safety and pollution prevention. However, the Code itself allows room for further improvement; in this regard, ship operators need to fully realize that ‘paper compliance is not the target but the instrument’ toward enhanced maritime safety.


SAFETY4SEA: What should be the top priorities for the shipping industry stakeholders towards a more sustainable future for the shipping industry?

Theophanis Theophanous: Our top priority should be the safe operation of the vessels we manage, with no injuries, loss of life, damage to property or the environment whilst at the same time achieving financial sustainability in this very demanding and ever changing industry. Our key message is that Shipping is one of the most important global industries and therefore professionals in this industry have the responsibility to embrace change, rather than merely implement decisions of international organisations and governing bodies. This can only be achieved via diversification that aims at continuous improvement and synergy. A key focus at present for BSM is digitalisation, which we believe can  greatly help in providing faster centralised data access and work processes, significantly lessen the possibility of error as well as further improve  transparency of vessel information, which is of great benefit both for our customers and our Seafarers and shore- based employees.

 "Shipping professionals need to believe in the benefits of the ISM code, abolish any negative notions and realise fully that paper compliance is not the target."

S4S: It is 30 years since the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster hastened the introduction of the ISM Code. Do you consider the implementation of the Code by the shipping industry to have been successful? 

Th.T: The mandatory implementation of the ISM code, has had an advantageous impact on maritime safety and pollution prevention, as the supporting statistical information shows. As any new system, teething troubles and various hurdles had to be overcome when the ISM code was implemented and before it took any serious effect. The advantage of the code is that it is by definition, a live system that has to be constantly improved, adjusted and modified so as to embrace change, learn lessons from mistakes and establish fail safe mechanisms to prevent incidents’ recurrence. The code itself always allows room for further improvement. Shipping professionals ashore and on board need to believe in the benefits of the ISM code, abolish any negative notions and realise fully that paper compliance is not the target but the instrument that will assist in the protection of lives and the environment.

At BSM we are strong believers and firm supporters of the ISM code and we constantly endeavour for continuous improvement through amendments that utilise our seafarers’ experience whilst at the same time minimise the burden of bureaucracy, by introducing various technology tools and simplifying our procedures and manuals with innovative ideas, such as, BSM’s Project Pilot. Following this approach, almost all BSM operational manuals are now in a handy carry size booklet with a standardised structure of action, objective, result and with a close out checklist. The end result being efficiency, safety, clear and easy to understand information.

S4S: What should be our key priorities for strengthening safety culture onboard and ashore?

Th.T: It is important for everyone in shipping, whether ashore or on -board, to have an understanding and appreciation of the concept of a safety culture. For a safety culture to be truly effective, a shipping company must encourage and motivate its personnel to make safety and environmental awareness their highest priorities. Such must be the effort that safety consideration becomes instilled into our DNA so it happens automatically and almost in a reflex kind of way. Since protection of oneself and self-preservation is an inherent human characteristic, it goes without saying that safety culture should not be too difficult to adopt. It needs however concentrated and ongoing efforts.  This can only be achieved via continuous education, training, commitment and accountability of all shipping individuals. One should go by the famous quote that: “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment” (Zig Ziglar). A key aim and priority therefore of a safety culture should be to modify the behaviour, where required, of company personnel so that they ‘believe in safety, think safely and are committed to safety’.

"Enhanced standardisation of critical equipment and procedures could assist further to achieve zero incidents."

S4S: What is your wish list for the industry and/or regulators and all parties involved in order to minimize the impact of the uniform global deadline of 2020?

Th.T: IMO members need to seriously address the various issues posed with regards to compliant fuel availability, fuel stability and safety, standards and/or certification for reducing emissions via methods such as scrubbers. At the moment, the shipping industry is in turmoil, as engineering and innovative technologies for fuels and emission control have yet to catch up with the regulatory framework, potentially creating a risk that needs to be assessed. Accidents, incidents from untested equipment and technologies or unstable fuels pose a real threat that could have a more severe environmental impact, than the current emission levels.  Synergy, collaboration and co-operation are key. All parties should jointly work together,   and voice the immerged concerns and risks, categorising them, addressing them and providing solutions and safeguards where needed. If a short extension of the regulation implementation date, albeit with strict timeframes, is deemed necessary, then, this should be swiftly decided by governing bodies, rather than have the industry navigate through uncharted waters with no compass.

S4S: What are the current and future seafarer manning and training concerns?

Th.T: Strong communication forms the foundation of the manning process, keeping information flowing ensures that operations are optimised and aids the process of control. Use of technology allows instantaneous access to data, providing clarity for smooth co-operation from ship to shore safeguarding the morale, welfare and resultant retention of crew. Maintaining our fleet in the desired condition to achieve such results, as well as ensuring each ship offers a safe and pleasant working environment, lies directly in the hands of our key Seafarers, our Masters and Chief Engineers.  It is important to focus on the ‘soft skills’ development of our leading crew members because apart from their strict operational duties, they  need to appreciate that they are in turn managers that must exercise command skilfully and with due diligence. As leaders they must acknowledge that they are role models who must actively inspire crew to perform their duties safely and in an environmental conscious manner. Moreover, they are mentors that must demonstrate how to achieve job satisfaction, continuous personal improvement, development and career progression.

S4S: Given the ongoing discussion for the role of women in shipping do you think that we need more females in leadership roles or more leaders acting on a female mode?

Th.T: Despite the fact that societies have immensely evolved within the last century, regrettable there are still ongoing discussions about women having equal business opportunities in any industry or sector. The truth is that you do not often come across women in leadership roles within the shipping industry, with some exceptions. For attaining or holding a job, personal skill should be the only criterion and gender should never play a role. In this sense, I do believe that our industry is moving forward with this matter, but in small steps. If we take the supportive role of the organization WISTA as an example, a faster pace needs to be adopted, via concentrated efforts of all professionals in the maritime sector.  Ladies need to be encouraged within the industry and naturally have the same opportunities to assume leadership roles in the same manner as their male peers do.

At BSM we are committed to a policy of diversity and equal opportunities in our employment practices and fully support the right of all employees to work in an environment which is free of any discrimination be it gender, nationality or related to any other disability.

S4S: What is the best leadership style you have experienced in shipping and why?

Th.T: I do not believe there is a single style of leadership that is a key to guaranteed success, as a leader’s greatest attribute is to be able to adjust to real life scenarios and be in the position deal with any and all colleagues. A leader, quite often might adopt a mix of various styles, at the same time combining the finer elements of various leadership styles, but for optimising managerial and operational efficiency. Unfortunately, there is no secret recipe for managerial success, especially in such a demanding, diverse and multicultural industry such as shipping.

S4S: What’s your message to those who wish to pursue a career in shipping industry?

Th.T: Anyone that would like to pursue a career in shipping is really placing a safe bet, as they can be assured that there will always be a demand for the services offered. In addition, with such a diverse field of operations, no matter what education, expertise and capabilities one has, it is certain that one can be occupied in shipping. It goes without saying that the benefits of a career in shipping can be very rewarding in job satisfaction, growth opportunities and development. However, we should bear in mind, shipping is a very demanding industry, in which one’s utmost devotion is needed.

S4S: If you could change one thing about the shipping industry, what would it be and why?

Th.T: Although it sounds utopic I would prefer to see more standardisation and less diversification of equipment and safety procedures. The shipping industry should be able to adopt standard designs for critical equipment especially when it comes to lifesaving, fire-fighting and navigation. For example, by having the same types and operations of lifeboats and life rafts this would simplify seafarers’ training and equipment maintenance. If there was one type of ECDIS, then a navigator’s training and certification would be easier as there would not be the need for generic and ship specific schooling. I do believe that enhanced standardisation of critical equipment and procedures could assist further to achieve the optimum result of zero incidents and accidents.

Original article below.

Interview by SAFETY4SEA September 2018