Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mariner Training: Navigating Into Technology

By Captain Ronald Burchett

With a whole new generation of ship-assist tugs of 80 metric tons bollard pull and high performance escort tugs with bollard pulls exceeding 100 metric tons, it is clear that new levels of crew training will be required. The increased power and extraordinary maneuverability inherent in these new vessels bring a responsibility to ensure that Tug Masters and crew are able to exploit that performance effectively and safely. This is particularly important in high performance stern-drive tugs with control systems needing a high level of awareness and dexterity.
The skills required are approaching ‘arcade game’ level and the training required is becoming similar to that of an aircraft pilot. In order to derive maximum benefit from the modern technology available, the industry must acknowledge the need for specialist training and new levels of certification. This pilot training analogy may seem extreme, but disorientation can be a serious problem in a highly agile tugboat. The need for good spatial awareness and reactions is becoming of paramount importance. Recent reported incidents that have attracted the attention of regulatory authorities include tugs being involved in interaction collisions where damage has been caused to the tugs and/or ship and in one extreme case the tug suffering a complete inadvertent rotation and the towline wrapped completely around the superstructure. Many cases of minor damage, often involving damage to the aft quarters of the tug, go unreported.

To complicate matters further, in this high-tech sector of the towage industry, a shortage of suitable personnel is becoming a serious issue. As tug crews become smaller, with two and three persons becoming the norm, the opportunities to train additional staff at basic deckhand level in the traditional manner are considerably reduced.

These issues necessitate the need for the introduction of a new system of certification and new levels of qualification, for Harbor Tug Master and Escort Tug Master (Home Trade). Any new certification structure will need to be backed up by formal Marine college training.
• To be fully effective and to make the best possible use of the high performance tugs currently entering service, Tug Masters and Pilots must be trained together as a team and implement a new standard of universal commands.
• The tug industry is changing at a remarkable pace and the industry must adjust to prosper.
• To achieve that aim the following must be considered:

Training and Certification of Crews
The introduction of new tug technology must be fully supported by the preparation of essential procedures and training to ensure safe, effective operation. Every tug has particular handling characteristics that must be identified and studied to enable meaningful procedures and training packages to be constructed. Only when the tug crew, from Tug Master downward, is fully conversant and trained in the operation of their vessel can optimum levels of safety be achieved.

Vessel manning will be a challenge for operators in the future. This is a particularly sensitive issue for operators of the increasingly popular “compact” Z-drive tugs, intended to operate with a crew of two. In most instances the crew will comprise a Tug Master and deckhand but national rules may insist on a Tug Master and qualified first officer or engineer. Whatever local manning scales dictate, recruiting suitably experienced personnel to fulfill the role of that second crewmember will prove difficult in the long term. On the job training will not be possible without employing supernumerary staff while under training. In some fleets anomalies already exist (eg: two tug masters in one vessel or deck qualified engineers serving as first officers) and will have to be addressed at some stage.

Training for tug crews must be addressed and implemented as soon as possible. As previously mentioned a formal crew training program may prove to be the only way to provide to generate a suitable workforce with a recognizable career structure. Once that has been attained recruitment and staff retention will be much easier to achieve.

Such training would start for Masters at 21-30 years old, followed by simulator and manned model training. The age range is quoted for good reason. It is becoming obvious that the traditional career structure, where personnel are considered for Mate and Master after many years of experience, is failing to produce people with the right “mind-set” to use the new technologies available most effectively. There is now some recognition, albeit reluctantly in some areas, that initial training for tug masters must be undertaken at a lower age. In this modern age young people can assimilate and use high-tech systems more readily and effectively.

Retaining older tug masters will not lead to a 100-percent return rate. It is suggested that training should be based on a new certification system for Tug Masters involving two basic levels – harbor tug captain (restricted) and home trade escort (restricted).

Fast track training for new masters should start with:

• Marine college –1.5 years
To include normal nautical, seamanship, navigational, communications and marine safety skills in addition to theoretical training in tug technology and the dynamics of tug operation.

• Simulator and manned training tug – 6 months

Simulator training is now highly developed and provides an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the effects of a ship assist tug on ships in various scenarios. It can also introduce and develop an essential understanding of the ship’s master relationship. Manned models will soon be available to enable the developing tug master to experience the handling and dynamics of a Z-drive tug in a safe environment and at much reduced cost.

Tugs with a very high bollard pull performance are being used and any training undertaken must reflect the greater skills required in handling those vessels. Understanding the dynamics involved in shiphandling with high-performance tugs and the interaction between tug and ship is essential. Although many older tug masters have learned those skills, instinctively in many cases, over a long period of on-job experience, few have had access to the theory or training that could now be made available to their successors.

Training for deck crew also needs to be formalized. The responsibilities of a deckhand in a two-man crew must be clearly defined. In the case of a Mate/Engineer, training must cross the boundaries of deck and engineroom in a structured manner to ensure that the crewmember is completely familiar with the machinery and procedures on deck and in the engineroom.

Training for Work with LNG
Perhaps the most safety conscious towage operations currently undertaken are those concerned with the escort and assistance of ships carrying Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Safety is paramount at LNG terminals. Tug crews are as a matter of course required to attend specialist induction courses at most terminals.

The duties of a terminal tug at a gas facility will include not only escort and ship assistance. Virtually all tugs employed are required to carry a high level of firefighting equipment, and regular audits and training are part of the client’s mandatory procedures. One or more tugs are also likely to be fully manned and on station throughout the period a gas tanker is on its berth at the terminal – keeping suitable watches. The tugs may also be required to enforce a prescribed exclusion zone to keep away unwanted and unauthorized vessels.

All of this activity requires high levels of training and properly written and audited procedures.

Standard Commands
While considering the training needs for the next generation of crews in ship-assist tugs it would be advantageous to design and implement a new set of commands to be used between pilot and tug during escort operations. Commands used between tug master and pilot vary widely throughout the world, and to introduce a formalized structure would be difficult, but in the case of tug escort operation a form of universal command language would be advantageous. In an escort situation, when the tug is actually needed to fulfill its role as an effective safety device, the ship and tug are immediately involved in a state of emergency. Under those circumstances there is no room for error or misunderstanding in communications between the tug and the ship’s pilot. Standardized commands would help to reduce the possibility of errors in a highly tense situation.

Tug Master/Pilot Relationship
To achieve the very highest levels of safety, the tug masters and pilots must train together. This is already happening in many locations. It is becoming common for tug masters and pilots to be brought together when new oil or gas terminals, new container berths, or port facilities in difficult areas are being planned. Berthing scenarios are tested, types of tug evaluated, and decisions made on the numbers of tugs and their bollard pull. During these exercises the port authority, pilots and tug masters are commonly brought together during simulations, as part of the decision making process. This kind of activity should be applied in a wider context, to cover more general ship assist operations and used as a training tool.

Safety and Training Reviews Must Become the Norm
Under most quality driven business accreditation schemes reviews of safety and training matters are an inherent feature of the mandatory procedures. The same type of review or audit should become a normal part of any towage related activity. In that way the level of training required can be regularly reviewed and checks can readily be made on the level of expertise of all individual crewmembers.

Real Time Monitoring by Management
The technology currently exists to enable the management of tug operators to monitor in real time all systems aboard each individual tug. This monitoring can include navigation, safety, tank contents, and most parameters affecting the engines and propulsion systems. Monitoring systems in this manner can be used to detect developing faults in machinery and improve the management of fuel and other consumables. Along with “bridge voice recorders” such systems can be used to develop and perfect ship assist procedures and identify the causes of accidents and/or damage.

Make the Best Use of the Technology Available
There is a wealth of modern technology readily available that could be used to improve safety and reduce crew workloads. The current generation of “compact” tugs already incorporates the control and monitoring of all main engine, propulsion system and auxiliaries from the bridge. In most cases the main and auxiliary engines can be started and stopped without leaving the bridge.

Communications systems, for normal operational use, can be foot operated and ergonomic principles are used to determine the layout of control consoles.

Winches aboard modern escort tugs are frequently computer controlled and operated by touch screens. In smaller vessels there is in the future the possibility of voice activation systems for towing winches.

The Green Tug
Tug masters should be encouraged to conduct towage operations with fuel economy in mind. Operators generally are becoming increasingly aware of developing technology that will enable stringent emission regulations to be met and reductions in the use of fossil fuels. In years to come both designers, builders and tug operators will be under greater pressure to take into account the carbon footprint of vessels and the need to consider greater efficiency in both operation, construction and disposal.

Ron Burchett has worked in the maritime industry for more than 35 years and has seen many changes in the business. He has been working on the technology side of the industry to bring forward improvements in tug design, scale model testing and training, to provide a test bed for new ideas and methods of tug operation, working with well known members of the tugboat industry world wide including Foss and Crowley of Seattle, Adsteam of Australia, Seaspan of Vancouver, and The Port Revel training center of France. Ron also works with naval architects to create new tug designs and refine existing ones resulting in technical advancement for the tugs of tomorrow.