by Dr Luis Guarin, partner and naval architect at Brookes Bell Safety at Sea, firstly published in Nautilus Telegraph, March 2016
The SOLAS ‘Safe Return to Port’ (SRTP) regulations represent a step change in crew responsibilities during flood and fire emergencies. Under the regulations, crew are required to contain emergency fire or flooding incidents defined in SRTP regulations and recover the operability of affected essential systems and the ship. Working under the philosophy that a ship is its own best lifeboat, a vessel’s ‘essential systems’ must be demonstrated to remain operational following fire and flooding damages that do not exceed a certain pre-defined ‘casualty threshold’.
While a simple concept in essence, SRTP regulations present significant and multi-faceted challenges. Although the regulations came into force almost six years ago on 1st July 2010, it is only recently that many affected ship owners and operators have realised the full scale of the challenges SRTP poses during vessel operation. This is because adherence to SRTP regulations is the responsibility of the ship builder up to the point of vessel delivery, at which point the ship owner or operator becomes responsible for compliance.
This trend for ship owners and operators to typically engage with SRTP regulations at the point of vessel delivery was foreseen by Brookes Bell in 2010, at which time we identified the need to introduce processes that made SRTP compliance more integrated between ship design and operation. By introducing measures to improve the flow of this transition, the aim is to make SRTP easier to implement for seafarers, and more efficient and cost effective for owners and operators.
Thousands of manual tasks
The scale of the SRTP compliance challenge is considerable, but not insurmountable. To achieve compliance, shipbuilders typically carry out Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) for each essential system, culminating in an extensive FMEA report for each system approved by a class society on behalf of a vessel’s flag state.
When a vessel is delivered, the crew must interpret the outcome of the systems documentation and results of FMEA studies for each essential system and use the information to develop procedures that ensure compliance in an emergency.
For a single flood or fire scenario, the number of manual tasks the crew must complete to contain damage and recover essential systems varies significantly. It could involve a few individual actions, or hundreds, depending on the nature of the incident.
To compound the issue, the crew must be able to contain damage and recover essential systems when impacted by all flood or fire scenarios defined in the SRTP regulations. The total number of individual damage scenarios varies depending on the size of the ship, but could include 100 or more.
In one industry example, all this meant that 100 different manual actions were required to contain damage and recover the operability of an essential ship system in a single scenario. For this vessel, a total of 200 possible scenarios required SRTP compliance. Therefore, the crew required training to implement a total of 20,000 manual steps to ensure compliance in emergency situations.
This may sounds like an overwhelming task to prepare for and instigate when necessary. However with the right preparation, compliance processes between shipbuilders and ship owners, operators and crew can become more integrated, and the flow from vessel design to operation more fluent.
Route to compliance
Upon delivery of a new vessel, design assumptions made in the FMEA studies need to be validated to ensure any discrepancies between compliance during vessel design and operation can be addressed. To do this, ship owners and operators need access and sufficient resources to review the information, which is extensive and at times difficult to interpret. These steps are all necessary to ensure results of FMEA studies can be effectively applied to ensure SRTP compliance during vessel operation.
Once crew procedures to recover the operability of essential ship systems are defined, continuous and systematic drills must be conducted. This will ensure that the crew tasked with carrying out manual actions are familiar and competent with the emergency control procedures in line with the correct design intentions and for all SRTP scenarios.
While effective, this strategy has its own associated challenges. For example, planning and conducting SRTP drills is likely to require extensive efforts due to the large number of scenarios and associated manual actions. Manual actions may involve sequential steps carried out at different locations throughout the ship, requiring, for example, specific access arrangements. This logistical information (not necessarily provided in the FMEA studies) needs to be defined and recorded in a systematic manner and made available to crew throughout the life of the ship, including all possible maintenance work and modifications.
Furthermore, SRTP compliance is made more difficult by the high crew turnover inherent within the passenger and cruise industry. Steps need to be taken to ensure acquired SRTP knowledge is not lost when people move on and that the process of increasing competence for new crew members becomes faster, more efficient and controlled.
Modern tools to remove compliance complexity
Brookes Bell has developed a SRTP onboard crew advisory system, designed to be an emergency information management system for crew. Brookes Bell’s SRTP crew advisory system, which continues to be developed in partnership with ship owners and operators, provides accurate design information on the vessel as delivered, and stores information relating to SRTP casualty damages and associated manual actions, both of which are required to contain the damage and recover the affected essential ship systems. Additionally, ship owners are using Brookes Bell’s SRTP crew advisory system for planning, monitoring and analysis of SRTP drills, as well as facilitating efficient training platforms for crew.
By enabling controlled and secure modification of SRTP compliance protocols that are based on key leanings experienced on board, ship builders, owners, operators and crew can achieve collective learning.
A unique regulation requires a new approach
Ultimately, SRTP is a unique safety regulation that requires an innovative approach, excellent teamwork, modern tools and application of best practices. It is a life long process, which needs to be well planned and organised throughout the lifecycle of a vessel. It should include new crew training so that seafarers can confidently contain fire and flooding damage, and recover affected essential systems and the ship in an emergency. Furthermore, measures should be taken to ensure SRTP compliance can be maintained throughout all upgrades and possible conversions, and support the crew during maintenance work. If clear and well-demonstrated processes such as Brookes Bell’s “Systems Analysis Modeller” (SAM) can be introduced to achieve this, SRTP compliant vessels will become easier and more cost effective to operate and maintain.