Nautilus Telegraph, July 2013: Accident investigators have expressed concern at the lack of international guidelines governing the way in which shipping companies carry out risk assessments.
In a report on a fatal incident onboard a chemical tanker in 2011, the Norwegian accident investigation branch (AIBN) argues that existing regulations give operators ‘a great degree of freedom’ to choose how to conduct their risk assessments.
The report details a fatal accident following an explosion on the deck of the Norwegian chemical tanker Clipper Sund in the port of Antwerp in September 2011. Investigations revealed that the blast was caused by a reaction between two incompatible cargoes — nitric acid and aniline — which came into contact in a drainline when a valve was mistakenly opened and closed after discharging operations.
The AIBN highlighted the lack of experience of the seaman who had opened the ball valve separating the aniline and nitric acid. ‘In all probability, the able seaman understood that something was wrong and reacted by closing the valve in order to limit the extent of the damage,’ the report notes. ‘On the contrary, this made it impossible for the gases in the drainline to escape. The pressure in the pipe increased rapidly and caused an explosion.’
Good procedures, risk assessments and plans could have prevented the incident, the report argues, but the shipping company had not carried out vessel-specific risk assessments of loading and discharging operations that should have formed the basis for these.
Pointing to the lack of specific requirements governing the way risks onboard are to be identified and how risk assessments are to be carried out, the report states that the current regulations fail to provide shipping companies with sufficient support for conducting satisfactory risk assessments. Consequently, it is possible that the quality of risk assessment work can vary considerably, the report adds, and it recommends more work to develop guidelines to ensure that companies have ‘a sufficiently structured approach to risk assessment and risk management’.