This particular incident was partly down to a lack of on-board communication combined with a lack of knowledge on the part of the vessel’s crew when dealing with phosphine gas. Adrian McCourt, managing director of Watkins Superyachts, circulates these reports with his comments as a fleet circular to Watkins’ managed yachts, in addition to almost seventy yacht captains, a number of management companies and The Crew Report. Commenting on this report when speaking with The Crew Report, McCourt highlighted a parallel with some busy superyacht crews suffering from a culture of mute acceptance.
“These MAIB reports are a God send as they almost always raise questions about our own business. A captain and an officer misunderstanding each other’s abilities, as in this case, can very easily happen on a yacht,” explained McCourt. “Where I find this mute acceptance goes on in the yacht business is when we see sophisticated upgrades to equipment or new toys. Everybody nods and says, ‘Yeah, we’ll put it there and we’ll get it to work”. I don’t want to bang the risk assessment drum too hard, because that does scare yachties, but there is a tendency to rely on the yard, supplier or even manufacturer having put equipment on board, or the owner having bought it, for the crew to assume it automatically must be problem-free. In this particular case communications were pretty poor and again we had assumptions of people thinking other people were doing the work or were competent to do the work.“The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau (MAIB) has published a report involving commercial vessel Arklow Meadow, when in December 2012 a cargo of wheat hemorrhaged phosphine gas into a small port in Northern Ireland. While lacking obvious immediate relevance to the superyacht industry, the report has raised questions about type-specific crew training sometimes lacking in the superyacht industry.
What should be happening instead, added McCourt, is that a risk assessment needs to be made, and the question asked of whether type-specific training for this new equipment is needed. “We probably don’t have quite as much need for the specialist training that some commercial crew have. Everybody has the basic STCW, but it’s different when it comes to the specialist stuff. People are pretty switched on when it comes to diving, for example; we won’t allow diving unless we have trained divers on board. We talk about risk assessment, and there is a perception that this requires yet more paperwork. That’s not necessarily true and it shouldn’t be onerous if it’s done properly. Just ask: ahave the crew had simple risk assessment training? When done properly, new equipment, upgrades and so forth won’t slip through the acceptance net.
“It’s about recognising where the need is for type-specific training; recognising when you have to say, ‘We’re going to need training for that’, because, believe me, there is somebody out there that will train everybody for anything."
“It’s about recognising where the need is for type-specific training; recognising when you have to say, ‘We’re going to need training for that’, because, believe me, there is somebody out there that will train everybody for anything, but the industry is slow when it comes to training and instead we choose to just get on with on-board operations. We need to step back and think about whether training needs to be provided in specific scenarios. It could be something simple; an owner upgrades to a larger yacht and this one has aviation facilities. In most cases everyone will have read the ICS helicopter guide or the aviation section in the yacht’s manual, but should the crew actually be having training on board? I like Captains to challenge managers when it comes to training and actually say, ‘We need training for that’. It’s got to be the Captain who says, ‘We’ve done a risk assessment and we believe we can reduce the risk profile if we have specialist training done.’ Especially because busy managers will often presume someone else is dealing with it all.
And in the context of today’s superyacht industry, with yachts becoming increasingly complicated, the demands upon crew are increasing exponentially. “It’s all more sophisticated. The yards, designers and suppliers are quite rightly fighting to see who can provide the most innovative pleasure for the owners. The question is: is crew training keeping up? I’m not sure.”
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