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The fatigue factor hits campaign to reduce claims - 20/03/2006
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Shipowners seek to cut overheads by reducing crew numbers and using ever more sophisticated systems.

The issue of crew fatigue continues to be a big issue for the market in terms of its drive to cut claims, says a leading claims specialist.

Dimitrios Giannakouros, technical director of Greek claims firm Kalimbassieris Maritime, says that, while the arrival of new tonnage has reduced the number of claims the market is receiving, the biggest threat continues to be human error.

This is partly due to shipowners seeking to cut overheads by reducing crew numbers and installing ever more sophisticated navigation and ship management systems.

He says: “From our experience in handling claims the number of claims in terms of volume has decreased but the value of the claims we are seeing has increased as the value of vessels and their equipment rises.”

Mr Giannakouros says the rise in new tonnage will not preclude accidents as there is no way fully to eradicate human error.

“Human error remains the biggest contributory factor to accidents,” he continues.

“Crew fatigue is a growing problem for the industry as crews are being expected to work longer hours with shorter break times as manning levels continue to fall.

“There is little doubt that a number of the grounding incidents we have been asked to deal with have been as a result of crew fatigue.

“We have seen a growing increase in the sophistication of the navigational aids that are being used and as such there is a fear that we are losing the manual skills that seafarers have long possessed in terms of ship operation.

“It leaves concerns that should a system malfunction the crews may not have the skills to manually avert a disaster.”

He says problems still arise in cases where a lack of adequate communication between the ship’s master and pilots has led to accidents and collisions.

“There are some language barriers and plain and simply a lack of communication between the masters and the pilot which have led to incidents,” says Mr Giannakouros.

“We have seen incidents where crews have ignored their own navigational systems to rely simply on the expertise of the pilot, which has caused accidents.

“Having said that, pilots work in high risk areas of the world’s waters and therefore there is always the increased potential for incidents.”

He adds that the turnover of qualified and skilled masters and ships’ officers has created a shortage of qualified crew for vessels and says shipowners seek to stem the flow of talent from the vessels under their ownership.

“We are also seeing a fall in the number of crew and officers which are being recruited from what have traditionally been the maritime nations, and that has to worry the owners as the quality of those seeking to joint the world merchant fleets has been impacted,” he adds.

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