When the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) officially launches its first Engine room procedures guide today (2 July), it will be a landmark moment for the organisation’s senior technical adviser Sunil Krishnakumar.
ICS had previously considered publishing a guide that would complement its Bridge procedures guide, but it was in February 2017 – when Sunil joined the organisation and brought his experience as a seagoing engineer – that the task of making the book a reality really began.
The result is a thorough assessment of engine room procedures and, at first sight, much of its advice may seem obvious. The book’s foreword acknowledges that but says that feedback from ICS members – who are national shipowners associations – “suggests that incidents still occur, even during routine procedures.”
In an exclusive pre-publication interview, Sunil told me that he had developed a first draft that was assessed by a review group of representatives from shipping companies in various sectors and industry organisations to ensure that its advice is “realistic and practical and based on best practices,” he said.
He based his draft on his experience on tankers, bulkers, container ships and finally cruise ships, which he found have the most thorough approach to watchkeeping. This may be because, as he put it, they carry the most valuable cargo. They certainly tend to have higher manning levels than other ship types so he used his cruise ship experience as his benchmark for the book’s advice.
Within its 151 pages are 13 chapters that cover such important themes as organisation of an engineering department, team management, safety, pollution control and machinery maintenance, each of them presented in a simple and practical format.
Along the way, it contains much wise advice, such as a short section in the team management chapter that is headed ‘challenging decisions’. Its opening sentence says that engine room personnel “should be encouraged to challenge operational decisions at all levels” and I asked Sunil whether some chief engineers might find that difficult to accept.
In short, yes, but “I think we are way past those early days when you expected all your senior officers to know everything,” he said. And chief engineers should welcome challenges, he suggested, because they have so much on their minds at any time that they can otherwise make bad decisions. “I am quite sure that in many cases that has led to accidents,” he said.
The following chapter addresses communication, which covers practical matters such as establishing a common language and the use of recording devices, to ‘closed loop’ communication techniques and how much information should be shared with other departments.
I asked Sunil about the importance of good communications and he said that “there is a room for improvement”. Particularly on ships such as tankers that handle dangerous cargoes, “properly conveying a message can be the difference between having a smooth discharge operation and having a huge overflow from your cargo tanks.” There is also the obvious difficulty of communicating in a noisy engine room and it is important that “you’re able to get a message across and to make sure that whoever is hearing it has heard what he needs to hear and is going to do what you’re asking him to do.”
A major part of the book – 40 pages – is devoted to a series of checklists that Sunil views as its most important content. It certainly took up a lot of his time in researching the book and he canvassed a number of shipping companies to supply examples of their own checklists.
He has distilled them to make them as generic as possible so that they can be used on all ship types but can also be used to develop more specific lists for particular applications. “We expect that people might think about the checklists and see if there’s more that can be done,” he said.
This book is necessary, he believes, because training courses cover the theoretical aspects of engineering yet “it’s a whole different life at sea”. On board ship, “there is an accepted culture that’s come from best practices that have evolved … and I think that’s what drives the ships.” It is this culture that his book aims to capture.
So he would like to see the book used to support engineer training and to inform company SMS policies. The book’s foreword makes a similar point by suggesting that the book will “help to further improve safety standards across the global fleet, consistent with the concept of continuous improvement which underpins the IMO International Safety Management Code.”
This is the first edition of the guide but Sunil already has ideas for the next one. For example, because it is based on operational experience, it does not cover alternative fuels beyond a brief mention in the chapter on machinery operation. Once there is more industry feedback on how to manage the engineering aspects of using new fuels and systems involving technologies such as batteries and fuel cells, another chapter could be added, Sunil said.
And when the second edition is published, I propose a further addition: in line with ICS style, the book acknowledges the external supporters who have contributed to its development while Sunil receives no printed credit. Yet the book is a testament to his commitment and passion for this long-overlooked but important safety-critical topic and I pay tribute to his contribution to improving safety across the industry. His book deserves to be as widely used and accepted as its established equivalent on bridge procedures.