Safety first; environment second, says DNV GL CEO

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 28 March 2019


Environmental concerns have overtaken safety as technology, shipping markets and regulatory developments create ‘tectonic’ changes in the industry, believes Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, chief executive of class society DNV GL.

He was speaking in London last Thursday (21 March), before the Viking Sky cruise ship (which is not classed by DNV GL) ran into difficulties off the Norwegian coast, but his comments then now appear particularly relevant.


In conversation later with ShipInsight, he described a hypothetical situation in which “one of your family members were on board a vessel and they experienced really bad weather”. Would it be better, he wondered, for them to be on a ship with a derated engine that emits less CO2, or one with sufficient power to manoeuvre to a safe port? “I think that priority is very straightforward and easy for everyone to make,” he said.

He had earlier given a presentation in which he discussed examples to support his view that safety has been relegated to second place, such as the introduction of IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), which is usually met by derating a ship’s engine. He expressed concern over derated engines: with less power, they take longer to accelerate through the shaft line’s barred speed range, which means the shaft and propeller line is subjected to dynamic vibrations for longer. “Ultimately, that can lead to shaft failure and you could have serious issues,” Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said.

Because of this concern, DNV GL published requirements last July that define a maximum time it should take for a ship’s propulsion system to pass through that speed range and IACS has prepared guidance with a view to issuing a unified requirement, he said.

Market influences are also taking priority over safety, he believes. For example, increasing ship sizes “pose new challenges” he said, as does increasing pressure on turnaround times in ports, which “is also increasing safety exposure,” he said. He highlighted in particular the bulk trades, in which cargo liquefaction is a risk. “When you are not able to do proper measurements of the cargo you are loading, the risk of liquefaction may increase.” If that happens while the ship is at sea, “what you can do is very limited.” DNV GL has produced guidelines that set out a number of safe best-practices to avoid such incidents, he said.

He also spoke about a lack of information about containerised cargo, which sometimes cause fires that lead to total loss of the ship and crew fatalities. That, and uncertainties over container weights, mean that “the time has now come to be really concerned about what’s inside the containers,” he said.

As for regulatory changes, he mentioned the impending sulphur cap and safety concerns arising from potential incompatibilities between batches of blended fuels – even those supplied by the same vendor. Filters might clog and seals might fail; “as an industry we don’t really have any experience to speak of with these blended fuels,” he said, so DNV GL will “be interested to learn more and give more guidance as this develops.”

Reacting to his comments, ShipInsight asked Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen whether he believed that, if a proposed environmental regulation could have an adverse impact on safety, the regulation should not be taken further. “Yes,” he said, “or we should find another way of making it happen.” Safety and the environment should not be treated as separate items, he went on. “We want the best for the environment, but we shouldn’t put the life of seafarers or the vessel or the cargo at risk.”

In his presentation, he had set out five proposals that “could really improve safety at sea.” The first was “to develop holistic regulations with safety at the core. That is a challenge to IMO and to class societies when they are developing rules,” he said. His second proposal was “to improve on the safety culture within each and every company,” which appears to hint at a general concern about attitudes to safety across the industry.

His next two points encouraged learning from mistakes. “Deeper insights into incidents and near-misses” would be achieved if data silos were unlocked, and he urged greater transparency into the findings from incidents and accidents. “It is a concern that the industry as a whole seems quite reluctant to share those insights,” he said. And it can take two years or more before reports are published, which is “a waste of time and of good learning.”

His final proposal was for shipping to take inspiration from other industries, in particular the airline and oil and gas sectors. He highlighted ‘barrier management’ as one technique that shipping could adopt from those sectors, and DNV GL’s website describes that approach by quoting the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority, which says that its purpose is “to establish and maintain barriers so that the risk faced at any given time can be handled by preventing an undesirable incident from occurring or by limiting the consequences should such an incident occur.”

That, Mr Ørbeck-Nilssen said, would promote “a much more proactive attitude and approach to safety issues” in shipping.

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