What specialist skills are required by seafarers?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 March 2017


As well as skills and competencies required by STCW, seafarers often need to acquire specialist skills. Some, such as dynamic position for example, are operational whereas others may be related to equipment installed.

As offshore operations have become more complex so has the technology involved advanced to keep pace. In 2006, the IMO issued GUIDELINES FOR DYNAMIC POSITIONING SYSTEM (DP) OPERATOR TRAINING under cover of MSC/Circ.738. The guidelines were not drafted by the IMO but the circular noted that the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) had prepared a publication on the Training and Experience of Key DP Personnel which could be used as a guideline for the training of DP operators. IMCA is the international trade association representing companies and organisations engaged in delivering offshore, marine and underwater solutions and represents the majority of offshore operators on a number of levels.

Currently there is no requirement under STCW for any mandatory training or minimum competency standards. The only mention of dynamic positioning operations in STCW 2010 is in part B which is recommended only.

IMCA has recently revised its DP publications and the IMO will be considering amending its own guidelines in line with the new document at MSC 98 in June 2017. The same meeting will also be discussing equipment guidelines for DP systems and there are rumours that some aspects of DP equipment and training may be made mandatory in the future.

Clearly DP operations can be hazardous and it is in the control of both flag and port states to impose their own requirements if they see fit. The various parties involved in offshore operations including IMCA and representatives from the shuttle tanker sector came together in the 1980s to devise a scheme that would address the issue at an industry level. The Nautical Institute (NI) was requested to and has managed the scheme since its inception and in conjunction with industry has developed the certification criteria. It administers the certification of Dynamic Positioning Operators (DPOs) together with the accreditation of the training providers. The NI does not offer any training itself.

The NI training programme for DPOs combines classroom induction courses and a simulator course interspersed by prescribed periods of operation and supervision at sea. The programme has been revised at various times most recently in 2012 to incorporate the recommendations detailed in STCW 2010 and again in 2014 to address some concerns of the operators and contractors of DP vessels.

One of the concerns was that the need for DPOs has increased with many more drillships and OCVs being built in the last five to ten years and the lengthy sea time in excess of 200 days required under the NI programme was perceived as contributing to this.
In 2012 a new and rival training and certification programme was established by DNV in conjunction with the Ship Modelling and Simulation Centre (SMSC) in Trondheim, Norway. Under this programme – which like the NI has components of classroom, sea time and simulator course — DPOs would be certified for particular types of operation and thus restricted to that operation only. The required sea time was also significantly shorter.

The courses and certification have been recognised by the Norwegian Maritime Authority but on a wider scale it would appear that operators and contractors may not always accept the certificate and require the DPO to have the NI certification.

In 2013, tentative approaches for the two systems to be merged were made but this has not happened and may never come to pass. Following the merger discussions, the NI reviewed its training programme structure and a revised version that addresses in part the required reduction in time needed to obtain certification came in to force at the beginning of 2015.

Since the DNV programme was established the Norwegian society has merged with GL and in2015, Kongsberg Maritime became the first global maritime training provider to offer a new DNV GL approved Dynamic Positioning Operator (DPO) training scheme at its training centres worldwide. The KONGSBERG Training Scheme for DP Operators is based on a combination of new and established DNV training standards, with the learning process designed by Kongsberg Maritime.

After completing the training program students leave with a DP certificate only by passing the mandatory theoretical and practical independent assessment. Implemented to ensure the competence of DPOs leaving the course, the exam is a significant change in approach to DPO training, which until now has not featured mandatory examinations and certification.

The scheme is based on a three-step program. Step-one is an intensive 10-day course, covering theory and practical elements with significant time spent on Kongsberg Maritime’s DP and offshore training simulators. After logging the required sea-time with their employer (step-two), course participants will return to the training centre to complete their training (step three) and take the exam. During the whole process, simulator and theoretical exercises are used to monitor student learning levels.

The scheme also features an option to extend to a fourth step, to gain training and certification for specific DP operations. Course participants can select from Offshore Loading, Drilling and Offshore Operations extensions, all of which require the DPO to take an application specific exam. Step-four participants will benefit from highly specialised training in theory, and on application specific simulators.

Simultaneous with the 2012 DNV-SMSC development, a new certification and training scheme was being discussed for operators in US waters. Following discussions of the US Coast Guard’s National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee (NOSAC) and Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC), a group of offshore service vessel operators and training centres began meeting to discuss the issues they were facing with the current system of DPO certification. While the NOSAC and MERPAC discussions had highlighted the unique risks and operation aspects of DP as it is used by different industries, the members of the working group were faced with a one-size-fits-all DPO certification system.

The group agreed to discuss the possibility of forming an alternative DPO while simultaneously working with existing DPO certification providers to ensure their systems were augmented to reflect the unique operation techniques and tempos of offshore service vessels. In November 2013, a decision was made that the group needed to form its own DPO certification authority. The resulting body is the Offshore Service Vessel Dynamic Positioning Authority (OSVDPA), which is incorporated in the US as a non-profit. After some initial delays, OSVDPA is now active in operating a training and certification programme and has certified two training providers in the US.

According to the organisation’s website (www.osvdpa.org) it provides three types of certificates:

  • Class A DPO Certificate: This certificate is issued to DPOs that have completed no less than 60 days of Sea Time and 180 hours of Practical Experience on a DP-2 or higher vessel after Phase 3 and have passed the Phase 4A Assessment or Phase 5 Assessment.
  • Class B DPO Certificate: This certificate is issued to DPOs that have completed 60 days of Sea Time and 180 hours of Practical Experience on a DP-1 vessel (or an Accepted Unclassed Vessel) after Phase 3 and have passed the Phase 4B Assessment.
  • Class C DPO Certificate: This is a new certificate following the guidance of IMCA M 117.

A detailed description of the proposed training and certification process can be found on the OSVDPA website.

OEM Training

Equipment makers of all descriptions have a vested interest in training users of equipment supplied either to a new vessel or as retrofit. Within the next few years many ships will be obliged to install equipment that is new to the industry.

Ballast treatment systems employ many technologies and crew moving between ships may find that the equipment is very different from anything that they have come across previously. The pumping aspect of systems will not be an issue as this will be similar to conventional ballast handling but performance testing and maintenance will require some instruction.

Also the limitations with regard to temperature and salinity of systems relying on electrochemical technology must be understood if ships are not to be found wanting by PSC inspectors. Electrochemical systems produce hydrogen as a by-product and others require chemical dosing using sometimes hazardous chemicals. There are obvious safety implications if proper training is not given. Exhaust gas cleaning systems removing both NOx and SOx are another new area of equipment for which training will be needed. SOx scrubbers operating in areas of freshwater require the wash water to be treated with an alkaline chemical such as caustic soda for neutralisation and scrubbing. Again the chemicals are hazardous and care needs to be taken in their handling.

Engines are arguably the most sophisticated equipment found on ships so it is right that leading makers have invested heavily in training provision. MAN Diesel & Turbo’s PrimeServ training services has 13 centres around the globe that offer training on a variety of the company’s products. Although the main training is targeted at engineers, special courses are also run for office and management staff to allow a technical insight that can assist them in supporting sea staff and superintendents. The Wärtsilä Land and Sea Academy is a similar set-up with 10 training centres around the globe where product specific and other training services are provided. Another engine maker – Rolls-Royce – has a technology and training centre in Ålesund, Norway in the same building as the Offshore Simulator Centre. This facility is not restricted to engines but also includes some of the manufacturer’s diverse range of other products from propellers to winches.

Bunkering oil & gas

As has already been mentioned, the IMO has moved to include training for gas fuelled vessels in the STCW Code. Surprisingly, given the pollution potential and hazards of conventional oil fuels there is in fact nothing specifically in STCW covering them.

Obviously some knowledge is imparted during engineer training and by engine manufacturers but some within the industry feel there is a lack of structured training with regard to bunkers especially as the diverse range of fuels is extending with normal and low/no sulphur variants as well as new fuels such as methanol, ethane and hydrogen all appearing.

The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) has co-operated with UK-based South Shields Marine School at South Tyneside College, to develop a course unit on bunkering essentials for merchant navy cadets and engineering officers taking their Class one and Class two certificates of competency. The course aims to explain the fundamentals of the bunker industry, the key regulations affecting shipping today, along with the latest industry challenges and developments.

Handling LNG fuel and other low-flashpoint fuels on ships became part of maritime training standards earunder the IGF Code. Under the rules, crew have to be involved in a minimum of three bunkering operations although these can be simulated operations. In February 2017, The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) announced the publication of ISO 20519, a new standard for the safe bunkering of ships with LNG. ISO 20519 contains requirements that are not covered by the IGC Code, including hardware, operational procedures, the requirement for the LNG provider to provide an LNG bunker delivery note, training and qualifications of personnel, and requirements for LNG facilities to meet applicable ISO standards and local codes. As LNG as a marine fuel is relatively new, ISO notes that the standard will need to be updated periodically to incorporate lessons learned over time and technological changes.

Shore staff training

So far, this guide has concentrated on seafarer training but it should not be forgotten that a successful ship operation organisation relies as much on shore staff as on officers and crew employed on the ships. There are at least three areas where there is a mandatory requirement under international rules for specific roles that would require training in order to be carried out properly.
The first of these is the ISM Code which requires a designated person ashore (DPA) to be the link between the ships at sea and the executive management of the company ashore. The IMO document MSC-MEPC.7/Circ.6 ‘Guidance on the qualifications, training and experience necessary for undertaking the role of the designated person under the provision of the ISM code’ provides some detail on the qualifications and training needed for staff undertaking the role.

While it is considered best practice that the DPA should have seagoing experience this is not a requirement under the ISM regulations. The guidance states that the Designated Person should have a minimum of formal education as follows:

  1. qualifications from a tertiary institution recognized by the Administration or by the recognized organization, within a relevant field of management, engineering or physical science, or
  2. qualifications and seagoing experience as a certified ship officer pursuant to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended, or
  3. other formal education combined with not less than three years’ practical senior level experience in ship management operations.

With regard to the training of the DPA, the circular says the ‘Designated Person should have undergone training relating to safety management elements in compliance with the requirements of the ISM Code, particularly with regard to:

  1. knowledge and understanding of the ISM Code;
  2. mandatory rules and regulations;
  3. applicable codes, guidelines and standards as appropriate;
  4. assessment techniques of examining, questioning, evaluating and reporting;
  5. technical or operational aspects of safety management;
  6. appropriate knowledge of shipping and shipboard operations;
  7. participation in at least one marine-related management system audit; and
  8. effective communications with shipboard staff and senior management.

As can be noted from the qualification/education and training guidelines, it is unlikely that any of the three categories listed as qualifying a person for the DPA role will have been exposed to the list of subjects for which training is recommended. Similar requirements exist for the Company Security Officer (CSO), Ship Security Officer (SSO) and other ship and shore staff tasked with security duties under the International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) Code. The recommended training requirements are contained in Part B of the ISPS Code.

Again, training in these duties is offered both by specialist training providers and also by Recognised Organisations. Many of the ROs are classification societies. The list of training requirements for the CSO contained in the ISPS Code is much longer than that for the DPA in the ISM circular although in practice the ISM Code probably dictates a greater breadth of knowledge required. Another Code which places training requirements for shore staff is the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code which came into effect globally in 2008 but which was enforced by some administrations well before this date. Over the years there have been many incidents involving fires and explosions caused by hazardous goods especially on container ships.

Under the IMDG Code, personnel accepting bookings for hazardous goods must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the practical requirements of the Code in relation to classification, packaging, marking, labelling, documentation, container and vehicle packing and vessel stowage. Hazardous goods training usually involves a minimum two day course covering the essentials of the Code but continual updating of knowledge is necessary as new chemicals and hazards are identified.