Getting crews trained up on LNG

Of the reasons given for the slow uptake of LNG as a marine fuel the lack of a bunkering infrastructure is the most often quoted followed by issues of cost and space requirements for fuel storage on long-haul vessels. However, for shipowners actively contemplating LNG use, there is one other reason that is likely to be the strongest deterrent and that is the lack of suitably qualified crew.

There is no doubt that LNG – or any flammable or explosive gas – possesses hazards that need to be properly understood and crew trained to deal with. The crew of LNG carriers will have undergone the necessary training but most seafarers have never needed to do this. If there is to be a large increase in the number of gas-fuelled vessels, then a major training initiative needs to be put in process.

When the IMO adopted the IGF Code changes were also made to STCW with a simultaneous coming into force of 1 January 2017. The changes are contained in IMO Resolution MSC.397(95) and add a whole new section (Section A-V/3) to STCW. The new requirements extend to 16 pages and cover mandatory minimum requirements for the training and qualification of masters, officers, ratings and other personnel on ships subject to the IGF Code.

As from 1st January 2017 all applicable seafarers serving onboard ships subject to the IGF Code are required to have a valid Certificate of Proficiency that relates to the IGF training appropriate to their assigned shipboard duties. IGF training should satisfy the requirements specified in STCW Code A-V/3 and fall into two categories – Basic and Advanced training.

Seafarers responsible for designated safety duties associated with the care, use or in emergency response to the fuel on board ships subject to the IGF Code should hold a certificate in basic training for service on ships subject to the IGF Code. Safety duties in relation to fuel handling should be clearly defined in the ISM Company’s Safety Management System (SMS). The training will need to be certified either by an IGF Training Certificate of Proficiency or alternatively a Certificate of basic training for liquefied gas tanker cargo operations in accordance with STCW A-V/1-2 paragraph 1.

Masters, engineer officers and all personnel with immediate responsibility for the care and use of fuels and fuel systems on ships subject to the IGF Code should hold a certificate in advanced training for service on ships subject to the IGF Code. Once again, seafarers who hold a Certificate of Proficiency for advanced training for liquefied gas tanker cargo operations (STCW Regulation V/1-2.4) are considered as satisfying the requirements for IGF advanced training.

The term “person with immediate responsibility” means a person being in a decision-making capacity with respect to handling of fuel addressed by the IGF Code or other fuel related operations. Aside from the master and engineer officers, the Safety Management System should clearly identify all personnel with immediate responsibility (if any) for the care and use of fuels and fuel systems on ships subject to the IGF Code.

Simulators filling the skills gap

In common with most other aspects of seafarer training, simulators are becoming indispensable in addressing the lack of in-service experience as more crew and officers are needed to keep pace with demand. The number of seafarers experienced in matters relating to LNG s severely limited and mainly confined to those who have served on LNG carriers.

Simulator training is permitted as an alternative to time served experience in most aspects of STCW and training in matters related to LNG is no exception. Already many officers, engineers and crew serving on LNG carriers acquire their necessary training at simulator centres around the globe.

Simulator training allows for situations that may be rarely or never experienced in the course of a sea-going career and as such does allow for skills to be transferred and learnt much more rapidly than would otherwise be the case. Being able to deal with excessively rapid boil off, leaks and over-cooling could not safely be learnt in anything other than a simulator environment.

One of the aspects of training with simulators is that trainees will have the opportunity to ‘work’ with the different tank types that could be used for LNG fuels. The different types of tanks allowed for in the IGF Code have different degrees of refrigeration, pressure and installation and each will carry specific risks that may not be experienced with other tanks types. There are also different means of refuelling and particular risks involved that are not present when handling conventional oil fuels.

An added expense

Training costs are probably the hidden cost of any switch to LNG or other fuels that may come under the IGF Code in the future. Almost certainly there will be a shortage of appropriately trained and certificated officers and crew if there is a big switch to LNG. Looking slightly further ahead there will surely be even more training requirements if and when hydrogen and other gases are looked on as providing a solution to environmental demands.

Trained crew for LNG carriers are able to command higher salaries than crew on many other ship types. The increase in the LNG Carrier fleet in recent years has already seen an upward pressure on wages. This has been further exacerbated by the fact that there is competition as well from the growing number of FSRUs and also from operators seeking suitably qualified staff for shore positions.

Because most of the gas-fuelled ships (other than LNG carriers) now in service have been in short sea sectors, the impact on crew for ocean going vessels has been quite limited. If as seems likely there will be more ship types other than LNG carriers built or engines converted, then the pressure on training and wages bills for shipowners choosing gas will inevitably increase in the short to mid-term. That is something that needs to be addressed well before any decision is made to switch to LNG or other exotic fuels and at the very least when ordering new ships.