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Legal liability of the Master needs to change: Transas chief Coles

Legal liability of the Master needs to change: Transas chief Coles
Transas ceo Frank Coles says it is “insanity” that all liability is still placed on the Master of a ship even though the operating environment has changed.

Speaking at the Transas Simulator User Conference in Singapore on Tuesday Coles noted the role of the Master and influence of the shore office had certainly changed.

“If we take a closer look at the ship navigation and operations environment, and consider the attitude to humans being involved it could possibly point to that description of insanity? We continue to hold onto the liability of the Master, and placing his word as law, yet the environment has changed,” Coles stated.

Coles, who has been chief of Transas for just four months, sees two critical elements, the working environment and attitude, especially to the decision making process.

On the environment part he noted burden upon the ship officer was at an all time high, yet nothing had truly changed in terms of the level of responsibility or style of management.

Changes included ECDIS, the buzzword of e-Navigation, faster and cheaper communications and additional documentation.

“Then one issue that I think needs serious and considered thought. The traditional hierarchy on board and between ship and shore. It continues to be used in operations, both legally and as an excuse as we criminalise the seafarer,” he said.

“It seems an anachronism when we examine the reality of modern day operations. It becomes especially so when we consider the seeming inevitably of ship to shore operations amalgamation.”

He put forward what he sees as the solution from a Transas perspective which they have dubbed Thesis or Transas Harmonized Eco-System of Integrated Solutions.

Setting out this vision Coles said: “Using a little imagination, we can see the ship connected to the eco-system, (a cloud, or community, call it what you may). Also connected is the ship operations office, the training facilities, (schools and centers around the world), and a properly created ship traffic control environment. The eco-system is harmonized and the solutions are integrated through being able to talk to one another.”

He admitted that there would be resistance from some for such a concept. It would move to Fleet Resource Management where responsibility is shared been the ship and the shore.

While this is happening some shipping companies he said it was not in the most part in a structured way, which is where the issue of attitude comes in.   “Also of course the legal situation requires a change also for a proper shared resource management. In some cases the office imposes its views on the master. Most do not have the tools or training to execute it properly. At the end of the day the environment and attitudes are not in place.”

Changing the attitude to shared responsibility again brings in the legal dimension.

“Our thesis implies that attitudes need to change, and the legal liability needs to more fittingly adjust to the operational reality. The law should not control the management of the ship, but fit with the everyday practice in operations,” he explained.

Asked by Seatrade Maritime News if the legal liability would change Coles responded: “I think it’ll have to.”

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