Seafarers should play a significant role in the design of new-fuel ships to ensure that emerging technologies are safely used at sea, the head of ship management association InterManager has told TradeWinds.

Captain Kuba Szymanski said that it was essential that shipowners and designers collaborated from an early stage to ensure that the views of those that will operate newly designed ships and systems are included in newbuilding programmes.

Szymanski expressed concern that seafarers will not be properly trained to deal with some of the unique technical and safety challenges posed by ships that are fuelled by ammonia and other potentially dangerous fuels.

He raised concerns that difficulties of training crew on newer ships with little infrastructure in place to develop practical skills could lead to a situation where the industry is “not really training people — we are creating paperwork to look like we are doing it”, he said.

“Seafarers are not involved in designing things,” said Szymanski, whose members manage more than 5,000 ships and are responsible for more than 250,000 seafarers. “This is the most stupid thing you can imagine.

“Car designers focus on the human beings who will be driving the car. Ships are designed with a focus on the cargo without any human [seafarer] involvement. And then we’re surprised when some things don’t work.”

He said he had just returned from simulation training in Amsterdam, which highlighted how controls were not standard across vessels, increasing chances that seafarers could make mistakes based on previous experience.

And he said the likely rapid pace of change within the industry posed its own difficulties.

“From the training point of view, we do have a problem, Houston, because we are now sending seafarers to training centres that have prepared the syllabus quickly,” said Szymanski.

He said failures of training could lead to seafarers being scapegoated in the event of anything going wrong even though the problem was with systems.

The association has repeatedly raised concerns about the high numbers of deaths in enclosed spaces — at least 122 seafarers have died since 1999 — and highlighted how poor design and time pressures on the crew had been the key factors in many of the accidents.

Blame game

He said that the dangers are increased if the industry does not spend enough time on testing and training, with the industry under regulatory pressure to meet climate change goals.

The International Maritime Organization’s target of cutting harmful greenhouse emissions by half by 2050 based on 2008 levels has been challenged by the G7 group of industrialised nations and key industry lobby groups, who want to move faster.

“I think somebody needs to shout because nobody is talking about that side of things,” said Szymanski. “Now, as ship managers, we are concerned because we will be the next to be blamed.

“We are expected to produce those people whom owners and commercial operators believe grow on trees. Why don’t we work together on those things?”