Fatigue is posing a risk to the safety of shipping and to the health of seafarers, Nautilus warned leading maritime lawyers last night. In a London Shipping Law Centre round-table discussion about the EU-funded Project Horizon research, senior national secretary Allan Graveson said excessive working hours are leading to ‘predictable and preventable’ accidents.

Existing regulations mean that seafarers can legally work up to 98 hours a week, Mr Graveson stressed. ‘The industry is working people to death. It is well-known that if you work over 50 hours a week you are at risk of higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.’

Professor Mike Barnett, from Warsash Maritime Academy, told the meeting that the simulator-based research had produced ground-breaking empirical data about the way in which the performance of seafarers is affected by typical watchkeeping patterns. ‘The results suggest that the advice to shipping companies is that there is an increased risk on certain schedules and you need to recognise that risk and manage it,’ he added.

Steve Clinch, chief inspector of the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch, highlighted two cases in which ships had run aground as a result of the OOW falling asleep. ‘It is only a matter of time before we have a major accident where there is severe pollution or lots of deaths, and then – perhaps – people will start to take notice,’ he warned.

Paul Newdick, a partner with the law firm Clyde & Co, reinforced this argument – pointing out that change is often only driven by disasters, such as the way that offshore safety was transformed by the Piper Alpha catastrophe. ‘Ships would be safer if seafarers had more rest,’ he added. ‘But you need more people onboard, and that will cost money. This is about political will and it is about cash and until the two coincide, not a lot will change.’

Source: Nautilus International.