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The effects of crew fatigue in ship safety

The maritime industry is a complex system consisting of various elements and stakeholders. One of the most important components of the ship safety and operational success is the human factor. One of the highest topics concerning this factor is undoubtedly crew fatigue which is the lead cause of many marine incidents. More specifically, exhausted seafarers are not able to perform their duties and are very likely to make mistakes. It goes without saying that shipping companies should pay attention to prevent their seafarers from it. In light of this, relevant legislation through International Organizations and their conventions, has been introduced so as to address fatigue related issues and improve the working conditions for seafarers on board.

The main factors that lead to crew fatigue both mental and physical, are the following:

  1. Duration of seafarers’ contracts and delays in repatriation

  2. Extensive working periods without necessary hours of rest between these working periods.

  3. Anxiety and stress in work environment

  4. Insufficient medical conditions and lack of protective equipment

  5. Inadequate sleep

  6. Risks such as piracy

  7. The distance from their families

  8. The short stay of vessels in ports

Although vessels can identify each other by both radar and Automatic Identification System, the human factor is still of fundamental importance to the vessel’s safety. Some examples of crew fatigue that cause a marine incident is when a deck officer fails to see another vessel before a collision, the improper voyage preparation, the lack of organization on board, the difficulties in making decisions, too speedy sailing and the difficulties in crew cooperation.

Both International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), issued International Conventions and established relevant systems, to protect the seafarers’ working conditions. Through the International Convention of Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978 and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006, the maximum working hours for seafarers and the minimum hours of rest are specified accordingly. Additionally, the vessels’ inspections increase, with the aim to raise the level of safety on board. The most important here is to mention that stakeholders of the shipping industry should always implement the legislation and follow the standards of work and living conditions at sea.

Fatigue risk management systems play a vital role in minimizing the possibility of a marine incident caused by human errors especially due to tiredness and through a comprehensive approach compose a significant solution to this challenge. With the fatigue awareness training and reporting in ship, and the continuous support of shipowners and shore personnel this risk can be highly decreased. Especially due to COVID 19 pandemic, there are many cases that there is an insufficient number of crew members to ensure the proper operation of ship and also, there are large delays in crew changes.

As seafarers provide a key frontline service to the whole society, it is vital to provide them comfort and reduce the effects of fatigue and thus prevent a lot of maritime accidents, and consequently human and material losses. Managing fatigue is everybody’s responsibility. Seafarers should always report such inappropriate conditions and International Organizations along with maritime companies, flag administration and recognized organizations should cooperate to take all the necessary measures and improve the conditions of the people working at sea.

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