NAVIGATION | Training vital to keep Ecdis switchover on course

Craig Eason | Lloyd’s List | 2010.10.15

THE UK Chamber of Shipping believes that training will be the key to the successful implementation of electronic chart display and information systems and, not unreasonably, is pushing colleges and other trainers to ensure their tutors are sufficiently proficient in the technology.

It also wants to see less pressure placed on shipowners to remove paper charts from ships unless they and the crews on board are both comfortable and proficient with the technology.

Ecdis systems will have to be installed onboard all merchant vessels by 2018, although as a rolling deadline it means some newbuildings have to have the equipment from 2012 and some existing tonnage from 2013.

Along with the mandatory carriage requirement comes a requirement for all navigating officers to have taken a suitable training course by the specific deadline. The minimum requirements for a five-day training course has been approved by the International Maritime Organization. However, there is confusion by flag states over the amount of training an officer should need — with a belief in some organisations that officers should sit courses for each specific system they will encounter at sea.

There is also growing confusion over the role of port state control and vetting inspectors regarding the rules, and how they should be interpreted.

In pushing for training courses to ensure their tutors have a better understanding of Ecdis and its implications, UK Chamber of Shipping nautical manager Saurabh Sashdeva hopes to dispel some of the false conceptions about the equipment and how it is used.

While the Chamber of Shipping acknowledges that Ecdis will be made mandatory on certain types of ships from 2012 onwards, Capt Sashdeva believes that significant hurdles will need to be overcome.

From both the shipowners and merchant navy training board point of view, the chamber has been working to develop new training standards in partnership with the training colleges and the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and has also taken up the task to revise the existing Ecdis training course criteria.

“There are all these courses and everyone can call themselves Ecdis experts,” says Capt Saurabh, who thinks there is a bewilderment within shipowners about what an Ecdis is. Even the acronym has come to mean a whole industry argument rather than adding clarity to the use of a piece of bridge equipment.

“It is really just a piece of equipment with software, and that software needs training,” he says.

The software is from organisations such as the UK Hydrographic Office and others that install the program into the Ecdis, and these need to be brought onboard as well, he says. His drive has been to get the UK training bodies to agree to send their academic staff to a suitable course at the UKHO to ensure they know what it is they are teaching.

A further ambiguity that still needs resolution, according to the Chamber of Shipping, is whether ships should dispense with paper charts, and how the different port states and flag states interpret the carriage requirements, such as what would be deemed to be acceptable primary or secondary mode of navigation — paper charts or Ecdis.

Last but not least, he says, issues still remain over the lack of coverage of certain areas, confusion with alarms, limitations of bridge design and even the economic viability for small coastal ships that perhaps only use two or three paper charts.

The piece of technology that an owner will have to install on all of its fleet will cost between $15,000 to $50,000. There are about 30 different systems from around 24 manufacturers that have been type approved by a classification society as meeting the requirements of an Ecdis.

While many newbuildings are already being built with the technology installed, there are still a huge number of existing vessels that will need retrofitting.

According to Jeppesen Marine divisional director Tor Svanes, the manufacturers of type approved Ecdis systems are confident they can meet the construction demand, but he doubts they can get them all installed in time as this will take two engineers about a week per vessel.

Jeppesen provides the chart data — the electronic charts and the regular corrections that the Ecdis needs to be a navigation or route planning tool.

Many of the electronic chart providers and some of the hydrographic offices have been highlighting the cost savings that can be achieved by shipowners that have two Ecdis systems on board. The IMO carriage requirements state that at least one system has to be installed by the deadline. If two independent systems are installed, then the ship can remove the paper charts from the bridge.

Capt Saurabh is calling for caution. “One aspect that I feel is important, is that bringing an Ecdis on a ship should not lead to the removal of the paper charts,” he says. “If everything else fails, then that paper will save a life.”

It is the manufacturers and those with a vested interest that are pushing a direct move to two Ecdis and no paper charts, he says, not the shipowners. “The IMO has mandated a single Ecdis and the purpose of an Ecdis is to promote safety and an enhanced maritime environment. I have yet to see proof that navigating on an Ecdis is safer.”

He refers specifically to navigation rather than the back of bridge, voyage planning or any other aspects of Ecdis that can be used. But again, here he is pushing for a more practical approach. The technology itself has keen differences to planning a voyage or assessing navigational hazards on a paper chart.

He cites the relatively small size of the Ecdis screen compared to the flat paper chart, the inability to write on the chart key and vital information relating to temporary navigation warnings.

“The IMO was sold a dream and the dream is turning sour now,” he says. “Ecdis has thrown up so many issues that have yet to be resolved.”

But having said that, he is a keen believer that Ecdis can make things easier and that the system is a welcome step. His caution stems from a desire to make sure shipowners, and their hard to recruit ship’s officers, are not forced into a technological corner that will lead to unwanted consequences.

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