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A major research project has been assessing the benefits of crewing policies that keep the same team together across multiple voyages. SANDRA SPEARES heard some of the initial results…
Adopting stable manning strategies could make ships safer and more efficient, a conference of leading ship owners and managers was told in November 2018.
Delegates at the fifth annual International Shipowning & Shipmanagement Summit heard preliminary findings of Solent University research to examine the potential benefits and challenges of implementing more consistent crewing policies.
The study is comparing the impact of implementing back-to-back schedules for the four most senior officers with the more 'fluid' system of assignments to different ships and sailing with different crews on each trip.
Project leader Dr Kate Pike said crewing costs are the largest single operating cost – representing about 50% of the total – and proper crewing strategies are therefore essential. There is at present little information available about the benefits of keeping shipboard teams together, but there is an opportunity to learn from other industries, such as aviation.
The Solent University research has considered the external factors influencing manning systems, such as international or national legislation. It has also addressed the role of elements such as labour sources, crew nationality and vessel trading patterns. Significant changes in fleet size make it difficult to have a regular stable team, Dr Pike noted, so companies use manning pools to get around this. There is also a potential impact on promotion opportunities within a company when a strict stable team system is being used. Benefits seem to outweigh challenges, however.
The survey indicated that crews took on 'ownership' of the vessel if they were returning to it and wanted to leave it in a good condition, with resulting maintenance and safety benefits
The study has included a questionnaire which was completed by more than 100 respondents and extended by interviews and two case studies. Feedback shed light on such factors as safety, efficiency and best practice in crewing policies.
As well as delivering financial benefits, the stable strategy could prove advantageous in other ways. Dr Pike said the survey indicated that crews took on 'ownership' of the vessel if they were returning to it and wanted to leave it in a good condition, with resulting maintenance and safety benefits. There was also a potential increase in personal accountability, as respondents said they wanted to instil a better safety culture onboard.
Companies with stable teams said these fostered a greater sense of responsibility, with implied safety and maintenance benefits linked to the time the team stayed together. The optimum time for a crew to stay together is about two to three years, the research suggests, but onboard culture needs to be considered as part of that timeframe, which could result in it being extended or reduced.
There were also shorter handover times as people got to know each other, and better retention – although there might be challenges if a team member went sick, for example. There was greater collaboration and team spirit and improved abilities to respond in difficult circumstances.
The downside to stable teams was the potential for complacency to creep in, Dr Pike said, and the right questions need to be asked to monitor the strategy given the length of different voyages. Actual costs were difficult to quantify, the researcher added, and her team would like to work with an individual company to produce more detailed conclusions.