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Experience at sea is best safety training

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A perceived overreliance by some ships' crews on technology and a lack of crew experience is leading to safety concerns in the maritime industry, experts say.

“There is no substitute for experience at sea,” said Steve Harris, senior vice president for Marsh Ltd.'s marine practice in London.

He said that while there are new safety measures, such as the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2014, that require adequate training for crews of vessels entering the Arctic or Antarctic, “very few people with both the necessary experience and ability to train others exist.”

He added that there are concerns about crews' over-reliance on technology such as electronic chart displays and information systems.

“There is a growing concern among the maritime community about "PlayStation syndrome,' which is the overreliance on and trust in technology,” as well as the “hypnotic effect” of screens on ships' bridges “to the point where perceptions of distance and clearances may become warped,” Mr. Harris said.

“Technology should be complementary to, rather than a replacement of, experience — both in the engine room and on the bridge,” Mr. Harris said.

It is important to make training hands-on to “motivate crews to understand the importance of it,” said Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty S.E. in New York.

While vessels are increasing in size, crews are getting smaller because of the economic pressures facing the shipping industry, he said.

In addition, he said, many mariners are on short contracts of only six months or one year, again as a result of the economic headwinds facing their employers.

“There is a shortage worldwide of experienced” crew, Mr. Kinsey said.

He said that the current generation of seafarers has grown up with video games, but online training, for example, does not necessarily equate to carrying out a job.

Therefore, he said, training “needs to reflect reality and consequences.”

But Joe Hughes, chairman and CEO of Shipowners Claims Bureau Inc. in New York, said concerns over crew experience — or lack thereof — are probably lower now than they were from 2003 to 2008, “when the shipping boom was creating a real crisis of human resources within the maritime industry.”

Indeed, he added, the slump in the maritime industry may now be creating a glut of workers.