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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Collision between USS Porter and bulk/oil tanker M/V Otowasan

Busy waters means that incidents happen and the Strait of Hormuz are busy waters in more than one sense. I’ve no more information about the reason for the collision than others, but the incident itself is yet more evidence that the reality for military ships has changed; the interaction with civilian ships (friendly and antagonistic) has introduced a full range of new risks.
At least in Europe as well as NATO there is a discussion about how much of the design principles and safety work for naval ships that can be based on civilian rules and codes. Evidence of this is for example the military class codes offered by several classification societies and the NATO Naval Ship Code that is “based on, and benchmarked against, conventions and resolutions of the International Maritime Organisation” (NATO Standardization Organisation, 2010). The reasons for this are several; one is that taking use of the experience in the civilian industry can reduce costs and another is that navy operations today are performed in waters extremely busy with civilian activity.
I’m however not sure that we know how to balance the different kinds of risks against navy ships. In the recent years we have for example the attack on USS Cole, the USS Poster collision and three years ago a collision between the USS Hartford, a nuclear-powered submarine, with the USS New Orleans, an amphibious ship also in the Strait of Hormuz.
Mentioned events above are all three very different types of risk. However, these kinds of events can influence the decisions taken about configurations and organizations on naval ships without enough knowledge on how likely the events actually are. For many it is enough evidence that they have happened ones! This is off course not the right way to handle the future. When it comes to such important things as weighing different alternatives for navy vessels we need to do a much more thorough analysis.
The tools for that kind of analysis are not included in the new rules and codes from NATO and classification societies. The analysis (and choice of tools) is therefore the responsibility of each nation and much more research is needed before we can do such an analysis with confidence.

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