Search This Blog

Friday, 15 November 2013

Humans, best safeguards

Human may be unpredictable, we also cause accidents. However, when doing research on ship survivability I clearly see in my models the strength of humans in a system.
Things happen; by chance, as a result of a threat or because somebody makes a mistake. This has always been the case, is the case today and will always be the case.
When an engineer looks at a system there is a drive for getting everything controllable and predictable, these are considered important characteristics of a good system. Therefore, people in that system will be considered a problem, because they are not controllable nor predictable. However, recognizing the fact that things will happen anyway you will also need a system that is able to recover.
Nature (and humans) are great at recovering from things unplanned for (machines can if they are good recover from a limited set of problems and only if that problem is recognized beforehand and a solution is prepared).
I think the human errors are outweighed many times by the human recoveries and last minute prevention skills and the “human prevention” events are probably many more than the “human error” incidents. The problem is that no one is counting the human prevention events, but when you need someone to blame you identify, document and count the human errors.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Good looking information... (risky business on the Baltic Sea)

I’ve always said that real research is done in black and white and when you try to do it more fancy you’re trying to hide a not so good research. But maybe I have to change my mind looking at this video on the ship traffic in the Baltic Sea made for a HELCOME conference where the ministers of environment in the region of Baltic Sea and other professionals were discussing how to protect the vulnerable and polluted sea in the future. HELCOM is the governing body of the convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, known as the Helsinki Convention. The Contracting Parties are Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

The film visualizes the congested sea and also shows how complex the flow of ships (and passengers and goods) really is today. This is also, off course, a well monitored sea, but the potential hazards and threats are many. I’ll try to take away two lessons from this video:
(1) I’ll in the future put more effort in my visualization of quantitative research results, and
(2) that I did the right choice naming my blog risky business at sea.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Crowdsourcing for secure transports?

Good and wide enough information on multi disciplinary issues such as Piracy is hard to come by and understanding of these problems is even harder to find. An interesting approach is the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI) exercise, a collaboration between the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and Institute for the Future (IFTF). MMOWGLI is a crowdsource tool designed as an online game. The focus of the game is ideas and strategies that may provide insight to some of the US Navy's toughest problems.
MMOWGLI creates an environment were invited or the public (dependent on issue and task) are asked to share new ideas and collaborate with other users to earn innovation points and win the game. The web-based format allows more people to interact than what would be possible in a face-to-face setting. The game's first round, piracyMMOWGLI, in summer 2011 and centered around a fast-paced, geopolitical situation off the coast of Somalia.

ONR plans to run a series of MMOWGLI games on a variety of topics over the next year. Yesterday (November 4th 2013), ONR launched the third round of piracyMMOWGLI.
The focus so far has been on military strategies for reducing piracy off Somalia. However, such a tool would also be very interesting in the area of ship security and to collect ideas that could enable a faster and more diverse development towards securer transports around the World!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

No piracy left?

According to the NATO statistics there have not been a pirated vessel off Somalia since May 2012 and only 11 in total the last two years. The last two reported attacks were performed January 2013. This off course doesn’t mean that everything is okay in Somalia, but it off course takes some pressure of the people passing through the waters. But no one is interested in lowering the guard so that piracy seems worthwhile again… as I have written before this makes for a tricky situation for the decision maker.

This is however not the end of piracy and other sources report higher numbers for the waters off Somalia and also presents numbers for the rest of the world.
The International maritime bureau piracy reporting centre (IMB PRC), an independent body set up to monitor attacks, reports 176 incidents, including 10 hijackings, worldwide so far 2013. Out of these 10 reported incidents, including two hijackings, off Somalia and 28 reported incidents including two hijackings off Nigeria.  There are also still 57 hostages hold by Somali pirates.

The total numbers are lower than 2010, but security issues are still important and must be addressed more widely than has been the case for the last years when Somalia piracy has taken all the focus and let the situation get worse off Nigeria without getting international attention. It is clear that piracy arises as a result of situations on land but also needs special conditions at sea to grow.
The maritime community needs to more effectively identify emerging areas and factors on land and at sea that can let piracy to grow. Hopefully also the blooming security industry can be harnessed for the good of maritime security and assist in analyzing emerging problems, which however needs more openness in security matters than has been the case off Somalia...

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Costa Concordia: parbuckling, blisters, a lot of cement and almost 20 months of preparations for an 8 hour job!

Giving good weather the salvage of Costa Concordia will be performed during September, nearly 20 months after the accident in January 2012. The accident took the lives of 32 persons of which still two are missing and will be search for when the ship is upright again. The legal aftermath is still going on; four out of the crew and one company official has been sent to jail in July and the ship's captain Francesco Schettino’s trial for manslaughter and causing the loss of the ship is still going on.
Around and on the ship there has now been a lot of activity preparing for the salvage including blisters for buoyancy and supporting the bow and a foundation made of cement to keep the ship from sliding away. But before that also a lot planning and preparing for a thing that only will be performed ones. That’s what I think is so cool with salvage operations, they are always unique and it really pays off thinking before you act and choosing an alternative based on setting safety and reliability first.

This very clear example of thinking before you act is off course also, especially for Costa Concordia, in bright contrast to the chaotic evacuation of the passengers and crew after the accident as well as the choice of unnecessary risky route for the ship.
But no matter the level of preparations; the salvage is still unique and unprecedented in size. I really hope that it will work smoothly!

Monday, 19 August 2013

"Is it rational to minimize the expected utility?" - The Northern Sea Route case

The Swedish risk philosopher S.O. Hansson published in 1993 a paper with the title “The false promise of risk analysis” were he discussed five problems with risk analysis as it was used then (and now). The fifth problem was that it has to be rational to minimize the expected utility, which among other things means that the risks discussed has to be comparable. One example of risks that are not comparable is two risks with about the same expected value (probability times consequence) but with totally different levels of consequence, i.e. one very unlikely catastrophic event compared to a rather common event with a low level of consequences.

The Northern Sea Route case:

At the moment the ice along the Northern Sea Route, from Asia to Europe to the north of Russia, is at its season low and the amount of ships passing thru the route this year is expected to be ten times the number of ships that passed through the route only three years ago. The northern sea route takes weeks off the voyage which off course saves resources such as fuel. The route also at the moment is pirate free. Therefore the northern sea route is a win for everybody (except for the ones making money on ships taking other routes) the ship owners, the consumers but maybe especially the environment. This is true until there is accidents on the route were the cold climate makes the consequence of an accident so much severe. An oil spill in cold waters is very problematic, but also other consequences of an accident are worse because of cold water and scarcely populated areas.
If we would calculate the environmental risks for a ship with the traditional route thru the Suez Canal and compare them to the risks with the northern passage my GUESS is that the risk for the traditional route is higher, but the risk with the northern passage is potentially more catastrophic. Which is worse? I don’t know but the environmental organizations in media seem to think that the northern route is the worst alternative.

So here we have a good example of a case where it is hard to compare the expected risks, but also where it is difficult to obtain reasonable utility estimates which is Hansson’s third problem with risk analysis.
Reference: Hansson, S. O. (1993). "The false promise of risk analysis." Ratio-New Series 6(1): 16-26.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

North Korean weapons in Panama?

To pick up the thread from the post “Nationalconflicts lead to maritime security risks worldwide”:

“…Another example of how conflicts in one part of the world affect shipping in a seemingly safe corner of the world is the discovery…” …is the news about “undeclared weapons” on a ship from Cuba to North Korea detained in Panama. The details are however sketchy and blurry pictures on twitter are only blurry pictures even if they come from a president tweet. No matter how sophisticated the equipment turns out to be every maritime security incident lead to new challenges.

Arctic research without validation!

I’m an engineer, but can appreciate the fact that many problems can’t be solved with new technology or by solving an equation. Since June, when I visited the ASME conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering (OMAE 2013), I’ve been revisiting a thought several times:
In the opening speech to the arctic symposium at the conference it was clearly stated that in arctic engineering everything starts with the arctic operation. Without understanding the intended operation there is no point in doing the engineering. This sounds very true and important to understand…

But then the presentations started and none of the ones I visited even reflected on the intended operation. Many presentations discussed calculations in model scale and calibration with model tests and when there were questions about agreement with the full scale situation everybody said: “Don’t know, we don’t have any full scale data”.
So my impression from the conference (hope it’s wrong) is that all over world there are a lot of researchers doing arctic studies with the aim make arctic operations feasible (and risk assessment on arctic operations) without validated relevant data. The excuse is that the full scale tests needed are very expensive. But maybe the tests it is more worthwhile than putting the money on research that can’t be validated?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

”Somali style” pirates off Nigeria, “Chinese reports on fishing volumes wrong” and the Canadian Navy planes for taking control of their long north coast

We all know that shipping and the oceans must be seen in a global context, our national borders don’t matter much. If a nation isn’t able to control its waters others will use them to their will. As we have seen and are seeing out of Somalia in terms of pirates. The pirates of Somalia led to an unprecedented international engagement (and the political reasons for that can of course be debated).

It is unlikely that the type of international focus that today is put off Somalia will be applied to more than one place at the time and even that is probably wishful thinking. The rise of piracy off western Africa is therefore extra troublesome as the international focus still is on pirates out of Somalia (see also post from November 26, 2012 Better times off Somalia, but tougher for the decision maker!). The piracy off western Africa has its own specific traits (with a higher focus on the cargo rather than the crew and ship), but now there are also reports on “Somali style” piracy with the intent to keep the crew (and ship) for ransom (for example the reports about the tanker MT Matrix I). This could lead to a faster increase in incidents and a need for new security measures, but still with completely different conditions as compared to piracy off Somalia. One reason for the difference is that the national control of the waters off western Africa is far better than the control off Somalia.
Control of waters is however difficult as can be seen in the news on were the Chinese fishing fleet actually catches the fish (see for example Chinese fishing fleet in African waters reports 9% of catch to UN). This is of course a very important question in regards to natural resources and not primarily a maritime security issue. But fishing disputes lead to maritime risks and also affects relations between nations. There is therefore probably a need for better control of the waters off eastern Africa; especially I imagine several African nations wanting a bigger piece of the fishing off their own coast.
But also elsewhere nations are putting in extra effort to take better control of their waters. I have earlier written about Russia and their interest for their arctic waters, but also Canada is preparing for new Artic challenges and to take control of their northern coast as the reduction of the ice makes the waters feasible to visit (at least part of the year). Canada is commissioning new naval vessels specifically for this purpose and I imagine they want to make sure that they secure control of their waters before anyone else does it.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Quantitative risk analysis – Ship security analysis for effective risk control options

This study reviews ship security assessment. The objectives are to explore the possibilities for quantifying and performing a more thorough ship security risk analysis than that described in the International Ship and Port Facility Security code and to evaluate to what extent this more detailed analysis increases ship security and facilitate the effective selection of risk control options.
The study focuses on Somali-based maritime piracy, using piracy on the Indian Ocean as a case study. Data are collected using questionnaires and interviews with civilian and military security experts who possess firsthand experience of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The data are collected specifically for this study and describe and quantify the threat’s capability, intent and likelihood of exploiting a ship’s vulnerability. Based on the collected description of the threat, the study analyzes and describes: probability of detection by pirates, probability of successful approach, and probability of successful boarding.
The performed work shows good agreement between calculated probabilities and frequencies in the cited incident reports. Also, the developed scenarios describe the most important influences on the analyzed areas. The research therefore shows that the proposed risk-based approach, which uses structurally collected and documented information on the threat, can increase ship security by assisting in selecting risk control options. The approach also allows for a better understanding of the causal relationship between threat and risk than that provided in today’s security analysis by ship owners, for example. This understanding is crucial to choosing effective and robust risk control options.
Hans Liwång, Chalmers University of Technology and the Swedish National Defence College
Jonas W. Ringsberg, Chalmers University of Technology
Martin Norsell, Swedish National Defence College
The article is published in Safety Science Vol 58 pages 98-112 2013. See more (including fulltext) here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ship security analysis - the effect of ship speed and effective lookout

The threat of piracy to commercial shipping is a concern for the protection and safeguarding of human lives, property and environment. Therefore, ships under piracy threat should follow security measures suggested by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somali. It is, therefore, important to choose the proper security measures for the right situation.
This study presents a simulation model that can be used for probabilistic risk assessments regarding the operation of commercial ships. This investigation specifically studies the pirate approach phase and quantifies the effect of ship speed and effective lookout. The purpose of introducing probabilistic risk assessment into the analysis of pirate attacks is to meet safety goals more effectively through a well-balanced combination of proactive and reactive measures whilst keeping focus on the intended over all purpose of the particular ship.
The study presents collected and documented knowledge regarding pirate capability, intention and likelihood to perform attacks. The knowledge is collected from experts with experience from the situation off the Horn of Africa. The collected information is input to an influence analysis that identifies the network of influences that govern the skiff approach. The simulation model describes piracy characteristics and decision making on the threatened ship, the characteristics and countermeasures of the ship under attack, as well as weather.
Based on a comparison with available statistics the overall conclusion of the work is that the threat analysis and the simulation model can quantify and explain how the studied risk control options affect the probability of a successful approach. The result therefore exemplifies how a quantified ship security analysis can support the recommendations in industry guidelines and also enable recommendations that to a greater extent can facilitate an educated decision by the ship operators.
Hans Liwång, Chalmers University of Technology and the Swedish National Defence College
Jonas W. Ringsberg, Chalmers University of Technology
The study is presented at the 32nd International Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering (OMAE2013) in Nantes, June 9-14 2013, Session: 2-44 Risk Analysis and Safety Management 3.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Armed guards off Somalia lead to problems

There is at the moment in Swedish media (and hopefully IRL as well) a discussion about problems with security companies used to protect ships from pirates. There are reports of fishermen being killed by armed guards on ships and that the companies lead to arms smuggling and more, in short; the many security companies in the area lead to problems of them self. I’m not that surprised and have heard similar rumours the last couple of years. The one thing I’ve noticed the most in my research is that the high involvement of security companies has affected the incident reports negatively. I think the effects on reports are a symptom of the same thing: some of the companies are not that interested in telling the world about how they work and the ship owners hiring them understand why.

When I about two years ago had a brief discussion with the person investigating the possibility to regulate the use of armed guards on Swedish ships (as a protection against pirates) I suggested that there should be a risk analysis that looked in to the potential gain with the regulation versus the potential problems with such a regulation. As I understand there never was one, the suggested law is based on the legal possibilities. However the law says (as IMO recommends) that the ship owner should do a risk analysis before taking the decision about hiring armed guards. This leads to two problems:

(1) There is a big difference in a risk analysis for a ship and an analysis of the industry/business of armed guards on ships. In the analysis for the ship such things as dead fishermen and arms smuggling by security companies are not consequences included in the analysis.
(2) There is no (good and well thought through) guideline for how ship owners are to do the risk analysis and how and to what extent the analysis should be audited. There is a possibility that a useless analysis fulfils the requirements.

The result is a multinational business on the waters off Somalia without any real control and too many without enough ethics. I’m convinced that there are good security companies and serious ship owners, but for every month without control there is a risk that the good percentage will decrease.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Every wave encounter is unique (and potentially powerful)

Lately I’ve been dealing a lot with uncertainties, both stochastic and knowledge based, as well as the effects of waves on floating constructions. As a result I’ve reflected on what could be seen as an unpredictability of the maritime domain.

The shape (including height and so on) of waves at sea are stochastic, there are theories about the probability distribution but not necessary perfect ones. So there is both a natural (never ending) variation of waves (aleatory uncertainty) and the fact that we don’t know exactly how this variation looks like (epistemic uncertainty). So in short, every wave is unique and there is no way of measuring it after it has hit the ship. The wave was the product of that instance and place and can never be recreated.

Another interesting or daunting aspect of waves is the high level of energy (as a result of the density of water) and how effortless it can be transported for long distances (which lead to the highest waves were many waves combine to a monster wave). Terrifying results from waves has been seen as results of both tsunamis and monster waves suspected to sink ship without a trace.

The situation isn’t the same for other areas, they have their set of uncertainties (aleatory and epistemic).

So should we give up and say that we know nothing of the future at sea, off course NOT! But we have to be better at understanding and dealing with the uncertainties (aleatory and epistemic). We have to take decisions (about such things as design and security) even if there are uncertainties!

There is therefore a need to further develop marine specific knowledge (to reduce the epistemic uncertainty) but also to use that specific knowledge when it comes to marine studies.

In short if you don’t know about the specific aleatory and epistemic uncertainties in the maritime domain, don’t work with trying to analyze the future in maritime cases and if you are to commission a study for the maritime domain make sure to demand maritime competence.

Friday, 1 March 2013

National conflicts lead to maritime security risks world wide

Shipping is an international business and most voyages (even the short national ones) handle cargo or persons with important international aspects or ties. This is off course the reason for IMO - an international business needs an international governing body.

The international aspects of shipping also mean that national or local conflicts have effects worldwide. An example of this is the international effects the piracy off Somalia has caused where maritime security has climbed as a topic even on national political agendas far from Somalia. So piracy off Somalia has lead to a new focus on ship security, but also that criminals in other parts of the world has gotten influenced/inspired by the piracy off Somalia.

Another example of how conflicts in one part of the world affects shipping in a seemingly safe corner of the world is the discovery (in February) of parts for military vehicles onboard a Finnish ship in a Finnish port. The military equipment was on its way to Syria. According to news sources it was an attempt of smuggling from Russia to Syria. Not only has EU banned export of military equipment to Syria, but having this kind of cargo passing thru Europe is also a security risk opening up for people to wanting statute an example.

At the same time USA has this week announced that they will support Syrian rebels with equipment. I have not seen anything about the transport route, but I assume that (civilian) ships will be involved.

The conflict in Syria has thus spread out to sea and with it risks…

Thursday, 28 February 2013

A clear example of how difficult the arctic waters are

Now (reported by several sources, see for example the Economist blog) the arctic challenges has hit Shell, and their operations in Alaska, so hard that they already now say that there will be drillings this year. They plan to be back next year.

The problems Shell are having is off course a very clear example of how difficult the arctic waters are and how little we still know about them.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Armed guards, nothing new...

As I wrote in June last year there is a law on its way that will regulate the use of armed guards on ships under Swedish flag. The date for its implementation is July 1st 2013.
The problem I highlighted last year is however the same:

Armed guards “will now be regulated (and allowed) […]. Which of course is better than the current situation, but it won't really change anything as guards already are used on Swedish ships and most often picked out with reasonable care.

I'm however more interested in were the ship security focus will be turned now when the big former question seems to be resolved. I can think that one important issue is to educate people about how lonely ships are on the seas and that the security is limited to the ships security, there is no one else, no police to call.”

Almost a year ago I hoped that the focus would shift to more real aspects of ship security, they haven’t. Newspapers still reports about that the new law will change the situation and enhance the security, which off course isn’t true; the new law will not affect the security in any great extent, it will give rudimentary regulation on the use of weapons onboard.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Arctic waters, the next maritime security frontier!

Having a blog named “Risky business at sea” you have to write about arctic operations, and I haven’t so far. It is therefore time:

Arctic waters are a hotspot for emerging risks. We have tough ice conditions, possible new transport routs, oil and gas reserves, unresolved regional disputes and military strategic areas. Each of these conditions has unique and new challenges difficult on their own, combined they pose a daunting task that no one really take responsibility for and some won’t let anybody else meddle in.

Taking use of the arctic treasures (in all their forms) for many nations and organizations important, others are more skeptical. There are therefore several different tests performed to see how viable the wanted operation is. Big oil companies are testing the possibility to effectively tap in to the resources without too much cost; it is however unclear what demands we should put on the operation because we don’t know enough about the hazards. A few, but increasing, number of ships test the northern route between Europe and Asia every summer. It seems to be working, but there is no support if anything goes wrong and something will!

Russia has of course identified (and to some extent initiated) the changes. They have an interest in using these changes to their advantage, as any nation in their situation would.
Living in northern Europe I also see positive aspects in this change, but the amount of activity unleashed is frightening, especially considering how little we know!