Even before the ECDIS – the Electronic Chart Display and Information System- becomes mandatory for all merchant vessels, growing industry concerns about confusion regarding mandatory training requirements has resulted in at least two P&I clubs issuing broad-based warnings about seafarer training on ECDIS.
The Standard and the UK P&I Club have warned shipowners that the switchover from paper charts to electronic navigation entails serious issues that remain unresolved. These changes are seen as major, the clubs say, and owners and crews need to be well aware that in the absence of proper training, there may well be more than a few “ECDIS assisted accidents” over the horizon.
The clubs clearly see ECDIS as a leap in navigational operations rather than a simple progression from existing systems. The fact that ECDIS training- both generic and type specific- is mandatory makes implementation even more complicated. Moreover, says Karl Lumbers of the UK Club, “It will in many cases restrict the flexibility owners/managers currently enjoy to switch officers between the different ships in their fleets.”
Industry watchers say that Flag States need to be clear on how they plan to implement the type-specific training rule. Some flags have indicated that this can be done on board, with the help of specially trained personnel if necessary. Others disagree, saying that training should take place ashore before joining a ship- they fear that shipboard training may degenerate into a sort of familiarisation exercise done quickly and cursorily. As the Standard Club says, “The legislative requirements for ECDIS training are daunting. The sheer numbers and scale of the training required is going to test many companies’ ability to complete the training in time and interpret the varying Flag States’ requirements.”
The fact that many managers handle ships registered across different flags and the plethora of different ECDIS systems already in the market makes the situation even more complex. Despite the voices of many who have been crying themselves hoarse asking for some standardisation in ECDIS equipment for months now, manufacturers and regulators seem to have studiously ignored such concerns. One can only hope that this confusion stops short of affecting safety of navigation at sea.