VS Parani Personal Blog

Welcome to my BLOG. Here I will be posting articles on health and safety that interest everyone who is into the shipping industry. Feel free to register and receive regular updates. Your comments are also welcomed!

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Port or Starboard? Decision Making on the High Seas

008 smallThis article appeared in the June 2017 edition of the esteemed Nautical Institute journal Seaways.

The model first appeared in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani.

 

What's called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go, there are penalties.’ - Elia Kazan

 

 

A reefer ship with its cargo of frozen fish is due to leave berth the following morning. The weather forecast predicts 55 knot winds outside the harbour. The ship’s anemometer currently shows about 20 knots. Could the wind speed increase by more than twice during the night? The ship must unberth at daylight if they are to make the scheduled ETA at the next port. On the other hand, the rough seas outside could severely damage this small ship. The Captain is thoughtful as he mulls over what he should do next.

Onboard a container ship in the Mediterranean, a Junior Engineer reports to the Chief Engineer that the fuel tank which was nearly full yesterday is down by two-thirds. The Chief Engineer is busy writing his noon-report. He wonders with a bit of irritation why the sounding has reduced. Has the Junior made an error; it wouldn’t be the first time? Should he investigate, or should he complete the report first?

Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the Chief Officer of a chemical tanker gets a call from the Captain asking him when the tanks would be ready for the next loading. If the crew went into the tanks now, the cleaning would complete sooner. But the tanks are not yet fully ventilated. There could still be flammable-hazardous gases inside. He nervously debates sending the crew in, or telling the Captain that cargo operations could be delayed.

The challenge:
Mariners may have to take several such decisions every day. The right decision will take the ship and its crew safely to the next leg of the voyage. The wrong action could lead to disaster!

But why do people make wrong decisions?
What are the strategies mariners can adopt to ensure they have it right, first time and every time?
And how can a company management assist in better decision making onboard ships?

All of us want to make right decisions. But decision making is a complex science, while also being a key leadership skill. And decision making is as much a rational algorithm as an emotionally loaded process. Understanding the mechanics of decision making can help seafarers pick the right methods while steering clear of the dangers. Decision making requires clarity of thought, preparation and practice.

Decision making mindsets
Mariners first need to acknowledge that decision making isn’t easy. Next, it is important to acknowledge that the situation is changing and needs a decision. Hubris impedes our ability to register change, or leads us to conveniently assume that the new information has no significance.

Decision making is an intentional process requiring a person to overcome inertia. It is a stressful process. And we may react either with a flight or freeze response, both unhelpful for the ship. A leader can instead, tap into his innate fight response to enable him to decide. Decision making requires courage, and a leader needs a lot of it to be able to lead his ship day after day.

I recommend the decision-making template- DECIDE (Detect, Evaluate, Choose, Identify, Do & Evaluate Effectiveness). The method has been well tested in aviation and I’ve found it applicable to shipping as well. I’ve also developed a decision-making mnemonic which can help seafarers understand the decision-making process.

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To complete the story
The Captain feels that his ship will be able to handle the heavy seas. As soon as he leaves the breakwater, the small reefer ship is battered by the waves. It soon loses power and runs aground. The ship is abandoned and the crew is rescued, but not before they lose a precious life from the rescue team.

The Chief Engineer chooses to ignore the Junior Engineer’s report. The next day, they found the adjoining cargo hold swamped by leaked fuel oil. The cargo in the hold? Twenty containers of pasta, swimming in fuel oil sauce!

The Chief Officer ignores protests by some of the crew and sends them into the tanks. A spark ignites the flammable atmosphere in the tank. The resulting explosion sinks the chemical tanker, taking the lives of all but a handful of survivors.

Sadly, all these are real-life stories. With better decisions, the outcome could have been different. We are faced with several such situations every day and it is not always a straight forward choice between right and wrong. It is often a choice between a wrong and a lesser wrong or a right and a greater right, often guided by the values held in the organization and on board the ship.

And decision making is a skill that can be learnt and improved with practice.

 

Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani is available from Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)

 

Praise for Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas


‘As President of the Nautical Institute I believe Leadership and Human Factors will be two of the most important issues in our industry in the coming decade. Golden Stripes comprehensively addresses these issues and provides an easily understandable template for ships officers to develop a personal code of ethics and standards for their careers’.
Captain Robert Mc Cabe, FNI, MSc Mgmt. President, Nautical Institute, London.

 

‘When I wrote my books on decision making and meeting technique, I was thinking about life on dry land. VS Parani’s remarkable book Golden Stripes takes management into a different dimension and environment. 71% of the earth’s surface is water, and we should all take lessons from shipping more seriously. I am humbled and delighted that Captain Parani found some of my ideas useful in the context of leadership at sea’.
David Wethey, author of DECIDE: Better Ways of Making Better Decisions and MOTE: The Super Meeting.

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The Safe-Man Model

A new concept for understanding and explaining safety005 small

This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the esteemed Nautical Institute journal Seaways. The model first appeared in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani.

Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor...Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
- Albert Einstein

 


I personally like the Swiss Cheese model of accident causation. This model proposed by Professor James T. Reason has been widely accepted in various industries. It helps safety professionals understand organizational factors which can cause accidents, and conversely, what is required from the management to prevent them.

But I find it difficult to explain this model to my seafaring colleagues. And I don’t blame anyone; I learnt of the model only after I had spent over a decade at sea, and then it took me some more time to gain clarity on how it worked. Even a professionally written SMS manual will lack effectiveness unless its core idea cannot be communicated to the front-line in clear, simple terms. A failure to understand safety systems often leads to accidents, directly affecting the seafarers, ships, and the environment. One need only look at the MARS and various industry reports to realize how widespread the problem is. This prompted me to find an alternative.

Understanding is the first step to successful risk management and safety leadership.

When I was responsible for the safety department of a fleet of over 100 ships, I observed that risk-safety management is a very dynamic process. Established safeguards do not guarantee safety; why else would you still have accidents with first-class ship operators. If you play by the rules, you stay safe for most of the time, but not always. There are surprises that constantly challenge you. It is as if there were devils lurking around the corner to jump you. Anyone who has been at sea would agree.

I was reflecting on this when the sneaky, vicious devils reminded of a video-game I played in my school days: Pac-Man. I tried explaining some accidents with this model and it fit perfectly. This model also explains safety-barriers, risk-assessment and safety-culture. I call it the ‘Safe-Man Model’.

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Imagine yourself and your shipmates as Safe-Men (Safe-Man 1 and 2). Before you begin any task, you have the option of considering if it is necessary to begin right away. For instance, you may ask, ‘Can we delay going on deck until the weather has quietened?’ Once you have decided that there is no other alternative but to begin the task, the game starts.
The game is to fulfil a task, such as navigating in restricted visibility, overhauling a liner, or carrying out a ballast tank inspection. If you heed all the available safety precautions, you can work in the ‘Safe Zone’, where the risks are reasonably low.

Now, three of the devils (Hazard, Risk, and Accident) are locked under barriers, while one (Unexpected New Hazard) roams free trying to catch you by surprise.

If a barrier fails, presto—the nearest devil inside is released. This means that now you have another devil to contend with. When you have more than one free devil, the ‘Safe Zone’ is no longer safe, and it’s only a matter of time before they move in for the kill.

Throughout the game you watch out for the other members of your team. Because if any of the devils catch even one of your crew (Safe-Men), the game ends.
To ensure that you have a safe day on board, give each Safe-Man a play zone with low risk, control the devils as best as you can, be alert for the free devil, and show your crew how to play to win.

 

Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani is available from Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)

 

'Captain Parani has keenly observed and noted what he has learnt in his career. There is a coherence and an elegance to what he offers his colleagues in this book. I am convinced that Captain Parani has more to say, more to offer, more to explain and elaborate, but he has the good sense of knowing where to stop and the dignity of telling us what we need to know’.
- Professor Sidney Dekker, MA MSc PhD, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, Griffith University, Australia; best-selling author on human factors and safety; www.sidneydekker.com.

 

Golden Stripes makes an important contribution to leadership at sea. By asking seafarers to focus on safety management and more importantly safety leadership Captain VS Parani ensures safety is and should be the primary concern for those charged with the safety of others’.
- Robert B Hafey, RBH Consulting USA; author of Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Culture with Lean Management.

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Engine Room Fire: Hot Leadership Lessons from the Sea

Fire blog thumbnail

In 2014, a fire destroyed the Engine Room of the bulk carrier Marigold. Luckily, other than a couple of seafarers who were hospitalised for smoke inhalation, there were no serious injuries. But the cost of the fire damage would be several hundred thousand US dollars.

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Grounding on a Curve; Leadership Lessons from the Sea

“My life is one long curve, full of turning points”for small photo

Pierre Trudeau (15th Prime Minister of Canada, and father of the current (23rd) Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau)

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Collision by design

Yes, the sequence of events leading to a ship-collision started on the computer on which the ship was designed.colbydes

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Rowing the Lifeboat- Lessons in Teamwork

rowingShips routinely lower their lifeboats to keep them ready for deployment in times of emergency. It was during one such exercise in my second year at sea that I learnt a valuable lesson in teamwork.

 

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STRATEGIES FOR STRESS-FREE INSPECTIONS

stressfreeInspections such as by Port State, Flag, Class and Oil Majors are now a fact of shipping. There is no doubt that these inspections have helped improve safety standards in shipping; the number of sub-standard ships has reduced and it is now difficult for rogue operators to endanger life at sea or damage the environment.

 

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Raja Raja Cholan, Tamil king and Maritime Adventurer

101thumpLet me tell you a secret and a story; my family calls me ‘Raja’, a shortened name for the great Tamil King Raja Raja Cholan. One of the Tamil idiosyncrasies, is that each uncle and aunt (who in those days were many) assumed the privilege of giving a child in their family their own favourite name. So, my overbearing but warm paternal uncle fondly named me ‘Raja’, proud that our family belongs to the district of Thanjavur, the capital of this king over a thousand years ago.

 

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GZ or GM?

Training EmblemMost marine officers and naval architects will tell you that the righting-lever curve, GZ is a better measure of the ship’s stability than the metacentric-height (GM) value. I agree, and will narrate a personal experience which illustrates the point beautifully.

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Accident Investigation - Successful Mind-Sets

sinking clipart 9cpok6xcE“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them” John C. Maxwell

Accidents are a result of mistakes- we all know that. I share the insights from my years as a DPA, carrying out on-hands investigations and this article is about how to be smart enough to learn the right lessons, and how to correct them, which is not always that simple.

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My first trip to the Ship’s Bridge

captainbabyMy first visit to the navigation centre of the ship, also called the Wheelhouse or the Bridge was when I was about eighteen months old.

My formative years were spent in Port Blair, the capital town of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. My father, originally from Tamil Nadu, a state in India, was a banker on the islands for nearly 36 years. My mother was a home maker and also from Tamil Nadu.

 

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My first grounding

newbieI was sixteen when I grounded my first ship. It was a rowboat actually but I learnt my lesson so well that I never had to go through the same experience for the rest of my career.

During my final year in high school, a group of friends and I went on a boating trip. The water sports complex was at the end of a lagoon, one of many in the Andaman Islands. The lagoon is lined with mangroves and has several ‘mangrove islands’ inside the backwaters.

 

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Quick Thinking, or was it Preparation?

Be PreparedIt was during my first voyage as a ship captain in 2004 when I was approaching the port of Cristobal in Panama, I faced an emergency any ship could face- a main-engine failure! This was a container ship about 211 metres long, equipped with cargo cranes and built in 1977 in Denmark. The ship was since demolished and the aneroid barometer from that ship is now mounted in my living room bulkhead (oops, wall)!

 

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