Maintaining continuous compliance in a dynamic seascape

Ship owners and operators are required to operate their vessels in full compliance with all relevant regulations in force. Sounds simple enough – and it can be if you know what the regulations are and where they apply. But when sudden changes to a voyage become necessary, the challenges can be widespread.

The regulatory environment has become a forest of international, regional, and local rules that are becoming more and more stringent all the time. To be able to sail through this complicated legislative arena, while remaining unscathed and fully compliant, requires an enormous understanding of everything involved.

There are rules for just about everything relating to each ship. The regulations are there to establish parameters within which each vessel can safely operate. There are also rules designed to protect the environment: both above and below water.

What is more, these rules are applied by a multitude of authorities – internationally by the ILO and IMO, under codes such as MARPOL, SOLAS, COLREG, and IMDG, as well as by classification societies, flag states, environmental protection agencies, individual nations, and regions – all of whom have their own regulations that need to be consulted as voyages are planned and executed.

The Butterfly Effect

A dynamic overview of what rules and restrictions apply has become essential, not only when planning a voyage, but for remaining compliant throughout the journey. Thankfully, the latest digital technology can provide the necessary information in real time, thereby avoiding the high possibility of errors occurring when manually sourcing the applicable regulations from multiple sources.

It’s difficult enough to get everything right when planning a route, knowing what the environmental restrictions are at all points along the way, avoiding the possibility of illegal discharges, making sure that the record-keeping is correctly maintained on a timely basis, and so on. But this can all get washed overboard when sudden, unforeseen changes to the ship’s operations, or the route being sailed, become unavoidable.

In chaos theory, there is what has become known as the butterfly effect. This essentially means that any small change in a set system can have an increasingly greater and largely unpredictable effect later on as it spreads. This can equally be applied to unavoidable changes to a ship’s voyage plan.

Let’s take, for example, a ship setting out from port A with a fairly direct routing to port B. The voyage plan has been well prepared with all the appropriate rules and regulations to be faced along the way taken into consideration, with the required speed and fuel costs estimated. After leaving port A, however, an unforecasted severe storm suddenly hits, or a main engine failure occurs, and the vessel is forced to make a large diversion – either to avoid the bad weather or to steam to the nearest port for repairs.

Bad weather can compromise the safety of vessels, cargoes and crews, forcing bridge leaders to alter plans and change course to get to safety.

In these circumstances, the original voyage plan no longer applies. Everything has changed. Now, the ship may be navigating its way through a completely different set of environmental zones. Its speed and fuel consumption estimates no longer apply, and its estimated time of arrival (ETA) at port B has to be re-calculated. Because of this, the logistics for delivering the cargo and/or loading a new cargo at port B can be severely disrupted.

Furthermore, if the cargo is perishable, the delay could destroy its value. The change of route could, in fact, affect the entire supply chain relating to the cargo being transported, which, in turn could affect manufacturing and production schedules in a multitude of locations. The butterfly has spread its wings!

A Digital Response

Fortunately, the development of solutions based on the latest digital technology can make a huge contribution to mitigating the butterfly effect. Digitisation, for example, has eliminated the time-consuming task of manually sourcing the plethora of international, regional, and local maritime regulations. Instead, products such as OneOcean’s Regs4ships provide a constantly updated digital database of all these regulations. Both ship and shoreside teams can thus be kept up-to-date and compliant with requirements in force at any time anywhere in the world. Users can also be notified of upcoming changes to legislation, thus easing and enabling efficient planning far in advance of the actual voyage.

Voyage plans are never set in stone, and stakeholders need to be able to react to the need to make routing and other changes. Here again digitisation simplifies and significantly speeds the gathering and analysation of data in order to determine the optimal route. With modern technology, built-in algorithms enable changes to be made dynamically, while commercial considerations relating to fuel consumption, speed, scheduling and cargo requirements are also simplified.

Effective response to a change in situation comes down to efficient communication between ship and shore and dynamic solutions that adjust in real time. With the right digital systems in place, planning can be made in accordance with unfolding circumstances. As changes to the voyage plan become necessary, teams onboard and onshore can have an immediate view of the whole picture and take all appropriate steps in a timely fashion. Compliance can be a challenge, but with the right help, the challenge can be met.

01 November 2022