Spotlight on Safety Paper Looks at Maritime Calamities that Should Have Never Happened

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August 30, 2019

A Corpus Christi Fire Department vessel extinguishes a fire onboard a barge approximately three miles from the Port Aransas, Texas, jetties Oct. 20, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

By Captain John Loftus – As one of the co-authors of “Spotlight on Safety”, I was onboard as part of the presentation team sponsored by the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots and Dalhousie University at the World Maritime Rescue Conference in Vancouver, BC (15-17 June 2019). The subject matter was unveiled via poster presentation and discussion. In conjunction, a new paper, “Spotlight on Safety” has been authored that delves into various Maritime Calamities, and why they should never have happened. We look at problems that occur over and over, relating to marine casualties, and look at solutions to preclude re-occurrences. 

“Spotlight on Safety, why accidents are often not accidental”

The complete paper, and associated links. can be downloaded from The International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots Website:

A general theme underlies all Maritime Calamities to one extent or another: Regulatory Non-Compliance, Lack of Proper Oversight by Regulatory Agencies, Corporate Pressure, Fear of Retaliation, and Corporate Greed.

The paper brings to life the real-life sorrow for families who have lost loved ones because regulatory compliance issues were sidestepped. It looks at why it happens over and over again. The authors question why governmental agencies are not more focused, and also why it often occurs, that management walks away without any criminal liability.

“Accidents are precluded by situational awareness; tragedies are prevented by regulatory compliance” – Captain John Loftus

The IMO, the International Labour Organization, and the national and private regulatory regimes, which if followed, substantially reduce the risk of marine casualties. However, in many cases, the problem is lack of compliance. In the economy of shipping, commercial pressures may conflict with regulatory regime.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig

Before the explosion, some workers raised concerns about lack of maintenance.


  • More effective Flag State and Port State Control.
  • Corrective Action Reports (CARs) should be a “legal requirement” of licensed officers; no one knows the ship better than those who work on it.
  • Class society inspectors should be required to review CAR files every time they board a vessel.
  • Key shore side managers should have seagoing experience;
  • Meaningful legal protection.
  • Effective labor contract rights.
  • Legal accountability for company officers and directors.


Most maritime incidents are avoidable. The best Search and Rescue (SAR) response is the one that does not have to take place. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Maritime Rescue Federation recognize that prevention is a key function of rescue organizations. If the number of marine casualties is reduced, lives are saved, pollution averted, costs and risks to SAR personnel are reduced. 


  • Non-compliance with safety standard.
  • Commercial pressures in developing and enforcing safety regulations.
  • Companies want to reduce costs to maximize profit (which can put human life at risk).
  • Often little support for seafarers and safety inspectors.
  • Lack of reporting to management, which leads to undermining safety culture.


  • There are often ramifications when people try to comply with formal safety standards.
  • Those who report safety concerns may suffer retaliation.
  • The crew may act out of fear by looking the other way when safety concerns arise. Some may fear losing their jobs or being demoted.
  • Acting on safety issues may be inhibited by a “just get the job done” attitude.


“It is the master’s decision whether to sail. It is the owner’s decision who is the master.”  – Charles S. Price, Great Storm of 1913.

“The El Faro disaster points to the need for a strong and enduring commitment from all elements of the safety framework.”  – Rear Admiral John Nadeau

Was the sinking of the El Faro a result of bad decision making due to commercial pressure by a shipping company to minimize fuel costs and inadequate surveying and inspections by regulatory agencies?

“Time and time again we are shocked by a new disaster… We say we will never forget, then we forget, and it happens again.”  – Susan Dodd, The Ocean Ranger 2012

The Ocean Ranger disaster occurred off the coast of Newfoundland. All 84 men on board died. The Royal Commission investigating the disaster found: the staff was not properly trained; there were no safety protocols and safety equipment was inadequate.

“It’s a culture where safety can be overlooked, and where corners are cut to get things done quickly and to maximize profit.”  – South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, The Sewol Ferry 

The Sewol Ferry disaster was caused by a combination of neglecting safety standards, lack of government oversight, and poorly executed rescue operations by the Korean Coast Guard.

“The deaths were completely senseless… a result of systemic and individual failures.”  – Royal Commission Report, MV Princess Ashika 

Senior officers told police the ship was unsuitable, unsafe and unseaworthy. The ship suffered from major deficiencies and should not have been issued a certificate to operate under any circumstances.

“In competitive markets, whatever is possible becomes necessary.”  – Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World

The international maritime sector suffers from commercial pressures. This is true for ship owners, flag states, and classification societies. Many ships follow a ‘just in time’ supply chain to help maximize efficiency, minimize costs and improve customer satisfaction. Rectifying ‘minor’ safety issues raised by the crew or by the class society can disrupt the supply chain with a significant impact on the customer who may seek out a different shipping firm to avoid future delays.

The Spotlight on Safety paper focuses on the maritime safety regulatory regime and commercial pressure versus regulatory compliance and safety. We explore how maritime incidents pose a risk to life and the environment, and the commercial pressures put on front line personnel (crew and ship officers), safety inspectors, and management.

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