Sea safety team to hire more investigators

Marine safety investigators (from far left) Jamaludin Jaffar, Kunal Nakra, Yeo Lee Chuan and Xiao Shouhai look into marine incidents with serious casualties that involve Singapore-registered ships and those that involve foreign-registered vessels in Singa
Marine safety investigators (from far left) Jamaludin Jaffar, Kunal Nakra, Yeo Lee Chuan and Xiao Shouhai look into marine incidents with serious casualties that involve Singapore-registered ships and those that involve foreign-registered vessels in Singapore waters. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

4-man unit handles 10 to 12 cases a year, many involving fatalities

A small team charged with improving safety in the maritime sector wants to boost its headcount.

There are four marine safety investigators under the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB), a Transport Ministry department, compared with 10 tasked with looking into aviation incidents.

TSIB deputy director Kunal Nakra, who leads the marine safety investigators, said a larger team is needed. His investigators look into marine incidents with serious casualties that involve Singapore-registered ships and those that involve foreign-registered vessels in Singapore waters.

Each of the four investigators has over 20 years of experience in the maritime sector. They are supported by three volunteers - individuals from the industry who are gazetted to assist in investigations in their areas of expertise, like engineering.

Investigations are conducted in accordance with standards and practices set out by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a body under the United Nations that oversees the commercial shipping sector.

Captain Kunal, 40, does not rule out recruiting from outside the industry, noting that such a candidate could bring "a different dimension" to the team, although there would be a steep learning curve for someone with no seafaring experience.

This experience helps them to better understand the incidents they look into and better relate to crew members during investigations, he noted. "They view us as their friends because they know that you have been where they are so it kind of helps to break that barrier," Capt Kunal added.

 
 
 
 

Strengthening the team is especially necessary given how busy Singapore's port is, with thousands of vessels in local waters at any one time, noted fellow marine safety investigator Yeo Lee Chuan.

"There are a lot of vessels in our small waters," said Mr Yeo, 44.

The sector is expected to grow in the coming years, with the upcoming Tuas port able to handle 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually - well up on the 50 million TEUs that individual container terminals can handle now.

Capt Kunal, who was speaking to The Straits Times ahead of the sixth annual International Safety @ Sea Week which begins today, said his team handles as many as 10 to 12 incidents a year, a "large chunk" involving fatalities.

Something as simple as changing a light bulb on the mast out at sea could result in death, he added.

Still, the 20-year maritime veteran said his team's work is not to apportion blame but to look into the causes of such incidents and recommend preventative measures. A report is also produced for the IMO.

"What we try to find out is whether the system allows individuals to perform their work safely," Capt Kunal added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2019, with the headline 'Sea safety team to hire more investigators'. Print Edition | Subscribe