From back then to now … and onwards

In conversation with Pim Bolt of Lloyd’s Register

The shipping world has not been idle for decades. There have been many developments in regulations and associated processes. In an interview with Pim Bolt from Lloyd’s Register we look back on these developments, which also had consequences for Wagenborg in its 120 years of existence.

Can you indicate in general terms what has changed in the shipping industry?

A lot has changed in the world of shipping in the past 120 years. That’s apparent not just from the changing types of vessels operated by Wagenborg: from the first tjalk “Liberté” to the most recent ships in the new-build series of the past few years, the Egbert Wagenborg and the Kroonborg. 

The processes associated with such development have also changed to the same extreme extent. The crew who sailed the tjalk were dressed in oilskins and navigated – from the Netherlands into the Baltic – out on the open deck, by sight, and using paper charts. Nowadays, the helmsman sits in a centrally heated bridge, watching his electronic chart to decide when to change course again. And in fact it won’t be long before a ship will sail from A to B independently, because technically that’s already possible. Those extreme differences are also apparent from the developments in regulations and the associated processes such as classifications and statutory matters, such as the International Safety Management Code (ISM). 

“A lot has changed in the world of shipping in the past 120 years.”

How did ISM come about?

In the past, regulations were mainly introduced in the light of a major disaster: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the Port State Control system (PSC) after the Amoco Cadiz oil spill (1978), and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code after the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Over time, it has become clear that legislation alone is not sufficient to prevent disasters, and a trend towards a risk-based approach has emerged. This applied not only to regulations concerning technical matters but also management, with the advent of the ISM, which was unfortunately only introduced internationally after the disasters with the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia ferries.

How are people dealing with risk management nowadays?

With the ISM, regulators indicated that it is not possible to develop firm rules to cover all possible circumstances and that it is impractical to create procedures that apply to every conceivable risk, quite apart from the crew being able to read and follow all those procedures. Nevertheless, accident prevention is directly linked to the timely identification of risks and to taking precautionary measures. The shipping companies have recognised that this is necessary and have implemented an appropriate approach. As part of this, targets have been set, for example, for improving incident and accident reports and reporting “near misses”. This allows measures to be taken on the basis of analyses so as to prevent as many incidents as possible with a negative impact on people, the environment, finances, and also reputation. The human factor also plays a very important role in all of this, and the industry is increasingly putting in place programmes aimed at increasing employees’ safety awareness and ensuring greater support for working safely.

What role can technology play in a safer working environment?

In addition to the processes mentioned, there are of course also technological developments that can contribute to a safer working environment. These include such things as the autonomous/semi-autonomous systems currently under development, which will ensure that people no longer need to be physically present in certain processes. But clearly, this new technology also brings with it the necessary challenges! As a class agency we naturally keep close track of developments and draw up guidelines and rules so as to be able to utilise these new technologies as safely as possible.

In 120 years’ time, people will probably look back at our current way of operating with the same views and ideas as we currently look back on the skipper and his tjalk from the start of this story. Developments can’t be stopped, but we do need to be critical about those that we implement, with the aim of being able to deliver the best possible product to the customer in the safest possible way – for people, the environment, and society. 

“I’ll never forget my discussions with the people at Wagenborg or their enthusiasm; these are features of a company with a long tradition behind it.”

About Pim Bolt

From 2008 to 2016, I was able to visit most of Wagenborg’s “wet branches” on behalf of Lloyd’s Register in order to carry out audits for ISM, ISPS, MLC, ISO9001 (Quality), and ISO14001 (Environment). That meant I could follow the above developments up close. Together with Wagenborg, we analysed internal and external information and discussed proposed measures. I’ll never forget my discussions with the people at Wagenborg or their enthusiasm; these are features of a company with a long tradition behind it. A company can only survive as long as that by keeping up with developments as they arise, as regards both safety and environmental management. Just standing still actually means going backwards!

A new perspective brings new things to light, so in 2017 I transferred the audit work to colleagues including Marijn Cox. To familiarise him with the organisation, we conducted audits jointly for a time. I know Marijn well enough to say that he doesn’t just carry out the regular compliance checks but is also prepared to ask critical questions and if necessary get companies to take a long, hard look at what they are doing. What is so admirable about Wagenborg as a 120-year-old company is that there is always room for critical questions and new ideas, and that even after 120 years Wagenborg continues to strive to become even better... better for its customers, for its employees, for the environment, and for society.

Fortunately, I’ll continue to be involved with Wagenborg, although in a different role. I hope that we can continue to work together regularly so as to roll out new plans and new projects. Onwards to the future!

Pim Bolt