Book launch: Guide to bulk carrier operations

RightShip’s General Manager, David Peel, has spent years developing the Guide to Bulk Carrier Operations, which is now available for purchase. It contains industry expertise across maritime safety, vetting, training, risk assessment, auditing and sustainability. It is also the result of a deep passion felt across dry bulk for improving conditions for all people working at sea.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with many talented individuals, who’ve shared detailed insights and real-world expertise with me, which has informed broader decision-making and industry change.

In the 21 years that I have spent sailing, and 18 years in onshore management, followed by my present position at RightShip, which I’ve held for 13 years, I have been struck by the passion and dedication of the people who make up our dynamic industry. Given the extraordinary history of maritime, we have seen skills passed from generation to generation, since the first bulk carrier was built in 1852.

Improving standards in 2020 and beyond

While we can learn much from the past, we must also look to the future. In recent decades, with the advent of new technologies that have significantly improved supply chain processes, people have innovated and adapted to new ways of working, bringing our historic sector into the 21st Century. This is proof that the large majority of people want to be progressive, improve working environments and remain at the forefront of global logistics.

And yet, no amount of digital advancement can make up for the fact that humans are a fundamental part of what we do. While technology can certainly help us to reduce the number of incidents at sea, it cannot make up for a people-focused commitment to safety, education, training and wellbeing. If our people are not safe and supported, we can’t reach our full potential.

Having served through the ranks, I have seen first-hand the essential work that seafarers, engineers, captains and others undertake in order to ensure that cargo is delivered safely. Conversely, I have been exposed to the many risks that those working at sea face every day. So many variables are out of the crew’s control: weather, delays and unanticipated breakdowns to name a few.

However, there are many things that are within our control. Whilst seconded ashore, working in operations a serious incident occurred with one of our vessels. It terrified all of us and that was a turning point that got me into safety and quality assurance – it simply shouldn’t have happened.

Quality must be embedded in a company’s culture

At the time there was no quality department in the organisation I was working for. This major incident occurred because there were so many safety and quality control procedures that weren’t in place. Incidentally, it happened just prior to the ISM was being introduced. As one of the outcomes of the incident, I helped our company set up their first quality department. We went down the total quality path, which is what it was known as back then and implemented procedures which assisted us in receiving ISM ahead of time. This was new to implement for our industry and having a written down set of procedures was a learning curve for everyone across the company.

I came to RightShip in 2007 and started the London office. RightShip’s commitment to lifting safety standards was aligned with my values. RightShip was formed after nearly 100 seafarers were lost on large bulk carriers between 1988 and 1991, mostly off the coast of Western Australia. These tragic events were the result of avoidable industry practices and resulted in an inquiry held by Australia’s House of Representatives.

That inquiry resulted in the damning ‘Ships of Shame’ report, which highlighted on an urgent need to improve industry standards. While one of the key insights was the role of the ship’s master, a number of companies engaged in shipping understood that many players in the supply chain must take action if safety standards were to be dramatically improved.

When RightShip was formed in 2001, it was the first company to offer vessel vetting to the dry bulk sector. With just four employees, RightShip managed to complete 1000 ship vets in its first year. By the time I joined, six years later, it was already having a significant impact in the market. While we have made significant inroads to avoid a repeat of the events the late 1980s, there is still much to be done.

Why better dry bulk safety standards must be adopted 

Before joining RightShip, I was a general manager in the LNG sector, and moving to dry bulk was eye-opening. The standards on board vessels and the safety culture was lacking. Dry Bulk was incredibly opaque as an industry. There were the odd ones who knew what had to be done and were willing to share, but lessons learned were very few and far between. 

Bulker standards should never be lower just because they’re bulkers, no crew is worth less because they sail on dry bulk. Sailing any vessel is inherently dangerous and we need to make sure that we are raising the standards for all vessel types. It is what I have stood for at RightShip, and it is at the heart of what we’re aiming to do by creating guide.

Within the tanker industry, there is the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISCOTT), which is published each year by OCIMF. However, in dry bulk we have not had the equivalent reference.

If you think something is unsafe or the best practices have not been engaged, then you need to a document that points to what best practices are so you can make the necessary changes. This guide represents the volume of the dry bulk best practice guidelines for our industry.

I’ve had many conversations with owners around the world, in which we have discussed the benefits of a robust vetting program and unified management standards. There have been meetings where people told me where to stick it. Others were aghast when I asked them to apply the same standards from their tanker fleet to their dry bulk vessels.

In the past, responsibility for accidents was placed on the ship owner, but increasingly the focus is on those owning the cargo. Courts have requested charterers to demonstrate that before accepting the nomination of the ship, they did everything within their power to ensure that the shipment could be performed in a safe way. This means all people involved in the movement of cargo are accountable.

Accident statistics and inspection results demonstrate that sub-standard ships continue to trade. This emphasises a continued need for charterers to have access to an efficient ship vetting system.

What’s in the Guide?

This book was originally designed to be the counterpart to a Management Standard for the dry bulk industry, similar to TMSA for the tanker industry. On its own, the Guide to Bulk Carrier Operations is a strong supporting reference. Within this book, you will find a comprehensive end-to-end guide to exemplary safety practices and this is useful for all participants in our workforce including ship owners, ports, terminals, charterers and associations.

Investing in change

I understand the inherent challenges that ship owners face in meeting safety standards. Investment in improvements can be costly and time consuming. However, in my experience, those who see the value of investing in safety inevitably improve their business prospects, because they are attractive to charterers. There is no place in our industry for sub-standard safety operations. This is particularly important when it comes to keeping crews safe. You cannot put a price on a human life.

For me, it is important to have a detailed document for future maritime workers to access. The following pages are the result of years of conversations and contain contributions from several subject matter experts – I sincerely hope this information is valuable for you.

I would like to take the time to thank those who’ve contributed their knowledge to this book. Driving meaningful change is something we must do as a community and I am grateful to all of the people who’ve supported the development of this guide. Maritime safety is a shared responsibility – I was moved by the considerable investment of time made by those who saw value in bringing the Guide to life.

I am certain that with a shared commitment to improving safety standards, we can further improve efficiency, business outcomes and conditions for all seafarers.


Watch the book launch webinar, hosted by The Nautical Institute. Panelists include David Peel, RightShip General Manager, and INTERCARGO Secretary General Dr Kostas Gkonis, moderated by Captain Ghulam Hussain FNI, of the Bahamas Ship Registry, the book’s Technical Editor.