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Enter the simulator

Advancements in technology are improving safety onboard and onshore through the rise of tailor made simulators.

23 July 2019

Coastal Infrastructure Commercial Maritime

Enter the simulator

Simulators have been on the market for at least 30 years, however, the boom in technology and computer modelling, teamed with drastically improved visual display features, has paved the way for truly life-like ship simulators.

The potential impact today’s simulators can have on safety culture onboard is huge, with them essentially able to provide the necessary training for a ‘worst case scenario’ without putting crew at risk. The training aspect of this technology prepares crew members for high-stress incidents such as an onboard fire or grounding. By carrying out a dry-run of a safety incident, the crew are more likely to react in a composed manner when faced with a similar situation onboard. The use of simulators will of course not completely dispense with crew panic and accidents, nevertheless, it appears to be the best tool on the market to prepare crew in the event of a crisis.

Robin Ranson, fleet chief engineer for Princess Cruises said,“We need to empower the chiefs onboard and give them the right tools and guidance”.

International technology group, Kongsberg, have developed their K-Sim Safety simulator specifically for search and rescue (SAR) and firefighting onboard.  Launched in January 2019, the simulator covers all aspects of fire safety, in accordance with the STCW code, and is used for training officers and fire teams in advanced firefighting. By creating a 3D representation of any space onboard a ship, from the engine room to the galley or living room, including a 3D walkthrough animation, the technology allows for the crew to immerse themselves in the situation and test out their teamwork and procedures. The situations can be tailor made, by either reconstructing an accident that has already happened onboard or build up a scenario to achieve an objective in the training.

One such example shows the SAR aspect of the simulator; a fire in the engine room with two crew members missing, is developed to enhance the use of correct procedure as well as effective communication, with the crew being tested and having to report back to the crisis management centre. The simulation takes place over several rooms, with the ability to open doors, dress in the correct protective gear, as well as deploy smoke-divers. The simulator serves to create a realistic ship environment as opposed to going over the procedure in theory in a classroom. This kind of training promotes preparedness and communication between crew, especially as incidents of this kind are time critical, as well as testing and improving decision-making skills.

Simulators are a flexible tool, that can not only be used for teaching and training, but for accident investigations too. Design and engineering firm, BMT, have been producing their Real Time Manoeuvring Berthing and Training (BMT REMBRANDT) simulator since 1991. As the technology has become available, BMT has since added a 3D visual reconstruction capability to BMT REMBRANDT. By accessing data from ships’ voyage data recorder (VDR), the system can rebuild in real time an actual incident and ascertain the causes.

Further, the system can switch from the visual reconstruction mode to simulator mode. The change turns the exercise into a training opportunity, as well as highlighting the correct response in how to avoid the incident in the future. Lessons learnt are a key aspect of safety training as well as for the conclusions of an accident investigation.

The value of simulators for day-to-day aspects of ship navigation is also being recognised. Taking into consideration the vast number of programmes, realistically recreating bridge navigation of hundreds of types of ships, the training possibilities appear endless. Weather implications, as well as time of day, can be programmed while carrying out a simulated berthing, for example. Adding a further dimension, the simulators can be linked (for the Kongsberg and BMT models), so that several users can operate different ships and navigate the same situation. This enhances the kinds of realistic scenarios simulators can recreate, for example, allowing different types of ships manned by different individuals in separate rooms to navigate the same channel or situation together.

Simulators are not only a civilian tool; Marine Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) together in a joint venture with Cruden, TreeC under a Defence Material Organisation project, have developed a Fast Small Ship Simulator (FSSS). The FSSS recreates the impact forces DOLPHIN or XMF 6DOF ship models face when carrying out their missions, including slamming, capsizing, surf-riding and broaching. Trialling speeds of 43 knots, the FSSS provides a safe and accurate environment for training, especially for navigators of high-risk high-speed vessels. As technology advances, updates to the simulators can be applied. It will also help to assess and drive the safe development of technology in other areas of shipping. For example, the market is delving into the impact that autonomous vessels will have in the future, including BMT, which is developing programmes to model autonomous vessels and how they will interact and navigate around manned vessels in congested water spaces.

It is not only manufacturers that are realising the potential simulators have for improving crew safety. British-American cruise operator Carnival Corporation opened its Centre for Simulator Maritime Training (CSMART) Academy in July 2009. Carnival expanded its training operations with the opening of the Arison Maritime Centre, in July 2016, featuring advanced bridge and engine room simulator technology. The centre also features a 176-room hotel to be able to house the company’s 6,500 bridge and engineering officers while they go through training.

The company expects all their officers to complete a week of training at CSMART at least one week a year. With estimated costing of all bridge and engine room simulators from USD21 million – 26.5 million, the company is making a clear statement that crew simulator training is an essential investment. The attention being given by Carnival and other shipowners and managers signals a shift towards simulators being considered a vital training tool that not only increases safety onboard and the preparedness of crew, but also one that empowers decision makers onboard.

The focus also signals a shift away from traditional classroom-based training and assessments for crew. Hans Hederstrom, a trainer at the CSMART Academy summarised further, “We aren’t focusing on testing, training [simulator time] is more important.”

The dynamic nature of simulators is the key to their success; as the technology develops so do the systems they are modelled on. As time goes on, the situations are only going to become more realistic, further improving safety training and, ultimately, lives at sea.

* This article was originally published in Safety at Sea July 2019 - reporter Gabriella Twining 


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