DP training can’t stand still
There are divergent forces at the heart of the DP certification: on one side is the need for capable and experienced operators, while on the other side there is a surge of new vessels with DP positions to fill.
So, demand is outstripping supply. Captain Stuart Duffield of LOC points out that there are simply not enough veteran DP operators in a rapidly growing pool. “The number on my DPO certificate when I gained it in ‘97 was 1009, while I am now coming across certificate numbers in the 15,000 plus range, which gives you an idea of the exponential growth in this field.”
Further, Philip Berbrich of Global Maritime adds that industry representatives’ have sometimes admitted to ‘concern’ over fluctuating levels of competency in the trainees inducted into the industry.
The fact is, The Nautical Institute-verified DP Operator certificate is well established but there are new challenges to the old, one-size fits all training certification. It seems the NI has been a little tardy in responding to industry pressure and Mr Duffield says that “the general feeling is that it is very hard to get heard”. It is a lost opportunity, he says, as the operators on the vessels likewise often don’t think the body has much to offer them beyond the certification.
Despite the creakingly slow progress, there are updates on the way, with certain areas under scrutiny, including a lapse if operative hours aren’t kept up and some kind of theoretical examination. However, the tough nut of ‘sea time’ is at the heart of some of the issues surrounding the NI certificate, which relies on a certain length of hands-on experience instead of a formal assessment of skills.
According to Mr Berbrich the problem remains that these trainees are vulnerable to the willingness of the existing crew to let them spend time on the DP station and help them learn. Plus, he adds, at present there’s a lack of externally validated competence, as tasks are simply ‘ticked off’ with the completed scheme being signed by the vessel’s master. Mr Duffield adds that depending on the vessel you are with, it can be fairly difficult to gain the whole round of experience – a vessel on drilling duty spends a lot of time on DP, but not so much time at the critical stage of setting up, while offshore supply vessels have the issue in reverse.
Whatever the driver, the fact remains that some trainees have given into the temptation to falsify the log, undermining its value for everyone.
Changes have also been driven by the sudden appearance of the SMSC-DNVGL certification framework just a year or so ago, which besides being formally assessed is also developing a ‘special notation’ appendix.
In contrast to the NI certificate, the DNVGL ‘competence catalogue’ allows most of the sea time training to be replaced with on shore training such as that provided by SMSC: the final assessment itself is taken on a simulator: the class society saying that it is “a demanding DP scenario” which incorporates all the elements necessary for station keeping. Others, like Mr Duffield, aren’t so sure that it is actually a good enough substitute for the real thing – and the reliance on simulators makes it expensive. Further, Mr Duffield is just a little suspicious of a commercial body “that will be seeing it simply as another revenue stream”.
However, some are suggesting that the NI certificate and DNVGL framework could, with a bit of give and take, even slot together as they both bring different elements to the table, and it seems that its possible negotiations toward this end may be underway.
Mr Berbrich concludes that as it remains a matter of debate whether pure simulation can substitute for “real-life hands-on experience”, a mixture seems to be preferable, so “this could mean more time substitutable by simulator courses for the NI scheme and the integration of some extra sea time into the DNVGL system”.
Of course, one driver toward cooperation is the forestalling of further splits in the market. Mr Berbrich says: “With the Americans likely to develop their own training scheme there will be at least three DP training schemes each providing a DP certificate or licence.” He adds that it might go further, with commercial and country specific interests sprouting even more additional schemes.
Mr Duffield, however, says despite in-house training systems with sector specific courses, these cannot stand in for the industry certificate. Further, while the USCG did indeed enquire about setting up a course of their own, the issue subsided and they seemed to accept that the NI Certificate was a good enough industry-wide validation of competence.
Further, he points out, “The oil majors have been happy with the NI scheme as a known entity and at the end of the day vessel owners and operators will comply with both legal and clients’ requirements."
Finally, while most people focus on the ‘one percent panic’ of DP operation, there’s still the issue of the other ‘99% boredom’. So, a system developed by SMSC and Simon Mokster Shipping is presently being used for onboard sim training. Mr Berbrich says if the money could be found to add a training mode to the DP station it would make the most of idle periods, keep the DPOs knowledge up to date, and interestingly, allow them experience of seldom-used DP applications; “Especially useful in cases where the vessel is not engaged in DP work for long periods.”
Despite this, operators looking at the mounds of paperwork that need to be filled in might well have reason to ask, exactly what ‘idle time’ are we talking about?
By Stevie Knight
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