Stakeholder Dialogues Secretary-General Emeritus, IMO×NYK

Ensuring Safe and Dependable Maritime Shipping through Exhaustive and Ongoing Initiatives Extending beyond Compliance (Excerpt version)

For the maritime industry, safety is a top priority that must always be practiced. International rules concerning safe vessel operation and environmental conservation have been enacted to prevent accidents at sea and ensure the health of maritime traffic throughout the world. The United Nations specialized agency responsible for such maritime governance is the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In this feature, Koji Sekimizu, former secretary-general of the IMO, was invited to talk with Captain Tomoyuki Koyama, a managing corporate officer, about the Group's initiatives related to its material issues - i.e., safety, the environment, and human resources - and the future of maritime governance.

Making Effective Use of International Rules with Safety Management at the Core of Operations

Sekimizu

The history of maritime shipping is also a history of accidents. A major turning point was the sinking of Titanic in 1912. In response to that tragic accident, in 1914 a group of countries adopted the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, commonly known as SOLAS, which was the first of such international treaties. After that, new treaties dealing with safety were adopted as we learned lessons from many accidents, and they became important international rules and standards for the whole world.

Koyama

At the Group, we have worked to heighten sensitivity to maritime rules. For example, we set up a Safety Promotion Committee in 1992 after the frequency of maritime accidents increased in the 1980s. That is when the IMO adopted the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. Safety management was being performed by seafarers in those days, but we decided to position safety management at the center of the Company's management by having the president chair the committee from its inception.

Managing a Multinational Workforce and Training Loyal Seafarers

Koyama

The ISM Code is a framework, but how initiatives are carried out within that framework is the responsibility of each shipping company. The Group has set its own goals and created systems for that purpose, with a view to do whatever is necessary to transport cargo safely and provide high-quality shipping services to customers. We went beyond the framework of the code by establishing our own original safety standards in 1998 called NAV9000. We then introduced those safety standards to shipowners we charter vessels from, and ship-management companies to organize second-party audits of the ships and the management offices. Those audits are not one-way approaches requiring improvement measures. Instead, we emphasize engaging in dialogue with our business partners, and try to have everyone understand the importance of safety management and environmental conservation. Our goal is to have owners and ship-management companies carry out highly effective initiatives that exceed the level of compliance.

Sekimizu

I think that is excellent. Another serious challenge for all maritime shipping companies in the process to comply with the ISM Code was related to how they would deal with diversifying labor forces and globalization. Up until the mid-1970s, the vast majority of seafarers working on ships operated by Japanese companies were Japanese, but now more than 98 percent are foreign nationals. A multinational crew is like an international community on board a ship, and that makes it more difficult than before to raise the quality of operations and ensure that safety measures are properly carried out.

Koyama

We have been responding to that issue in various ways through trial and error. Since there are limits to what can be explained through manuals and other communication tools, we provide training for seafarers through a program called the NYK Maritime College to make sure that the Company's policies and the importance given to safety are widely understood. In an effort to educate and secure highly skilled seafarers, we took the lead in the industry with its establishment of the NYK-TDG Maritime Academy in the Philippines in 2007. By continually implementing these activities, we have trained loyal and highly safety-conscious seafarers who, regardless of their nationality, identify strongly with NYK when working on board ships.

Strengthening Safety Management with an Awareness of Dangers after Learning from an Accident in Tokyo Bay

Koyama

On July 2, 1997, Diamond Grace, an oil tanker operated by the Company, scraped the edge of its starboard bottom in Tokyo Bay on a shoal commonly referred to as Naka-no-Se, causing a major oil spill of around 1,550 kiloliters. It made us keenly realize that causing such a large-scale accident will have a huge impact on society, and even threaten the survival of the Company. The number of employees who do not understand the situation we confronted at that time is increasing now that two decades has passed since the accident. Therefore, to help ensure that the lessons learned from the accident are not forgotten, we produced a video that recreates the accident using computer graphics and includes interviews with personnel who actually experienced it. Since March 2018, we have been using the video as a training tool.

Sekimizu

The maritime shipping industry has the vital role of transporting various types of cargoes and natural resources that are essential for people's everyday lives, but the industry is easily seen only in a poor light when just a single accident occurs. For that reason alone, all employees - right up to top management - must never forget the lessons of past accidents. It is absolutely essential to keep a highest sense of risk management with an understanding that an accident could happen, and continually make genuine efforts to ensure safety.

Looking to Actively Contribute to the Future of Maritime Governance

Koyama

In your previous positions at the IMO and Japan's former Ministry of Transport, you were very involved in the creation of international rules over many years. In that sphere of maritime governance, due to Europe's historical dominance in shipping, European countries and companies wielded the most influence. I think we should become more involved in rule-making in the future, and even create rules that have a distinctively Japanese flavor.

Sekimizu

Looking ahead, the process of rule-making will be closely tied with technological innovations aimed at making vessels safer at sea and more environmentally friendly. Japan's shipping industry should be able to play a leading role in the international rule-making process, if it spearheads that kind of future technological development, takes the lead in the international maritime shipping industry, and operates globally.

Koyama

An example of one of the Company's technological innovations is our ship information management system, or SIMS, that we put into practical use ahead of the global shipping industry. All the data can be shared between vessels and worksites on land. By compiling the data already collected and analyzing it as big data, it can be used for identifying problems, conserving fuel, and implementing other initiatives related to improving vessel safety and reducing environmental load. In addition, the Group aspires to make manned autonomous ships a reality. The purpose of the R&D is to contribute to a higher level of safety by applying autonomous navigation technologies to prevent accidents caused by human elements and to reduce the workloads of crew members.

Sekimizu

In the future, we will need proactive initiatives that will utilize the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data to improve safety and reduce environmental load. I also think that the application of autonomous ship technologies would be useful for improving safety and reducing labor burdens. On the other hand, caution must be necessary when applying artificial intelligence (AI). Ships are operated in the natural environment that is not an artificially controlled area, like roads or railways, and ensuring safety at sea while navigating in such an area is a highly complicated process, so we must carefully consider whether, and the extent to which, computers can be entrusted for the decision-making in navigation, and a legal framework that would allow such navigation must also be considered.

Koyama

Yes, and in line with what you said, when the development of various technologies progresses, it is important that this debate is not led solely by manufacturers and engineers, but also includes the views of us users who are involved in operating ships.

Sekimizu

I agree with you that maritime transport companies with many years of practical experiences should be at the center of the debate. Manufacturers tend to be primarily interested in the possibilities of technology, but the issue is what tools are actually needed for safe shipping operations, and how such tools can be applied.
What international rules will be created and how maritime governance will be shaped in future would be a big issue for the shipping industry, including NYK. Therefore, I urge NYK to become actively involved in the decision-making process so that it can shape its own future. Recognizing that NYK has been successful in the past activities in various fields taking initiatives that would go beyond the simple compliance, I am confident that NYK would also make important contributions to future rule making for the international shipping industry.

(Interviewed in March 2018)