You are here

AMSA: Industry needs to revisit current crewing strategies and start treating seafarers decently

AMSA: Industry needs to revisit current crewing strategies and start treating seafarers decently
Mick Kinley December 28, 2022

In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, AMSA ‘s CEO, Mick Kinley urges for radical changes in the maritime industry with a focus on safe workplaces, decent working & living conditions and closing the gap in reported fatality data. In that regard, Australia has recently been successful in a bid to change the Maritime Labour Convention to make reporting of fatalities at sea mandatory through ILO.

Mr. Kinley also refers to the many challenges that shipping industry is confronted with and ways to move forward. Among others, a key priority is to ensure higher levels of crew stability which, as he explains, will lead to more developed levels of safety culture onboard vessels, better compliance and psychological wellbeing.

SAFETY4SEA: What are the top priorities in your agenda for the next 5 years?

Mick Kinley: Refining our risk-based approach to regulation, enhancing our incident management capabilities, future-proofing navigational services, enabling the use of emerging technologies, responding to climate change and improving engagement with stakeholders.
Proman: Industry needs to accelerate the switch to cleaner fuels
Euronav signs agreement to support Panamian Seafarers

AMSA strategic objectives

Objective1: AMSA’s approach to its business is user centered. Our regulation, response and navigation services are easy to access, tailored, and readily available. Interactions with us follow the user’s journey
Objective 2: AMSA is connected and future focused. We anticipate the changing future needs of the regulated community, the public and government by engaging and influencing outcomes.
Objective 3: AMSA’s decisions are risk based. We make risk-based decisions that are data-driven and proportionate. Our view of risks and controls is shared with our regulated community.

S4S: What are currently the key challenges for shipping from your perspective?


#1 Alternative fuels – supporting decarbonization: Alternative fuels are rapidly advancing with technology improving to support the international decarbonisation agenda. AMSA is considering how we regulate the use of new and emerging fuels to ensure industry can continue to innovate and meet current and future emissions reduction goals, whilst continuing to prioritise safety outcomes.

#2 Digitalisation: Further digitisation of the maritime industry will likely provide increased efficiencies and improved safety outcomes. The most recent advancements in marine electronics, navigation and communications technologies, have led to increased situational awareness using cameras and unique sensor technologies. Systems that analyse collected real time data can also help the operator avoid dangerous objects based on enhanced situational awareness. These developments will all help to achieve safer and more efficient autonomous ship operations in the future. The potential of the digital ship is still being uncovered and I’m sure there will be more innovation to come. The challenge for regulators is being able to adapt and keep pace with advances in technology, ensuring regulation is risk based and fit for purpose.

#3 Opportunities with digitalisation : Over the next decade, we can expect the tempo of digitalization to increase. Big data, artificial intelligence, robotics and cloud computing – these are some current innovations that promise a quantum change in operating efficiencies and value chain transformation. Big data and data analytics will continue to improve the performance of ships and contribute to the quality of accident and incident investigations. Regulators too, will be able to benefit from this. And direct their resources towards prevention rather than ‘cure’. Service providers will be able to measure more parameters, process larger amounts of ship data and provide value-added information directly to ships (and managers ashore). Increased automation of vessels is likely, where there is a clear business case, along with safety benefits:

In the ‘small-ship-local-voyage’ world, fully automated and unmanned systems may enable more safe and efficient transport systems. Innovative technologies such as situation awareness and object recognition tools, collision detection and avoidance systems and shore based monitoring and remote control, will be central to the success of these operations.
Ocean going ships will likely use similar technologies to support on board crews with data-rich decision support tools, engineering and maintenance support and enhancements to safety and efficiency. In the coming decade, periodically unmanned bridges and shore-assisted navigation may become a reality.

Increased digitalisation and connectivity will allow ship operators and equipment manufacturers to undertake a variety of remote sensing, monitoring and intervention tasks. Augmented and mixed reality will make it possible for fleet managers and specialists ashore to assist crew at sea with complex tasks. Digital communications and modernised shipboard ECDIS will be the platform for the provision of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) and other digital maritime services (eg VTS services, weather and chart update services). Port collaborative decision making, just in time arrivals and other management mechanisms will see widespread adoption. 

S4S: In your view, has the industry been successful in implementing safety culture? What should be our key priorities for strengthening safety culture onboard and ashore?

M.K.: Research supports the fact that where a more positive safety culture exists, seafarers are more likely to act in a safe way and experience fewer and less serious accidents as a result. Whilst most accidents at sea are caused by human error, these errors are attributable to conditions created by organisations with a poor safety culture. The International Safety Management Code, which includes the requirements to have a safety management system in place, has had a positive impact.

Although safety culture through the safety management system’s implementation has improved across industry, the continued reporting of failures of work practices such as falls from height, confined space fatalities, crushing injuries, etc. demonstrate we still have a long way to go in this area. To encourage positive safety behaviours, seafarers must have the necessary safety knowledge and motivation to perform their task safely, and this is determined, partly, by the degree of clarity and quality of the work procedures. Additionally, the continued demands on seafarers to work long hours have created a situation in which fatigue continues to be a determinant factor in poor safety outcomes.

Organisations need to develop fatigue management interventions that continuously monitor and manage fatigue risks to prevent fatigue-related incidents or impaired psychological wellbeing. Generally, seafarers who have more autonomy, job security, trust, and support at work report higher levels of wellbeing and compliance to safety rules and procedures, a more developed safety culture, and fewer injuries.

Importantly, higher levels of crew stability – returning to the same vessel and working with the same people – lead to more developed levels of safety culture onboard vessels, better compliance and psychological wellbeing. This suggests that improving crew stability can lead to various beneficial outcomes, due to the social processes and resources that can be generated within crews with high levels of stability and adequate recovery from work.

S4S: Considering the PSC performance of Ocean trading ships in Australia’s Ports and terminals during the last decade, are there any lessons to be learned and/or any alarming trends? What needs to be further addressed from stakeholders?

M.K.: AMSA is currently targeting planned maintenance after nearly three-quarters of all marine incidents involving foreign and regulated Australian vessels in our waters involved machinery breakdowns in the last three years – linked to failures in planned maintenance.

The impacts of COVID on the industry are still being felt. The real impact of the vessels crew being onboard the vessels for prolonged periods with the resulting decrease in the effectiveness of the crews and their morale should not be underestimated. The crews were put under unprecedented pressure. Vessel operators should place extra emphasis on ensuring their vessels are well maintained and conduct analysis of the performance of propulsion machinery as well as power generation systems to confirm that they are reliable and functioning correctly. The manufacturers of equipment onboard should be contacted to assist in analysis and diagnosis of the machinery.

I will take this opportunity to remind operators that repairs can be difficult at some of the regional ports in Australia due to the complex logistics involved. This can cause considerable delays and increases in costs to what operators are used to.

The top five detainable items for vessels undergoing PSC inspection have not changed over the last five years and vessel operators would be well served to ensure that their crews are familiar with these causes and take active steps to ensure they are functioning as required. Vessel managers would be advised to attend their vessels and directly demonstrate to the crew the required knowledge and operational requirements in the following areas:

International Safety Management (ISM)
Lifesaving appliances
Fire safety systems (especially fire dampers and emergency fire pumps)
Emergency systems (especially emergency generators)
Water/Weathertight conditions

S4S: Are you satisfied with industry stakeholders’ response on the issue of crew welfare until today? How should industry stakeholders work to improve life onboard and foster seafarers’ resilience?

M.K.: Although crew welfare is often described as the industry’s highest priority this sometimes is not reflected in the level of support seafarers are being afforded while at sea. Welfare issues continue to exist as a backdrop to a rapidly changing industry. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also proved that the Maritime Labor Convention is viewed as non-enforceable with some Flag States and companies repeatedly ignoring their obligations throughout the pandemic. In the absence of welfare leadership seafarers have no choice but to continue to be heavily reliant on charity-based seafarer welfare providers to support them, which are really filling the gap of what an employer’s responsibility should be in this regard. While it is well intentioned and necessary, the industry’s reliance on welfare services is a problem that needs to be addressed. No other profession relies so heavily on a network of charitable organizations just to function and undertake basic welfare duties that would ordinarily be the responsibility of an employer. It’s about time that flag States step up and take responsibility for ensuring that seafarers are being afforded the level of crew welfare services that shore based workers take for granted in their day-to-day job. It is no longer acceptable in this day and age to continue to rely on charitable organizations to do this.

S4S: What is your wish list for the industry and/or regulators and all parties involved for the shipping industry following COP27 discussions?

M.K.: Top of my wish list is the revision of the International Maritime Organization’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships, which is due to be completed mid 2023. We are all expecting to see much strengthened emissions reduction targets in the revised strategy that remove any uncertainty and provide a clear signal to industry, set a trajectory to decarbonise the industry as soon as possible and keep the Paris Agreement’s targets in reach. The Australian domestic shipping industry has been proactive in the decarbonisation space. Maritime Industry Australia Limited (MIAL) – one of our national maritime industry peak bodies – are hosting several decarbonisation summits through 2022/23 to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together to share insights and identify the barriers and solutions to decarbonising the Australian sector. Australian vessel owners have also been proactive in trialing alternative fuels and new technologies and are actively considering how to decarbonise into the future. Ports have an important role to play here through, for example, the provision of bunkering infrastructure for alternatives fuels, implementation of ‘just in time’ vessel arrival systems to optimise vessel speeds and reduce their time sitting at berth and anchor, as well as shore-side power to allow ships to “plug-in” when at berth. 

S4S: How is AMSA facing the most challenging issues of digitization and decarbonization? Are there any related initiatives/projects/actions planned?

M.K.: Digitisation includes the introduction of new technologies and equipment that requires significant capital expenditure. The high costs of these new systems can be a barrier to their take-up. Many shipowners would believe their existing systems are fit-for-purpose and will not prioritise the expenditure. It is challenging, however, to quantify the advantages and future savings in costs that new systems will provide. Training in how to use new technology is another hurdle to overcome. AMSA ensures shipowners are included in the consultation and discussions around digitisation at the IMO and through regional and national bodies such as the Regional Safety Committees and National Safety Committees.With digitisation comes challenges with cybersecurity. Protecting transmitted sensitive data is critical, as is ensuring that equipment that can be accessed remotely remains secure. As ships become autonomous the transmitted data and equipment on board controls the ship without any local human oversight. The consequences of interference with, or manipulation of, the data or equipment could be catastrophic. As equipment and systems are developed, it is critical that data security is developed at the same time. AMSA is involved in the development of the design and performance standards for equipment and communications at the IMO to help ensure systems are secure when they are put into service.


The IMO-identified digital maritime services (eg notices to mariners and radio-navigational warnings) can improve situational awareness and enhance safety and efficiency. However, there must be a demonstrated, compelling need for industry to adopt new (digital) systems/services.
Likewise, with statutory ship and seafarer certificates. If used, block chain technology can help with reducing instances of fraudulent certificates.
For a capital-intense industry like shipping, the cost-benefit ratio must be favorable. On costs, there is the added issue of training seafarers for a digital age – additional training for new systems and services, while the industry sunsets older ones.
Cyber security for bridge, engine and cargo systems remain a challenge. The 2021 ISM requirement for ships’ safety management systems will go some way to mitigate this risk
As a regulator, our role will be to ensure we provide timely, fit-for-purpose regulations. With requirements that facilitate industry adoption of new technologies and operating systems, while preserving and promoting safety and efficiency.
Another challenge will be to facilitate industry adoption of advancements in technology and upgrades to the global fleet to reduce its impact on the environment and meet international targets.

For decarbonisation, Australia has recently amended its MARPOL implementing legislation to give effect to the IMO’s new short-term GHG reduction measure on 1 Jan 2023. AMSA also recently introduced a Novel Vessel Policy which provides guidance on the assessment and certification of ‘novel’ vessels. These vessels include those proposing to use low- and zero-carbon alternative fuel technologies including hydrogen, ammonia, and gas-fuelled engines, and vessels with electric propulsion and installed battery power.

Australia has already entered into several decarbonisation agreements internationally. Of note is Australia signing up to the Clydebank Declaration, which encourages the development of green shipping corridors. Australia is working with several other signatories to the Clydebank Declaration to establish green shipping corridors that will accelerate the use of alternative fuels in the short-term and expand the uptake of these fuels more broadly in the long-term.

In November 2022, Australia agreed to an invitation from the United States President, Joe Biden to join with other nations at the COP27 to launch a global pledge to clean-up international shipping under the Green Shipping Challenge. Australia also announced the Green Economy Agreement with Singapore which will support the development of green shipping corridors and opens the door for further collaboration on initiatives to reduce shipping and port emissions, encourage alternative fuel use and development of infrastructure.

S4S: What needs to change to raise industry’s profile and attract the future talents?

M.K.: Current attrition rates of seafarers are high when compared to other industries by virtue of the shipboard conditions that seafarers face in their daily work life. The socioeconomic landscape and increasingly comparable salaries on-shore is also seeing younger generations favouring shore-based jobs over demanding and stressful work at sea, which also includes a minimal family and social life. Despite the obvious attractions and benefits, such as high wages and opportunities to sail internationally, seafaring in reality boils down to fast turnaround in ports as a result of more efficient cargo-handling operations and increasing demands from shipping companies to maximise profits.

Shortages of seafarers and prevailing minimalist crewing levels on merchant ships have dramatically increased the workload of seafarers who face tighter and longer work schedules. In effect, seafaring has been described as a career which is isolated from human interactions due to restricted direct contact with home with prolonged absence from family and friends, infrequent and limited amounts of shore leave, under-staffing, limited sleep opportunities, and high task demands. The outlook indicates that the industry and relevant stakeholders should not expect there to be an abundant supply of qualified and competent seafarers without concerted efforts and measures to address seafarer welfare issues and the retention of seafarers.

The shortage of skilled seafarers has been an ongoing concern for the shipping industry and as such set the foundation for initiatives such as ‘go to sea’, ‘day of the seafarer’ and more recently ‘international day for women in maritime’ which encourage governments to promote seafaring and address issues related to diversity and the work and living conditions on-board ships. However, the industry needs to do more. To raise industry’s profile and attract future talent industry needs to revisit current crewing strategies in the international shipping industry. At this stage women working in this industry have been far and few between because the conditions are not there to attract this untapped resource. This means ensuring psychologically safe workplaces, working and living conditions commensurate to shore-based workers and a career path that allows seafarers to transition between shore and sea-based roles.

S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what would this be and why?

M.K.: The importance of mental health and well-being at sea. Issues related to psychosocial risks experienced by seafarers have recently gained more traction due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anecdotal evidence suggests a global increase in persons overboard and suicides during the pandemic. Unfortunately, some of these fatalities go unreported or are not even investigated by the flag State. I would like to see Flag States take their role more seriously and take all effort to ensure they investigate all seafarer fatalities that occur on their vessels. This gap in available fatality data negates the possibility of analysing and identifying seafarer welfare issues of international concern. As such Australia has recently been successful in a bid to change the Maritime Labour Convention to make reporting of fatalities at sea mandatory through the International Labour Organisation.

From 2024, it will be mandatory for flag states to report to the International Labour Organization the number and type of fatalities on ships, including suicides. This will hopefully provide a level of transparency on fatalities at sea globally and is a significant positive outcome for this industry with this being the first time in any sector in the world that mandatory reporting will be required on deaths.

S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders for improving industry’s performance?

M.K.: Start treating seafarers decently and stop killing people. We see seafarers dying in our waters too regularly from preventable workplace accidents. If a flag State does investigate, which is a rare event in itself, then nobody is held accountable. Forget attracting talent to an industry that thinks it is acceptable that seafarers should rely on charities to provide basic welfare services in ports, where basic pay and living conditions are too often considered a bar too high and basic safety is missing. Those leading the industry and trying to do the right thing are dragged down by those who think minimum international requirements are the highest standard to aspire to and if the industry does not call those people out then things will never improve.