Smaller crews on Russian ships presents safety risks

Port cranes in the Anadyr Commercial Sea Port. Credit: Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

The Russian seaport authorities’ decision to authorise commercial ships to run with extremely small crew teams poses serious safety risks, Anatoly Leontiev, director of the Northern Expeditionary Rescue Team, said in a recent statement.

There was a special regulation concerning the minimal crew size on the ships in Russia, but it was cancelled in May 2019. At that time, the Russian transport ministry promised that it would create and adopt a new regulation, but this never happened according to Leontiev.

This means that authorities in Russian seaports have the power to determine the minimum crew size for every vessel, he explained. “But at some time in some seaports, for unknown reasons, shipowners managed to get certificates [from seaport authorities] with a greatly reduced number of crew members and posts,” Leontiev stated. “For example, earlier, it was allowed to run a trawler with at least seven or eight crew members.

This made it possible to ensure the safety of the ship and compliance with labour protection standards in terms of working hours and rest time.

“And now, for example, in Kaliningrad, shipowners, manage to get a permission to leave port with only five crew members aboard – there is neither a chief officer, nor a chief engineering officer, or even a cook,” Leontiev said. “This increases the load on the crew.”

The shipowners’ actions to reduce crew on board is an opportunity to reduce costs by violating labour standards, taking advantage of gaps in the laws, he opined.

“If something happens with the captain during an accident, who would be in charge? In practice, most likely, the crew work without sleep and rest, so this is drudgery. It turns out that irresponsible shipowners are doing everything possible to maximise profits at minimal cost, while forgetting about the safety of navigation, labour protection standards, and so on,” he commented.

Leontiev pointed out that for the past few years, human factor was the main reason for accidents in the northern basin, indicating that common safety rules on the ships have been violated.