Could Onboard Alcohol Testing Prevent Marine Casualties?

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Published Aug 31, 2021 11:58 AM by The Maritime Executive

All segments of society experience accidents caused by alcohol intoxication, including trips and falls, drunk-driving accidents and - unfortunately - alcohol-induced groundings and collisions. 

The risk of a marine casualty caused by excessive drinking is very real, as illustrated by the damage to the cruise ship Nippon Maru in 2018 or the near-destruction of Busan's Gwangan Bridge in 2019. Even when shipboard intoxication is caught before an accident occurs, headline-grabbing arrests of drunken captains and crewmembers are always unwelcome publicity.

In the maritime industry, alcohol testing is usually performed after an accident occurs, but for practical reasons it is not used as a part of daily shipboard routine. That is changing on the vessels operated by one prominent European ship management company: the firm has decided to enforce its "zero tolerance" no-alcohol policy with a new state-of-the-art, fully automated breathalyzer machine. It may be the only company in the industry that fields automated equipment for regular testing of its officers and crew while under way. 

The firm - which prefers to remain anonymous - says that the "K-NOX" device it is installing on its ships provides a high-precision, low-error way to ensure that crewmembers are sober before they take the conn or head out to work on deck. The system is a self-service unit with serious anti-fraud features, including a personal passcode, personal RFID tag verification, fingerprinting and face recording during the end of the test. The procedure takes about 30 seconds and requires no oversight from witnesses or officers to perform, minimizing impact on the crew's workload and schedule. It sends its results to managers via the ship's internet connection immediately, with verification forwarded to shoreside personnel as well as the master.

"There is no doubt that the system prevents abnormality in human behavior and reduces the risk of incidents. The construction and sensitivity of this unit are such that we can avoid any form of test error, and it is practically impossible to bypass the device without being detected," said a senior executive.

The company says that its insurers, flag administrators and port state control inspectors have given this investment a positive reception, and that its charterers like the added measure of protection against human error.