Can Alcohol Testing Prevent Marine Casualties?

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It is beyond dispute; the risk of accident and injury due to intoxication in the shipping industry cannot be discounted. One need look no farther than the NIPPON MARU cruise ship incident in 2018 or the damage done to Busan’s Gwangan Bridge in 2019 for confirmation. The negative publicity alone due to such unprofessional conduct is unwelcome in any industry, but particularly problematic in the maritime environment, where lives and property are at great risk.

In the case of commercial shipping, alcohol testing is usually performed only after an incident occurs, rather than on a routine basis, due to practical concerns. That practice however is changing on the vessels operated by one prominent European ship management company, which prefers to remain anonymous. Utilizing a fully automated breathalyzer machine, it is not unlikely to be the only company in the industry that fields automated equipment for regular periodic testing of its officers and crew.

The “K-NOX” devices being installing on its ships provides a high-precision, low-error way to ensure that crewmembers are sober before beginning their watches. The system is a self-service unit with serious security features, including a personal passcode, personal RFID tag verification, fingerprinting, and even face-recording during the end of the test. The testing procedure takes roughly 30 seconds and requires no oversight to use. It immediately sends its results to managers via the ship’s internet connection, with verification forwarded to shoreside personnel, plus the ship’s 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… it is practically impossible to bypass the device without being detected,” said a senior executive. The company also states its insurers, flag administrators and port state control inspectors have given this investment a positive reception, given the extra protection afforded against human error.

We at the Herd Law Firm applaud all efforts to make shipping safer for all mariners, not just our clients. We encourage other ship-owning and ship-operating companies to be proactive in taking greater steps to be sure their ships are properly manned, with adequately trained, rested and indeed sober, officers and crew.

If you or a loved one was injured or rendered ill due to work or activities occurring aboard a commercial vessel, we would be pleased to discuss that situation with you.

This article is intended for general interest and does not constitute legal advice.

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