Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus

D. Marine Transport

According to Charles Perrow (1984/1999), the marine industry is paradoxical, because accidents continue to occur, in spite of improved safety devices and increased international regulation.

The marine transportation industry is not tightly coupled, meaning that the sub-components of the system do not interact non-linearily with each other (Perrow, 1984/1999).

Instead, close analysis suggests that the system is error-inducing. This is due to certain traditions in the marine culture (explained below), but also to the fact that, in this industry, incidents or errors occur all the time without leading to accidents, and therefore the marine crews are more focused on ad-hoc solutions than big-scale accidents.

As in the case of the oil tanker industry, the captain is 'hegemonic', which makes the system vulnerable to human errors. 80 % of the marine accidents are attributed to human error (Perrow 1984/1999:224).

In addition, there is a greater risk acceptance in the marine industry, because sailors have always lived with risk. As a consequence, the acceptance of risk and risky behaviour is greater, thus increasing the plausibility of human error.

The production pressure is very high in this industry, and thus the reason for many marine accidents is a combination of passenger overload, poor maintenance of the ships and human error.
This was the case with Le Joola, where passenger overload in itself was a great contributing factor to the capsizing (see Card #D4) and with Estonia, where poor maintenance allowed water to enter the rear bow (see Card #D3).

Elites do not sail on crowded ferries in the Philipines, thus, in contrast to the arlines industry, the marine transport industry has not been politically prioritized in terms of safety. On the contrary, in the case of Estonia, Swedish and Finnish politicians were accused of impeding the investigation of the accident ('The German Group of Experts').

Further reading:
Perrow, C. (1984/1999). Normal Accidents. Living with High-Risk Technologies, pp. 170-231.

The German Group of Experts:
(now a dead link!)

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Nine Technologies

A. Air Transport
B. Buildings
C. Land Transport
D. Marine Transport
E. Bridges and Dams
F. Oil Tankers
G. Chemical Industry
H. Medical Industry
I. Nuclear Industry

Nine Theories

Quantitative Risk Assessment
Decision Analysis
Cost-benefit Analysis
Normal Accident Theory
High Reliability Organisations
Risk communication
Arena Theory
Cultural Theory

Five Categories

Hazard (0-1000)
Range (km2)
Fear Factor (0-10)
Media Effect (0-100)