In this article Ahmed Samir Ghowel, Senior Project Manager – Arab Ship Building and Repair Company (ASRY) shares his experiences of being a manger in a ship repair yard during the pandemic .

The majority of cargo is carried around the world by shipping, and after the COVID 19 pandemic hit, this has been made even higher. The IMO has understood the importance of the role of shipping during the pandemic, and has extended ship’s survey and certificates.

However, essential repairs still need to be carried out to keep ships moving, which is where a shipyard’s role is crucial. However, any work needs to be carried out with respect to the health of both ship’s crew and shipyard personnel.

Shipyards find themselves in a difficult position between responding to orders and emergency repairs on one side, and the difficult to apply health healthy constraints on the other. For example, it is difficult to apply social distancing and mask-wearing policies in a pump room or inside the tank. There is also the issue that the stopping of service personnel travelling to the shipyard has on its supply chain.

The first signs of occurred when the WHO alerted the world that it would only be a matter of time before the virus becomes a problem everywhere. The yard management reacted to this in three ways:

Firstly – increasing the awareness through the use of posters and safety toolboxes.

Secondly – securing bulk material orders from different countries to guarantee the material chain.

Thirdly –  Putting into action a comprehensive maintenance plan to assure the return of investment after the pandemic. A good example of this was to divide the yard into zones, and assign projects manager [ship repair mangers] to each, in order to plan and follow the progress of each zone.


Health and safety

In addition, other health precautions were put in place, such as creating teams to work back to back, to reduce the number of people working together. In the case of any infection, this also offers the added bonus of providing a backup team. Body temperatures are also being measured at the yard’s gate, and round the clock medical check-ups are being carried out for all yard personal.

One of the main challenges for the yard is if a ship hasn’t completed a 14 day quarantine period from its last port. This is particularly important if the port of departure is in a country that has a high infection rate. The first safety guard is provided by the shipping company’s safety instructions and the crew’s awareness during the interaction with any port. The second safety guard is provided by the shipyard’s medical team carrying out testing and monitoring. However, the harbour/pilot master is in the front line when it comes to bringing the ship into local waters for the medical team to go onboard.

This does not eliminate the risk, but it will minimise it.  If infection does occur, it will be contained within a smaller group of people. For example, if the superintended or service engineer didn’t follow the quarantine period in the hotel, and decided to come to the yard, then the security team would be alerted. This would be followed by the safety team, prior to the approval of any kind of meetings between him and project manager/ ship manager. If all these fail, then the project manager will be replaced by a back-up project manager.


Other challenges

On the project level, another challenge is that the superintended needs to have a more detailed breakdown plan prior to the ship arriving. This is to make sure the required material is available, or any alternatives are acceptable by both class and owner. It also helps reduce waste. The main obstruction currently to material delivery is the import and export across borders and the updated clearances required due to the pandemic.

Then there is the arranging of the service engineers. A formula that has proved efficient is the replacement of service engineers with freelancers; for example, using a certified paint inspector to attend in place of the paint company’s representative, or a mechanical expert in place of the OEM’s representative.  This can even be extended to hiring a freelance superintended to replace the owner’s representative himself.

Another solution is assigning third party contractors that could be certified, or at least qualified to perform the job, with the yard supporting the contractor within its liability frame. There is also the possibility to record each step and stream it online for the service engineer to witness. These approaches have solved many navigation equipment and main machinery issues, but it is still under negotiation for other auxiliary equipment, such as turbochargers.

One of the biggest challenges is it comes BWTS and EGCS retrofit projects involving the OEM and designers. Projects usually suffer from a lot of modification clashes, especially when the time comes for installation onboard. The theoretical solution is to have an optimum design. However, when it comes to practicality, it involves an experienced reliable project team from the shipyard carrying out the installation, and submitting proposals thought a 24/7 open channel with the OEM and designer to get an answer once any clashes occur.

During the repair period, the yard should minimise meetings and attendance from both sides, and try to utilise media applications to lessen the overlap of communication channels.

The difficult part of the drydocking is the planning, especially when it comes to curtailing the number of people in one location at a time. This comes from the shipyard and owner representative agreement about priorities.

For shipyards personnel and visitors to continue their vital role in serving the shipping industry requires an open minded team approach, with the ability to adapt to any new rules and regulation to fit both the business needs and safety requirements to minimise infection.


Authors’ information

The author previously worked on newbuilding, conversion and repair projects for almost ten years in different shipyards. He received his Bsc from Alexandria University in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Thereafter he received his Msc from Liverpool University in Construction Project Management, gaining his Green Belt certificate in Six Sigma. His research interests are Lean production system and Six Sigma in Shipyard.