The PSC regime needs to be more human

Captain Pradeep Chawla from shipmanger Anglo-Eastern is speaking today at DNV GL’s Port State Control Seminar. He shares with Splash readers five ideas to make the system better, which would also improve life at sea. 

The PSC regime was established over three decades ago. While the industry may complain about PSC in some ports, the general verdict is that the PSC regime has been successful in eliminating the majority of substandard shipping. It has raised the safety standards across the maritime industry.

The detention ratio has dropped significantly and the average deficiencies per inspection are down to less than three per inspection. 

Separately, PSC results have slowly evolved into a commercial benchmarking tool, as it is the only safety metric that is easily available in the public domain. RightShip, BIMCO and other organisations as well as charterers, are using it to grade ships.

However, was the purpose of establishing the PSC regime to aid commercial organisations?

With the low number of average deficiencies per inspection, it would be fair to congratulate the various MOUs that the original goal of eliminating sub-standard ships and improving safety at sea has been accomplished.

The shipping industry in general has become more efficient with shorter turnaround in ports. The port stay is, as it always has been, very hectic. It is often difficult to even comply with the rest hours regulations.

Considering that most ships are well maintained, the seafarers consider the PSC inspections being a stressful event, as it is at the same time as a million other tasks in port.

Should PSC be a cause of stress for the seafarers?

The industry (at large) is having an increased focus on the health and well-being of the seafarers.

In my view, the PSC regime needs to re-focus and find new ways to improve safety. Further, I believe that PSC should become a partner of the industry rather that consider themselves as a ‘policing’ force.

One might question how is that achievable?

My suggestions are based on well-established human factors research and about how people get motivated.

Let us start with the fact that seafarers, like all of us, are trying to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. It is a fact that positive reinforcement works better in improving safety behaviours than punishments.  What gets appreciated, gets repeated.

So, my first suggestion is that PSC reports must introduce a section of ‘positive observations’. The defects can still be pointed out, but, imagine the motivation that a seafarer will get if he receives three deficiencies and five positive observations!

The present system creates fears of the PSC regime. Positive observations will encourage transparent reporting. 

My second suggestion is for PSC inspectors to take a macro-view of the ship, rather than look at the deficiencies in isolation. It is important to appreciate the circumstances that the seafarer faces.

If the draft marks are not painted clearly, is it because the seafarer did not want to do the painting or is it because most ports do not allow him to paint them? Or is it because the ship has arrived after 15 days of bad weather?

If there is excessive garbage on deck because the ship is negligent or is it because the last three ports did not have garbage handing facilities or the port wanted to extract an exorbitant cost to land the garbage?

Has the lifeboat not been lowered in last three months because the seafarers do not care for their own safety or is it because most ports do not allow lowering of the boats in port? 

Hence my third suggestion is to empathise with seafarers’ circumstances. 

The demeanour and actions of PSC inspectors should be one of mutual respect to fellow professionals. Most PSC inspectors are ex-masters and chief engineers. Let us appreciate that seafaring today is more difficult than in the past due to the increasing administrative burden, fast pace of regulations and shorter turnaround in ports.

My fourth suggestion is that the PSC regime uses the vast amount of data of deficiencies to drive better ships/ equipment design and better regulations. Some examples are the design of funnel flaps, quality of valves and quality of pipelines.

Each PSC regime knows its area well and can drive regulations that assist the seafarers. 

For example, river passages and high traffic density areas are difficult for the master to comply with the rest hour regulations. PSC can drive regulations for compulsory pilotage areas, or the necessity to have two pilots. 

My fifth suggestion (for the moment) is that PSC regimes across the world introduce appreciation programs like Qualship 21.

When a ship gets a large number of deficiencies (greater than four), even if they are minor in nature, the seafarer gets into trouble because PSC inspection results have become a commercial benchmarking tool. The ship may get rejected in a commercial fixture.

In some companies, the seafarer may lose financially as his bonus may be dependent on the KPI of number of deficiencies. His promotions may get affected too, if the commercial consequences are blamed on the seafarer. Hence, it is important to appreciate the overall circumstances that led to the deficiency.

Let PSC inspectors be a friend of the seafarer rather than a cause of stress for the seafarer.

PSC regimes and the industry should be partners in safety. Hence, my last suggestion is that PSC MOUs should create more forums for regular exchange of ideas between industry and PSC senior personnel.

At the end of the day we have a common goal of improving safety at sea and being responsible for the well-being of the seafarers. 

It is time to re-focus and change the PSC inspections to a friendlier regime.


  1. Excellent article and suggestions. Port state would do well to take note.

    1. The job of a PSCO is to determine if the ship is being run/operated/managed in accordance with various applicable IMO/ILO Conventions. Whenever a PSCO lays down a “deficiency” he/she is also required to give a specific “convention reference”, and not just put down a “wish list”! Most PSCOs board their assigned ships perhaps for the very first time, and are able to spot/identify defects; whereas the masters who live & work on those ships are never able to spot or recognize them. Why? A systemic failure? And then they have a gall to write back-stabbing articles like these. A sad state, really!!

  2. Very nicely explained and authorities need to rethink.
    Ship Staff and ships operators need this assurance.

  3. Thought provoking article. PSCs and in turn put up RATING/ performance chart which has assumed undue importance in commercial world. Is there a Administration that can claim No 1 Leadership in running administration and can be looked up to. May be IMO does it to motivate administrators.

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