Tired of seeing the same accidents happen time and time again, the new head of the MAIB is on a mission to get the shipping industry to learn from its mistakes. ANDREW LININGTON met Andrew Moll in December to talk automation, aviation and international cooperation...
He's only a couple of months into his new role as chief inspector of the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch, but Andrew Moll is very clear about his aims and objectives: 'The opportunity to make a difference and change things for the better was certainly a big factor in bringing me here,' he says.
Growing up near the Norfolk Broads waterways in eastern England, Mr Moll says he 'gravitated towards water' at an early age and decided to join the Royal Navy in 1978 'because the sea seemed like an exciting place, there was lots of travel and I never expected that anyone was going to shoot at me'.
He was wrong on the last count, however. In 1982 he was serving on HMS Coventry in the Falklands conﬂict when the destroyer sank after being bombed by Argentinian aircraft. 'I got some very particular and direct experience of abandoning ship, and what drove me through my naval career was the very strong desire for that never to happen again,' Mr Moll says. 'I wanted to be the best warfare ofﬁcer there ever was.'
His 27-year RN career saw him rise to the rank of Captain and take command of three ships – including an Oman Navy fast patrol boat, where he witnessed the damaging impact on merchant vessels of the Iran-Iraq 'tanker war'. A short spell on secondment with what was then P&O Nedlloyd gave him further insight into the world of commercial shipping.
Mr Moll left the RN in 2005 after spotting an advertisement for the MAIB. 'My perception at the time was that the Navy was getting the smallest slice of the defence cake,' he recalls. 'When you work in the RN, you change jobs every couple of years and you are a bit nervous about moving to civvy street and doing the same thing for 20 years, but this appealed because of the variety and the opportunity to make a difference and do something useful.'
As a principal inspector with the MAIB, he headed up one of the investigative teams handling a wide range of cases. Two in particular stand out for him: the girting incident that led to the loss of the tug Flying Phantom on the Clyde in 2007 and the capsize of a Haitian sloop in the same year, in which as many as 70 people died. Both incidents reinforced his sense of the value of accident investigation in not only determining causes but also providing lessons that may prevent repeat incidents.
Appointed as head of the MAIB in October 2018, Mr Moll says he regards automation as one of the biggest challenges to safety. 'Some people may say we are on the way to autonomous vessels, but the reality now is that automation is substantially changing the role of the individual to one of monitoring rather than actively doing,' he points out. 'That can be quite demotivating, which in turn can lead to low levels of alertness, and it is a real challenge for the industry to ﬁnd ways of giving seafarers proper, fulﬁlling jobs.'
He's very aware of the growing focus on the mental health of seafarers and says the MAIB is currently looking at a couple of cases in which watchkeepers' performance on the bridge was impaired by personal issues.
If automation ends up downgrading seafarers' jobs, that's demotivating and can lead to safety issues