Article - Issue 15, February/March 2003

Letters to the Editor

Sir Alan Muir Wood FRS FREng, Professor Ian Buxton, Professor Douglas Faulkner FREng

Download the article (1168 KB)

Dear Sir

I am pleased that Ingenia should be giving publicity to the merit of going below the surface of the ground (Dr Fiona Chow, 14, 15–20), a major preoccupation of the International Tunnelling Association since its inception in 1974.

I am concerned however to correct a statement that ‘the cost of tunnel construction has been falling by around 4% each year’ with an implication of a continuing trend of this nature in the UK. This figure is attributed to an unreferenced report of the Automobile Association. If this is the report that I have seen, the figure is derived from tunnelling in New York. On account of structural features of the industry in the US, particularly in the hiatus between design and construction, economies achieved, largely by innovation, in Europe, Japan and Australia more than 20 years ago – and several of these initiated in the UK – continue to work their way through the US.

The view in Europe of leading tunnellers is that, while there remains scope for greater application of best practice, costs of road tunnels are more likely to rise as a consequence of increasingly severe safety and environmental regulations than fall as a result of new technology. Without such correction, transport economists might pick on Dr Chow’s account to justify delay in vital road tunnel projects.

Yours faithfully

(Sir) Alan Muir Wood


Dear Sir

I welcomed Doug Faulkner’s article on shipping safety in Ingenia, as it is always good to have a well informed overview, especially as there is so much ignorance and misinformation in the media. The recent loss of the tanker Prestige has spawned plenty of the latter, with everyone trying to blame everyone else, and few practical suggestions about how to improve matters.

BBC2’s ‘Freak Waves’ on 14 November had some good heavy weather shots. When it could drag itself away from the hype and the implication that ships were succumbing ‘frequently’ to such waves, there was useful discussion. I’m not conversant enough with wave mechanics to say which of the theories is most plausible – perhaps all of them given local conditions – but naval architects do accept that there are some 25m plus waves out there.

Solutions? The International Association of Classification Societies and its member societies do have a role to play, but Port State Control is already having a more immediate effect, although underestimated, by inspecting, and if necessary detaining ships which do not meet international requirements when visiting certain ports. PSC’s patchiness is gradually diminishing, leaving fewer places for sub-standard ships to trade.

I don’t think insurance companies do enough to reward good ships, as they do not separate the risk from the ship from that of the operator (as motor insurers do). They prefer to look mainly at the ‘driver’ not the ‘vehicle’, i.e. the claims record of the operator. Ben Cuckson and I presented a paper to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in 1996 on ship susceptibility, followed by one to the IMarE in 1997, showing what can be done, although I have to say that the insurance industry and the regulatory bodies showed little interest.

But as long as many sectors of shipping remain relatively unprofitable in the light of the trading risks, there will always be corner-cutting for commercial survival. And, as with ferry safety, the societies which the ships serve must be prepared to support the measures in finding the optimum trade-off between safety and convenience. This is not of course a fixed level – and may even differ between societies, as with ‘acceptable’ levels of road safety in different countries.

But for historical and other reasons, there are no easy solutions in the fragmented international maritime industries and organisations, as Lord Carver’s Ship Safety House of Lords 1992 report showed. A succession of progressive measures, responsibly applied, but no magic bullet!

Yours faithfully

Ian Buxton

Visiting Professor, lately Reader in Marine Transport, University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Dear Sir

The thought-provoking letter from Professor Buxton is particularly welcome, coming as it does from an acknowledged expert in shipping transportation and associated risks.

Regarding BBC2’s ‘Freak Wave’ Horizon programme of 14 November, I agree that such waves are not frequent, but they are certainly not rare. Moreover, they can occur almost anywhere, from most directions, and certainly in shipping trade routes. This is why the MaxWave R&D programme is so important to enable us to understand and define such waves for future ship survival design.

The Horizon programme researchers and myself have compiled more than 100 observational data covering the last 40 years from ships at sea of these unusual waves, many of which led to ship losses or severe damage. Such incidents are being examined within MaxWave. In four years from one offshore platform alone 24 steep elevated waves exceeding 20 m high have been measured from downward-looking sonar. In the southern hemisphere ten elevated waves have been measured from satellite data at 26m to 30m high in just three weeks, from a sample of 30,000 waves.

Regarding ship operational matters, I agree entirely with Professor Buxton that insurance companies do very little to reward good ship design. Perhaps the Horizon programme and MaxWave findings will open their eyes. Whilst I believe IMO is very much behind our MaxWave efforts, ship classification societies have so far shown little interest. Nevertheless I do not take quite the same pessimistic view about improvement as Professor Buxton does. If he is right the situation could rapidly worsen as developing country trade increases. Only time will tell.

Yours faithfully

Professor Douglas Faulkner

[Top of the page]