After completing his studies at the secondary nautical college in Flushing (Netherlands), Izak Blokpoel completed a range of extra training and joined Boskalis in 1993. He started as third mate on what was then the Gateway. He was promoted several times before being appointed captain of the Coastway in 2002. In late 2008, he was involved with the construction of the Shoreway, which he captained until late 2014. Since then, most of his career has been devoted to safety. Since the end of 2016, Izak has been working for the nautical department of the Dredging division. As a nautical superintendent, he contributes in various ways to reducing risks and improving the safety of the dredging fleet. He can draw on more than a quarter of a century of experience in a wide range of dredging work.
Guaranteeing safety standards
What is the role of the nautical department in the Dredging division?
‘We are responsible for guaranteeing safety standards on our dredging fleet. That responsibility is a result of the obligation for Boskalis as a shipping company to ensure that the fleet complies with international legislation and regulations. The rules have been set out in the ISM Code, the international standard for maritime safety. In simple terms, all the vessels in our fleet have to get a nautical check-up every year in order to retain their certification. Many of our regular efforts focus on obtaining and retaining the required ship certificates in good time and that is a wide ranging process. Obviously, we have to meet the minimum requirements but we always set the bar higher. Boskalis believes it is important to raise the safety standards in the entire fleet to the highest possible level. In the first place, obviously, that is our responsibility towards our own colleagues. But a good track record in the field of safety can certainly also help our reputation.’
What can you tell us about the importance of ship certificates?
‘In short, a ship certificate is a document proving that a vessel and the crew, after a comprehensive assessment, meet the safety and environmental requirements set by the International Maritime Organization and the flag state. Most certificates are valid for a limited period of time. Generally, assessments are required annually for the renewal of a certificate. Those assessments are the responsibility of individual countries’ shipping inspectorates but, in practice, they are executed by external parties and classification societies. In addition to Bureau Veritas, there are several agencies around the world that check the seaworthiness of vessels. The certificates are checked in ports all over the world by employees from the national Port State Control organizations. The management and organization associated with the certificates is a wide-ranging job.’
Making a concrete contribution to resolving urgent safety issues, in collaboration with crew members and project teams, and achieving a positive result together creatively: that is incredibly rewarding!
What do the annual assessments involve? And what role do you play?
‘The external audits cover numerous safety areas such as mechanical maintenance, steering, propulsion, the emission of harmful substances and, above all, the safety of the crew. The checks include not only whether we are complying with international regulations but also compliance with our own safety rules as set out in our Safety Management System (SMS) and in the NINA Values and Rules. Our department conducts preliminary inspections in order to be prepared for the external audits. The main purpose of these internal audits is to ensure that external assessments can be conducted in a coordinated and structured way. Two of my colleagues are in charge of that work. They are SHE-Q engineers and they check the large dredging units and the fallpipe vessels. My own focus is on the other equipment such as barges, multicats and other vessels of less than five hundred tons. The smaller vessels don’t need an ISM certificate and they are covered by their own safety management systems. Here also, the safety of cables, winches, cranes and other facilities has to be guaranteed so that the crew can work risk-free. Completing these audits is one of our regular jobs. But my job also includes other occasional activities such as rolling out NINA workboxes, running training courses and practical support for the crews on our vessels. I am regularly asked to come in as a problem solver when there is an urgent safety issue. And I have the required sailing certificates so I sometimes work as an acting captain, for example when a colleague is ill. Recently, for example, I spent some time as a captain on the cutter suction dredger Taurus. That’s always something I enjoy a great deal.’
Link in the chain
Can you give us some examples of your work as a problem solver?
‘I worked in Duqm for a month and a half recently. During the monsoon period, the crews of two large pusher tugs were struggling to cope with strong gusts of wind during pushing operations with the large 10,000 m3 barges. I was asked to help them develop a safe and efficient working method in those difficult weather conditions. So the focus here really is on nautical advice: how can you keep working without putting people and equipment at risk? In these cases, I am a link in the chain between the project organization and the colleagues on board. For example, a while back, at the request of our project team in Abu Dhabi, I helped a group of temporary staff to sort out a specific safety issue. We were working with chartered equipment manned by an external crew that needed specific nautical assistance with maneuvering. That is work that involves risks. I was asked to come up with a solution and the result was that we decided to make changes to the teams. Practical applications of this kind to help the vessels and the projects are an important part of my work. I was also involved in the development of modifications to ensure that our vessels comply with new legislation and regulations, for example regarding the proper processing of ballast water and bio-fouling management. In other words, how to tackle the accumulation of algae and shells on hulls below the waterline. I am also involved in the implementation of the Fleet Management System, which brings together all sorts of nautical procedures. And I’m now working for a time on the project in Lillebaelt to inspect vessels we charter from third parties there.’