Improving ship safety and protecting the welfare of seafarers

Each year, over 100 000 forecasts and warnings are transmitted to ships at sea through the International Maritime Organization and World Meteorological Organization (IMO/WMO) Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS). This service provides vital weather, wave and ice warnings that improve ship safety and protect the welfare of seafarers.

A near-miss in July 2018 involving a merchant vessel that transited directly through the eye of a tropical cyclone has underlined the importance of voyage planning and making early decisions using warnings issued as part of the WWMIWS. The incident was discussed at the 1st meeting of the WMO WWMIWS Committee, held at the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), in Monaco from 27 to 31 August 2018, as part of wider efforts to improve global marine services and forecasting systems.

The Committee meeting also focused on developing educational material to explain to ships that tropical cyclones can produce a range of hazards, including: high winds and gusts, huge swells, heavy rain reducing visibility, and lightning. These pose increased risks to vessel and cargo integrity, and safety of personnel and passengers. There may be costly consequences to shipping companies and marine insurers if vessels are unable to avoid hazardous areas associated with a tropical cyclone that can reach 300 nautical miles in diameter.

Ships are alerted to tropical cyclones through the WWMIWS. The service, coordinated by 19 National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), transmits wind warnings to the vessel using satellite and radio communication systems, covering the majority of the world’s ocean. The warnings describe the current area of gale-force winds, the area of maximum wind intensity, and the position of the tropical cyclone and movement over the next 24 hours.

A web portal provides a one-stop shop for viewing all warnings issued for the WWMIWS.  The web portal is a useful tool for ship fleet managers, and also for vessels to monitor weather systems on their route. The web portal is hosted by Meteo-France, and receives 8 000 views per month. More information: Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS)

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