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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Agencies = a center for national expert competence?

The Swedish government yesterday announced the moving of seven agencies from Stockholm to smaller cities. The main reason for this is to reduce the focus on Stockholm and include all of Sweden in the state affairs. I don’t mind this ambition. However, for me, it seems obvious that the availability of competence should be the first principle of government agency location. It takes both relevant education and experience to understand an area of interest for a government agency, such as the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Therefore, the two criteria that must be fulfilled when moving an agency is that the new location has a university with an internationally renowned education in the area of focus and a large stock of professionals working within the area of focus.
For example, the Swedish Transport Agency has, among other departments, its Civil Aviation and Maritime Department located in Norrköping since many years. However, maritime knowledge is in Sweden mainly located in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Kalmar and aviation knowledge mainly in Stockholm and Linköping. The agency is the one defining the quality of the Swedish transport system and the Civil Aviation and Maritime Department among other things formulate regulations and analyze accidents and near-misses. This is, of course, important tasks and demands both method knowledge and knowledge about the aviation and maritime industry. A couple of years ago I applied for a job at the Civil Aviation and Maritime Department. A job I think is important and sounded like fun, but, to be honest, I wasn’t interested to move for it. However, I didn’t need to consider moving because I was “by far the most suitable applicant and therefore over qualified”. That said more about the agencies view on their competence needs than what it said about me (I’m no rock star safety expert, I’m only a regular safety interested guy).
Working with competence within the Swedish government system, I’ve also learned that very few agencies have a career path for experts, i.e., being an expert does not pay off.
I don’t like the notion that everybody can do everything, I like the idea of professions and matching competence (education and experience) with the task. I’ve had so many inspiring talks with real experts ranging from stainless steel welders to professors in philosophy. I would like that the Swedish government agencies were environments for experts in the respective fields. It’s a matter of quality.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The fish Pacu, or Ball-cutter, found in Swedish Waters

True story, but the news does not really affect the risk at sea in Swedish waters, not even on/in Motala ström:
A close relative to the Piranha, the Pacu, has now been found in Swedish waters reports Swedish public television. The fish was caught by a group of anglers in Motala ström in southern Sweden. The probable cause is that the fish is released aquarium fish.
The Pacu has been reported to bite of parts of male swimmers’ scrotums and are therefore sometimes called Ball-cutters.

(A true story is not always relevant)

US Navy collisions in Asian waters: No, it is not a result of cyber attacks

In June this year the United States Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with MV ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged container ship, and in August, the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker. Both of the collisions happened in Asian waters and both destroyers are from the US’s 7th fleet. The June collision killed seven sailors, and the fatalities from the latest collision could be at least as many.
Media and experts point out differences between the two collisions and the most important is that USS John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft and USS Fitzgerald to her starboard side. The difference indicates that USS John S. McCain had right of way, but not USS Fitzgerald. The other mentioned difference is that the latest collision happened in the Strait of Singapore, which is one of the business waters in the world. Without the prior collision, these differences may have led to that the consequences on the US navy organization after the August incident could have been limited, but the liability at sea is not as easy as to identify right of way. However, two collisions will always spark a discussion about systematic safety issues.
One such systematic cause put forward is that the collisions could be a result of cyber-attacks on the ships’ GPS system. I cannot rule out that the US ships’ GPS systems are hacked, but suggesting that it has anything to do with these collisions seems far-fetched. A combination of stubbornness and “it-usually-works-out” thinking is much more plausible.
In May 2016 the Swedish Navy vessel HMS Carlskrona collided with the Aspö ferry. These are smaller ships and the consequences were minor. However, similar to USS John S. McCain HMS, Carlskrona sustained damage to her port side aft indicating that she had right of way. The collision was investigated by the Swedish police. The investigation found that a major contributing factor to the collision was that the autopilot on the ferry did not release control as supposed to and therefore reduced the possibility for the ferry to avoid the collision. The criminal investigation was therefore dismissed without any actions. This although these collisions most probably also included a combination of stubbornness and “it-usually-works-out” thinking onboard both vessels. A collision, therefore, does not need to lead to substantial changes. However, it helps if the consequences are small and if it is a singular event.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Chance is a feline animal

A couple of months ago, while driving, I was listening to the most serious of serious public service radio channels in Sweden (P1). A writer or poet made a reflection on today’s society, but I do not remember the exact topic. However, I remember that he ended his monologue by saying, “Chance is a feline animal” (in Swedish “slumpen är ett kattdjur”). I directly knew that he had in a few words captured an important aspect of my research, but also that he had summarized an important aspect of modern (Swedish) society.
Chance. A coin on its edge. It happens, but it is hard to control. (C) Liwång 2017.
To me “chance is a feline animal” means that chance cannot be tamed, i.e., that there are many things we will know can and will happen, but not when and exactly how. However, modern societies like Sweden do not like chance and we build systems, preferably elaborate ones, which try to eliminate chance. This ambition can, however, be misguided.
Hitting a still nail in a plank with my hammer is a simple system where I have control over all aspects (I am not even particularly weather sensitive). However, sometimes I will miss the nail anyway. I can increase the chance of hitting the nail by practicing, concentrating, sleeping well, being sober and so on, but I cannot be sure to hit the nail every time. However, most often I do not need to hit the nail every time so I am fine anyway.
If I cannot hit a nail every time, why should I expect other more complex systems to work every time? Especially systems that need many components to work simultaneously to work at all (serial systems). Take trains for example. As long as the trains from Stockholm to Gothenburg take the same route, it only takes one error along the way to seriously affect the capacity of the route and make all trains along the route late. There is an infinite number of errors and events that can single-handedly stop the trains (trees falling, railroad switch malfunction, engine failure, suicide jumpers, cable stealing, lightning, elk collision and so on).
We can (and should) together increase the chance of the trains running on time by practicing, concentrating, sleeping well, being sober and so on, but we cannot be sure to get it right every time. However, spending energy on getting angry will not help the trains. When my father was young, he and his friends after school got some extra pocket money from removing snow from railroad switches. Because 30 teenagers remove snow much faster from 30 switches compared to two railroad workers and the railroad workers can focus on more competence demanding repairs. That kind of robustness is hard to find today, today we expect all the errors to be taken care of by the persons dedicated to the system at hand. The society has decided that protecting our young is more important than getting all switches to work. I am fine with that prioritization, but we have to recognize that the cost is in a higher probability of disturbances to the railroad system. We have not removed chance, we have moved it.
The national alarm “Important message to the public” (in Swedish “Viktigt meddelande till allmänheten” or VMA in short) was this Sunday evening supposed to do a silent test, but as a result of some error the test was not silent over the Stockholm area. The sounding of the alarm over Stockholm leads to people not knowing what to do and the crisis information services not knowing what to do because they had no information about any crisis or reason for the alarm to sound. Now people are angry again and supposedly all silent tests are canceled. Yet again is not chance eliminated, only moved somewhere else.
I do not mined a silent test not being silent. I now know, thanks to the failed silent test, that there are two primary channels for crisis information in Sweden: the webpage and the public service radio channel P4. I did not know that before this incident. I try not to get upset by events, I try to learn what I can and hope that others will do the same.
Accept that chance cannot be tamed. Embrace change and the unexpected. Strive to reduce probability (or frequency) of bad things, but do not expect to make them go away.

Friday, 2 June 2017

“Make our planet great again”

“Make our planet great again”. “If we do nothing, our children will know a world of migrations, of wars, of shortage. A dangerous world”. French President Emmanuel Macron

I try to pull my weight, so does my country. We’re not perfect, but we at least try.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Driver’s license for Denmark’s water scooters drivers?

The Danish government now promise new rules after the tragic accident where a young Danish man killed two American women because of reckless water scooter driving in Copenhagen harbor early May. According to early reports, there will be a water scooter driver’s license from next year in Denmark.
I don’t mind nations regulating there domestic water traffic, but it seems short sited to single out water scooters. The problem is off course high speeds in the wrong places and often combined with inexperience. Historically these types of accident has also happened with other kinds of fast boats.
Also, typically these types of driver’s licenses are very theoretical with few and low demands on experience on the water actually driving the craft of question, i.e., they don’t change the drivers, they only restrict accessibility to the crafts. The persons with licenses are as bad or god drivers as they would have been without a license.
Therefore, Denmark, if you think this is a good idea I recommend that:
  • the license should include all types of fast watercrafts, and
  • the requirement for the license is many hours of supervised on the water training managed so that the drivers risk understanding in this context really is tested.
If not, it will be a restriction on water scooters but not an effective safety measure. Water scooters are a versatile type of watercraft and in the waters where I sail they contribute and does not disturb me. However, I urge water scooter drivers and other on the water, especially if there is a high horse power to weight ratio, to be smart and wear at least a life vest.

Friday, 17 March 2017

A step in the right direction off Somalia!

Ten years ago, piracy out of Somalia was on the rise. It peaked in 2011 with about 240 reported incidents [1]. Since 2013, the number of reported incidents has been below 20 and in 2016 only two were reported [2]. None of these two attempts was successful. Now in Mars 2017 the first successful attack off Somalia was reported by news media, a small oil tanker was boarded and hijacked. However, it is now reported that a “release occurred after negotiations by local elders and officials with the pirates” [3]. At sea the Puntland naval forces had earlier attempted to cut off supplies to the pirates onboard the hijacked ship [3, 4].

Given the fact that NATO ended its anti-piracy operation off Somalia in December 2016 [5]* it is especially important that now efforts out of Somalia has shown potential in combating piracy.

* The operation was by NATO describes as a success. I would however like to stress that the military component was one of several important aspects. Also the increase in awareness and preparedness onboard ships transiting thru the high risk waters and the changes within Somalia has been as important as the naval component in decreasing piracy off Somalia.

[1] Liwång, H., Sörenson, K. & Österman, C. (2015). Ship security challenges in high-risk areas: manageable or insurmountable? WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs (JoMA), 14(2), 201-217.

[2] IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (2017). Piracy and armed robbery against ships, yearly report for 2016. IMB Piracy Reporting Centre.
[3] The Telegraph (2017). Somali pirates release oil tanker and crew without ransom. Online:
[4] Dagens Nyheter (2017). Somaliska pirater släpper kapad båt [Somali pirates releases hijacked ship]. Online:
[5] NATO (2016). NATO concludes successful counter-piracy mission. Online: