Truer Words Never Said!!

This popped up on my emails today:

We must restore respect for our crews

From Captain C R Kelso

SIR, it comes as little surprise to read (LSM, September 2007) that “insurers believe crew shortages are already contributing to the rising severity of casualties and cost of claims” and that the current shortage, estimated to be as high as 10,000, is forecast to double over the next seven to 10 years.

With the massive building programme and the reluctance to scrap older tonnage, it is difficult to come up with a panacea but, before one starts looking for one, it is important to recognise how the industry got itself into such a pickle.

The reckless and overriding quest to reduce operating costs by discontinuing direct employment and employing crewing agencies, contributed to the initial feeling of disenfranchisement among seafarers.

In more recent times the situation has been exacerbated by prolonged periods of service; under-manning leading to excessive hours of work; fatigue and the destruction of shipboard social life; the irrational application of the ISPS Code; incessant commercial pressure (particularly on Senior Officers) and increased ‘operational control’ from without the ship; the construction of ships with accommodation more suitable for the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs than the young men and women for whom it is intended; and, until recently, absolutely no assurance about a career in the industry.

Today’s young seafarers will not tolerate being incarcerated in a steel box hurtling from port to port without some opportunity for meaningful shore leave.

They wonder why they must serve with a crew of 14 comprising six different and diverse nationalities, why they are denied the right to enjoy a beer when off duty.

Making two trainees per ship mandatory may, in the short-term, result in a modest amelioration of the situation, but it will do little to solve the real problem – the inability to retain junior and intermediate rank officers.

When 80% of container vessels fail to maintain their schedule, it should be obvious to even the most ambitious operator that the schedule is unrealistic.

When seafarers are willing to be poached in return for ever-increasing salaries, it should be equally obvious that they will move on as soon as a better offer is forthcoming, and leave the industry when their finances permit.

No doubt with the understanding of numerous compliant Registers desirous of maintaining their fleet levels, the ease of obtaining Certificates of Equivalent Competency, the ability of the crewing agencies to look under every stone (including the flat ones), the outpourings of the diverse nautical training establishments globally, and the payment of ever-increasing premiums, many ships will continue to trade.

But if they are to be competently staffed and operate safely and efficiently, then the underlying causes of the current crisis must be addressed.

Captain C R Kelso 5 Bursledon Heights
Bursledon Southampton SO31 8DB

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