Is the neighbor’s green grass lacking morality?

Morality Meter
Morality Meter source

Some time ago, I received an interesting email, using the term “morality”, or the lack thereof, in describing the offshore oil and gas industry. Morality is not often used in shipping, but maybe it ought to. I thought it was in interesting wording by a young professional, and in itself provided some insight in our maritime industry in general and its future. Here are parts of his emails, and my response.

 

I graduated in June of 2009 from Marine Institute in Newfoundland in the fall of 2005, and I’ve since worked on coastal tankers and shuttle tankers on the eastern seaboard of Canada. I was fortunate to have a friend working in the Brazilian Offshore on an FPSO and ended working there.

I have spent the past 4 years down here plugging my way along and trying to move up as circumstance presented themselves. This has allowed me to reach the rank of 2nd engineer. I have been quite lucky, and spoiled some might say, as the salary is just unbelievable; if one were to tell me when I graduated I would be making $150k in 5 years well I probably would have laughed in their face! However I also have started to think allot about what that money actually means.

In the offshore, it really is a thankless and selfish industry with no morality. It is a high reward but as a result very high risk and volatile as the low oil prices are showing. I feel as though I am at an impasse.

I always wondered and was somewhat interested about the cruise and yacht industry. I have a few friends on yachts but no real contacts on cruise ships. I have trouble now being gone for 6 months and compressing, and living everything in the short time I’m home (less than 6 after travel to and from work).

There is no real life per say on an oil rig; it is 12 hour days and high stress environment. I don’t have these grand illusions that working on a cruise ship is paradise in the engine room either. I’m sure there are immense challenges as you are dealing with the most precious carg,o there is as well as a massive amount of equipment. But engineering on a ship is not the issue. It is the quality of life while you’re there and I feel as though it must be much better on a cruise vessel. The food alone plus the travel and perks on the ship even as a crew member must be great.

My reply…

I really like your email and it struck a chord with me, as I imagine it would with many.

I think morality is a fairly arbitrary concept, but I find it very interesting that you bring up this term up as a descriptive. I too sincerely believe that not only the oil and gas industry, but the marine industry (and some might argue most “ideals” championed by the modern capitalist regime we are living under) is lacking any morals. It is all facade, in praise of “minuscule” profits, benefiting a very few. We allow people to be treated like cattle, to be used and disposed of, not even an asset and that’s not even talking about the environment; totally lacking empathy.

I think the marine / O&G industry in general is at the forefront of this global trend; its insatiable greed harms seafarers and their families, it may be slightly better than olden times, but it’s no excuse. There was a recent article in the Globe and Mail about how younger people prefer to stay in “low paying” jobs close to home, instead of the joining the oil and gas industry, and its dubious “morality”; so effectively you are not alone to question this aspect. The G&M goes on to say that it is having a significant impact on industry, under the current business model – a more aggressive version of the older pure greed model.

The real me
The real me

Having been working on ships for the past 20 years, with numerous well-known companies inside and outside Canada I have yet to come across a satisfying and sustainable work life balance. The closest company was a cruise company, but that was before we had children, and unfortunately the salary, a little above a McDonald junior manager salary, allowed no room for anyone but a single seafarer guy to live on. Certainly not wage anywhere what a healthy family needs. I don’t believe the wage was even close to being a compensatory wage of the hard life and extensive hiring criteria, or actual responsibilities entrusted to the onboard engineer.

Passenger ships may appear to be an ideal position, and to some degree the social interaction, with more than 6-10 people, certainly makes life more bearable. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself what your priorities are (and what about a significant other) and how these fit in your career plans. Like it or not, family planning – kids, spouse – always make an appearance in every humans life, that’s what makes us humans. Caring for someone other than self is what morality means to me.

To address your other points. I am not sure about the yachts “industry” per se but, I did visit one of the largest and most impressive yachts in the world, and I did not see too many exuberant faces. They also had a crew turnover of about 50-60% annually.

Food wise on cruise ships, you do not eat with passengers, except as an officer, in uniform, on very rare cases, where you can actually fit it in your 9-12 hr day. The crew eats in the crew mess, and the majority of the crew are from poor Asian countries.

I personally loved the challenge of working on a large complex plants, and its numerous technical and management aspects, and I like the fact that it was not ancient gear having to come up with mickey mouse solutions like on many Canadian boats. At that time (its changed ownership since I was there), the company recognize the importance of maintenance and engineers – to some degree and this provided high job satisfaction, but not a decent income.

Most cruise company will offer a 14-14 on off rotation, maybe a 10/10 (weeks) rotation for senior officers. Some “UK based” outfits, to which I have no idea why UK officers accept, offer 3 months on 2 month off rotation, or even 4 month on, 2 off, that’s just ludicrous.

I’ll cut to the chase, sure Oil and Gas might be immoral, but at least they pay a somewhat reasonable wage with reasonable rotations. At the end of the day, your ability to provide a safe and healthy life for your loved ones becomes a top priority. You may not recognize this at the beginning of your career but it will become an issue later on. Keep your chin up, you still have 25 years to go, and please stay sane, and don’t get blasé about it all, things can change.

He replies…

Homer Simpson from interwebs
Homer Simpson from interwebs

It is a weird thing engineers in one industry always look with curiosity or in some cases jealousy to others, and say, wow, I wish I could do that. Most people here that have listened to my “woes” think I’m nuts for even considering switching and taking the pay cut. I agree my rotation is great and yes the salary allows a great living. But my job satisfaction has reached an all-time low and I really am being honest in saying that when I go home and friends or family ask how was work, or what do you do everyday, I am almost embarrassed to even talk about it. I have no pride like I used to when I started this career and that is the most upsetting.

I think everyone hits this at some point in their career, no matter what job they may have. However, I feel as a marine engineer who loves to be challenged, and rewarded for the actual work being completed, a big paycheck with no actual “thank-you” is not cutting it. I will continue to research and reach out. I am fortunate to still hold my job so I can be patient and get a good feel from different folks on what options are out there.

 

You can draw your own conclusions, but do you think these feelings are an isolated occurrence? Do you think there is a problem in the modern work force? Do you think the industry behave in a moral way?

I think oil and gas industry the marine industry in general and society at large has a huge problem that burying our heads in the sand is not going to solve, not matter how deep we go. Eventually the ferryman has to be paid.

Wow! That’s a mouthful of metaphors in one blog post.

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