Confusing messages

Today, the IMO celebrates the seafarer with a Day of the Seafarer.
Seafarers are a crucial part of shipping, which is a crucial part of
world trade. Unfortunately, decades of abusing and neglecting seafarers
has cast a shadow on the profession, making it a tough career sell. So
the IMO is aiming to increase the image of the job. All of which is good
really, but from my perspective, would seem to ring hollow, to the
people whose feet are firmly on deck(s).

The Canadian federal minister responsible for Transportation released the statement below…

Denis Lebel, Canada Transport Minister
from internet

— The Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and
Communities, Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for
the Regions of Quebec and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, is
encouraging Canadians to mark the Day of the Seafarer, which takes place
every year on June 25 by showing their appreciation for all those who
work on ships in Canada and abroad.

“Today we pay tribute to seafarers and the important work they do,” said
Minister Lebel. “As a result of this demanding work, people and goods
can move safely and efficiently around the world. It is important to
recognize these valuable contributions to world trade, supporting
Canada’s prosperity.”

The campaign is organized by the International Maritime Organization
(IMO). The theme for this year is Faces of the Sea. People are invited
to demonstrate their support for the world’s 1.5 million seafarers by
sharing their favourite image of a seafarer on the IMO’s social media

“Canada, as the first official member state of the International
Maritime Organization, is proud to support seafarers on this special
day,” added Minister Lebel. “I encourage Canadians to join the campaign
and express their appreciation for seafarers.”

The Day of the Seafarer, which was first celebrated in 2011, is now
included in the annual list of United Nations Observances. The IMO is
the United Nations specialized agency responsible for the safety and
security of shipping, and for preventing marine pollution by ships.

To participate in the IMO’s Day of the Seafarer 2013 campaign, go to

As a professional seafarer, it is nice to hear the recognition, after
all, it is so rare to get. But, I would not be surprised if some of us
seafarers felt a little confused from recent messages, like the one
above, and the one below.

Karl Lilgert, BC Ferries Navigator
Source – The Province

Yesterday, splashed across the national media, news out of a British Columbia court,
sentencing a BC Ferries Navigator, 4th officer Karl Lilgert, to four
years in jail for criminal negligence. Karl Lilgert was the Officer of
the Watch on the Queen of the North which sank in the early hours of
March 22, 2006. He failed to make a course correction shortly after
watch change for whatever reason, the ship struck Gil Island, sank, and
two people are presumed to have perished as a result.

A BC Ferries internal probe, a TSB investigation,
and now a criminal trial, failed to explain exactly why he failed his
duty to safely navigate the ferry. He additionally seem to lack remorse
or empathy for the incident, which stacked the deck against him in my

But, is that really reasonable, to expect that just this one person
should bear the entire weight of this sad event? A seafarer, an officer
granted, but the lowest rank aboard. One person, who has had seven years
of massive negative publicity following him, and now four years prison.

Nobody else hold any responsibility? If we are going to assigned such
defined blame and consequence on a seafarer, then we should explore who
trained him, or did not train him properly, and should have? Who assign
him the watch? What role did the licensing system play, or the unions
mentality? Isn’t the company’s Safety Management System designed to
prevent such occurrences? The age of the vessel and its many
modifications? Training budgets? Lax procedures, etc. What the hell
happen to watch change procedure?

I have been a sailor long enough to know that those shipmates must of
known what the state of his mental well being was at the time, why were
they not able to express their concern – they must of had some. Why was
he left by himself on the bridge in the first place – there were four
navigation officers on board.. 

Like many unpleasant occurrences, we sweep these complex series of
failures onto shoulders of “one bad apple” – a seafarer. I am not an
apologist for Karl Lilgert, but I think its overly simplistic to throw
the book at him for negligence, when I see so little consequences for so
many other’s negligence.

I can’t think of, or find any other Canadian case of negligence in which
an actual transportation firm or person has gone to jail – jail time
for negligence in general, where else have you seen it?

But really this in nothing new, seafarers have been increasingly
criminalized because, as a society, we see them as criminals –
ultimately its fear of the unknown – and it draws away from the systemic
societal failures that, in my view, are truly to blame. Unfortunately,
criminal trials have become the norm for seafarers after accidents, all
around the world.

Happy Day of the Seafarer.

Transport Canada and Australian Marine Safety certified Marine Engineer, over 25 years experience sailing professionally on commercial ships all over the world. Creator and editor of Father of three, based in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

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