Harbingers of doom
Dini Shroff pleads for accountants to listen to engineers
Authored by: MER Magazine
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After 38 years as a marine engineer, and eight years away from his 65th birthday, Dini Shroff has taken early retirement. He's had enough. He's had enough of cost cutting, crew cutting and the apathy towards training, The lack of common sense amongst certain seagoers riles him and the seemingly self-preservation-like attitude of fleet management exasperates him.
Despite his dismay, the decision to take early retirement was still a difficult one. Marine engineering has been his life and to be an engineer is still a wonderfully rewarding experience. But life at sea is no longer the life it was, and more and more experienced, qualified engineers are questioning the wisdom of modern ship management
In the past, the Chief Engineer would be able to go to his cabin at night, comfortable in the fact that the on-watch engineer was capable of doing his job. It's vastly different today, and 'the Chief usually ends up doing the most ludicrously simple of tasks that any competent junior should be able to cope with quite easily.'
Dini remembers one night when a distressed junior engineer woke him with: 'Chief, water's coming in through the ship's side.' So donning overalls, Dini charged down to the flooding compartment to find that the on-watch engineer had used a wheel spanner from the emergency bilge suction and applied it to the tiny sewage discharge valve, wrenching the whole thing off - casting and all - in the process. 'He had the qualifications but lacked the practical common sense.'
He argues the quality is slipping; 'Engineers are very practical people, and unfortunately the practical training has been slashed. They're concentrating more and more on academic qualifications. We need good practical engineers with common sense.'
In 1962, when this hearty, straight-talking Yorkshireman began his engineering career with the Blue Funnel Line, a cadetship meant two years at collegem, a year and a half at sea and then a final year at a shipyard or recognised workshop. That important final year is now done at college, and what was learned during the sea training year is inevitably forgotten, but still they're on the Watchkeeping roster as soon as they join their first ship.'
Dini considers this disregard for practical training as the reason why some seafarers leave the industry. "They come onboard and are thrown in at the deep end on a massively complicated plant. Some just can't cope, they don't have the confidence. It's just too much for them,”
There are those who disagree with him, such as the manager who once offered Dini the words of wisdom: ' As long as you have a good Filipino fitter onboard, training is not important.'
If everybody thought like this, then that dying breed of engineer, who, like Dini, has a sixth sense and is able to gauge potential engine room problems by using his eyes, nose and ears alone, will be extinct sooner rather than later.
Fleet management receives the brunt of Dini’s criticism however. He argues: 'When you have qualified and experienced seagoing engineers onboard and then fleet management directs from ashore, it’s just a complete duplication of resources, a complete wastee of money. There is no point in having a qualified crew onboard unless they have a certain amount of autonomy.”
Dini who, on his last ship was running and maintaining the most powerful engine in the world -a 12 cylinder Sulzer RTA 96 - with an engineering staff of just five, believes 'Ships will soon be unable to operate and perform safely and efficiently with such a small team. We need more well trained engineers onboard. It will keep costs down in the long run.'
Comparing the shipping industry with a similarly priced commercial building, he says: 'When a multi-million dollar building's completed, it's properly staffed, well maintained and the investment looked after, but when you take delivery of a ship, ship management look for the cheapest crew it can find and then try to run it on a shoe string.'
It's all down to the accountants and Dini has even told the IMarE's very own bean counter Gordon Evans just how much these 'bottom-liners’ have been the harbinger of doom for the sea-going engineer. ‘I don’t doubt their ability as accountants,' says Dini, 'but as an engineer I know you can save money in the long term by using it wisely at the beginning. Accountants should learn to listen to engineers. They'd save their companies a lot of money if they did '
Dini is now wondering whether early retirement was a good move after all. He says: 'This retirement lark is really hard work! At least when I went to sea I had a break from all the jobs at home. I've been busy seven-days-a-week. I'm amazed I ever found the time to go to sea in the first place.”
In fact, despite the reasons for his own early retirement, he highly recommends the job to any youngster worth his salt. 'We need the young and capable to give the bean-counters and the ship managers a good kick up the backside,' he says.
Original article first published in the Marine Engineering Review (MER) July/Aug 2000