By Iman Fiqrie Bin Muhammad (LCDR, USN ret)
Dedication to seafaring men and women
This article is dedicated to the hardworking seafaring men and women who go to sea all round the world every day. Thank you!
Maritime education lecturer shipboard attachment
The inspiration for this article came about as a result of a required two week assignment to board a modern vessel (in my case, an LNG vessel, Figure 1 refers) during normal operations; observe the process of loading and discharging of cargo between ports–
discharge port, Japan; and to report on technology changes and its impact, firefighting and life saving appliances and cadet progress. The attachment was to be as a supernumerary and part of a program whose aim was to help keep maritime lecturers current, close the gap between the seafaring industry and the maritime academy, and amongst other things–follow-up on the cadet’s training and record book (TARB) and their progress; there were three cadets– two were women and one was male on their final attachment of four months of a 12 month attachment.
My attachment was timely, appreciated and rather fitting considering the state, challenges, issues and concerns with maritime education and maritime industry in general; this in the context of all the requirements of the last several years, ever increasing technology advances onboard ships, ship energy efficiency management planning (SEEMP), Global Warming, environmental pollution and impact, Maritime Labor Convention implications, “Gen Y” and adult learning theories– to name more than a few. Needless to say, in the
opinion of not just the author, but many a seafarer– there now exists an overabundance of requirements, paperwork for seafarers to comply with these days onboard vessels and an asynchronous relationship with policy makers. As a consequence then, stress management is definitely important and a significant factor for the modern seafarer; e.g., the top four officers will most likely work long hours and most likely never see most liberty ports that the vessel will enter.
Technology and reporting
Technology was supposed to be a game changer for the maritime industry, making a number of shipboard reporting requirements much easier and giving the seafarer some relief from the complex nature of today’s maritime environment; yet it seems one finds that much of the same paperwork requirements that initially led to the adoption of new technologies and automated processes onboard for reporting requirements back to the
home office in the first place still has to be done, not because there’s anything necessarily wrong with the electronic data or reporting format, but merely because home office requirements continue to also require the previous manual reporting ; double the requirements and work. Additionally, in many other cases ashore there also appears to be multiple silos of operations and requirements (i.e., lack of coordination and efficiency) sending a duplicity of requirements and requests to the ship from different siloed departments and if the seafarers don’t answer these emails and requests in what shore side personnel believe is a “timely manner,” then the shore office becomes upset and thus
What this does is leash senior shipboard officers to their desks and computers and flips many a long standing paradigm and work practice ratio whereby 90% of the job might be spent on deck or in the engine room and 10% on paper work (90:10) to a ratio that now looks something like 10:90. Is there any wonder incidents, accidents and such are still happening with no apparent noticeable change? One might even argue happening in greater numbers– given the ever increasing requirements, minimal coordination of shore side requirements and reduction in manning onboard ship. We have yet to discuss how charter requirements and needs impact and drives ship schedules adding to the asynchronous nature between industry and policy makers; e.g., ships must quickly load, turn around, discharge and transit between ports at high speeds just to do it all over again often times in port for just over half a day; this reality seems way out of sync with all the
aforementioned requirements and concerns just described.
Understanding the core issues and concerns
Seafaring men and women’s daily routines include watch standing, ever increasing paperwork when off watch, preparation for increased inspection regimes, deck work and
engine room maintenance and preservation all with reduced manning and the call for MLC (maritime labor convention requirements for reduced hours). It’s as if those in charge who
have retired from going to sea and now work ashore and making policy are far removed from the current realities of the modern seafarer!
Figure 2 – A Trylon tower Lecturer, Malaysian Maritime Academy
Accordingly, to digress a little bit, this reminds me of an analogy and story then U.S. Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (highest ranking military officer in all of the many services, a 4-star General in this case) Colin Powell once described; In his younger years and lower ranks when he was at the bottom looking up at what might be expected of him to rise to the top– that it was overwhelming and like being at the bottom of a giant
trylon tower (Figure 2 refers) with the sides barely visible and pinnacle barely in sight; as he rose up the officer ranks the sides of this mammoth trylon structure began to get closer and closer until he was touching the sides and eventually transiting outside the huge tower into the stratosphere hanging onto stars and far removed from the realities of what was happening on the ground. To remedy this, then Chairmen Powell said his strategy
was to use every opportunity to meet, greet, shake hands, see first-hand and to ask questions of lower level personnel to help ground himself in the requisite realities and help provide clarity to an otherwise vast establishment and process. Hopefully the analogy is not lost here in that required ship attachments do just that– provide a vehicle for the grounding in reality, understanding of the required core issues and business drivers
of the organization.
In conclusion, after riding the ship for two weeks, my understanding of the modern seafarer’s requirements has significantly changed and surely will impact my application of
learning theories, behaviors and view of maritime education and industry– as it should. For example, as far as the cadets were concerned– seems the reduced manning levels has caused them to be used as substitute labor, causing a large portion of their initial attachment focused on duties and maintenance; this puts the cadets significantly behind by the time they get to their second ship. Of course it’s easy to blame the cadet, but I find that the crew are necessarily so busy that the mentoring and guidance that could be done– doesn’t really happen as it should.
As for technology onboard ship, the amount of technology changes and advances since I was onboard ships a mere decade or so ago before has indeed been significant and maritime education and training must prepare accordingly, engage industry and embrace these new technological changes. For example, using equipment and props from ten or twenty plus years ago is unacceptable; accordingly, MET must acquire the necessary equipment and 21st digital skills to keep up with these new technologies. Even so, unfortunately I expect “much ado about nothing”. This has been the legacy of maritime education and industry– point the finger, pile on the requirements and make that money; as
new paradigms emerge, policy makers, educators and industry seem to have significant momentum doing what they’ve always done and thus, change may be nothing more than mere “kaleidoscope eyes and marmalade skies.”