The Problem with Maritime Shipping Today!

NL 54 The Problem with Maritime Shipping Today!

smIman Fiqrie

Iman Fiqrie @ William E Hamilton, Lecturer, Malaysian Maritime Academy

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Maritime Shipping registered vessel losses, 1997 and 2011

Registered Fleet losses to 2011

Registered Fleet losses to 2011

Figure 1 – Total world registered fleet as recorded losses, 1997 and 2011. Source: Interim Report: A Review of 15 Years of Shipping Accidents

They say the first step in fixing a problem is to first admit that there is one, figure 1 and figure 2 refers. Please compare 1997 and 2011 percentages of vessels lost to see that a problem exists. So far, very few in the maritime shipping industry seem willing to come forward publicly and admit that there is problem in the industry as a whole.

Yearly Vessel Losses to 2011

Yearly Vessel Losses to 2011

Figure 2 – Yearly number of vessel losses 1997 – 2011. Source:  Interim Report: A Review of 15 Years of Shipping Accidents. 

Maritime Shipping concerns of several Captains

Just the same, in this issue of the newsletter, I would like to try and highlight several maritime issues of concern pointed out to me by several Captains in the hopes of raising the level of maritime debate on the merits of the issues; juxtaposed of course against the mandate of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for safety, security, energy efficiency and cleanliness of the oceans. This in light of all the recent catastrophes involving shipping over the past few years; the current maritime shipping industry scenario doesn’t appear to be working.

In the closing paragraphs of the last newsletter issue Editorial, I mentioned that I had spoken with several Master Mariners on what they believed is going on in the maritime industry from maritime education, training, seafarer competency and wellbeing to shipping companies and charterers. Many declined to go on the record to discuss the issues, but none-the-less were more than candid about the issues unofficially. I asked the following central question: When a cadet graduates and gets his or her Certificate of Competency (COC), is it expected that they can perform the job or not! This central question sparked much conversation, debate and differences of opinion on the matter and other topics.

Punching your Maritime Shipping “COC Ticket”

Right away, many of the Captains were eager to point out that the cadets just aren’t getting enough sea time. For example, in their day, they had to do two to three years of sailing before they could even think of “punching their COC ticket” in maritime shipping. The cadets just aren’t getting enough practical sea time experience. The Captains, as cadets, were only getting about $100-300 dollars a month while sailing for those couple of years. There seemed to be a number of Captains with this view. The fleet has, however, grown since those days Captain,

Need more quality sea time in Maritime Shipping

Interestingly, there also appears to be a significant number of Captains who say that’s just not true. The other Captains’ response, “…you mean our 2 – 3 years wasn’t quality sea time?” This group of Captains believes that one year of “quality sea time” should be sufficient for a cadet to be competent enough to do the job. The emphasis here was on “quality sea time”; there’s obviously a difference of opinion on what exactly quality sea time means. This group also admits that manpower, technology and IMO convention issues in maritime shipping have both helped and negatively compounded the issues in general. It’s hard to say on this point, a couple years of detention rates doesn’t definitively show an improvement in results one way or another, Figure 3 refers.

Highest Detention by Type to 2009

Highest Detention by Type to 2009

Highest Detention by Type to 2011

Highest Detention by Type to 2011

Figure 3 refers. Figure 3 – Growth of the Fleet 1997 – 2011. Source:  Interim Report: A Review of 15 Years of Shipping Accidents. 

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Manpower shortages an issue in Maritime Shipping

To be truthful, generally, when cadets go to sea for their year of sea time, they are often used to help make up for manpower shortages at the probable expense of a quality training program. The responsible officers themselves a consequence of manpower shortages, increased paperwork, stress and workload – leaving training lacking the so called needed quality sea time. Furthermore, senior officers will tell you they used to be able to spend 90% or more of their time on deck or in the engine room, but now find themselves chained to a desk or their cabin dealing with paperwork and office matters – e.g., answering emails and such. They feel that if they don’t answer the emails quickly enough, company reps will have their head.

IMO regulations create situations in Maritime Shipping

As for the IMO, the very system that is supposed to help ensure safety, security, energy efficiency and cleaner oceans doesn’t seem to have any enforcement powers, one Captain even called the regime a toothless Tiger; and thus countries have varying standards of compliance to IMO regulations and mandates in maritime shipping. It also doesn’t help that a number of applications of the conventions and rules may not be practical. The example given by one Captain was the required sounding of 1 minute fog signals with gong in Hong Kong Harbor while anchored in heavy fog – which happens enough. They complain where is the manpower for this? This is ridiculous! How to take the IMO seriously when one thinks of situations like this? Maybe it’s the IMO creating all these regulations that has caused “the problem”? Another example was the shrinking sea space in and around ports with bigger and bigger ships – it’s ridiculous to think anyone takes all these regulations seriously. How to comply?

A Captain in this group exclaimed, “I’m tired of the sea time argument”. We need quality sea time is all? Has the number of accidents increased or decreased, Figure 2 and 4 refers.

Loss by Vessel Type to 2011

Loss by Vessel Type to 2011

Source: Original Figure 4 – Losses by vessel type 1997 – 2011

Even so, some Captains argue that there would probably have been more accidents given the complexity of shipping today so things are working because the number of accidents hasn’t really gotten worse. He also points out that cadets must deal with the increasing complexity of shipping, more regulations to contend with, books to read, etc. Enough already, cadets just need quality sea time!

Fear is never an option in Maritime Shipping

This group of Captains also says that you can’t win, in some companies there’s no problem because the companies are proactive, in still yet others – everyone can tell they have problems, but no one says anything out of fear. Fear is never a good thing!

It’s all talk in Maritime Shipping today

In conclusion, every piece has to have a conclusion – as does this one. Just the same, I’m not quite sure what to conclude from all the noise; a sense of apathy, complacency, lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of industry, seafarers, cadets and educators alike. No one gets a free ride on this one-though we’d like to think so; it’s not me! Many mariners interviewed don’t really seem too concerned or believe there are “real problems” – “it’s all talk and nothing else” they say. How much are they paying you they ask? Instinctively as adults we know we cannot teach our children that life’s all about the money, yet that’s exactly what we do in the maritime and shipping industry. Is there any wonder why cadets and young officers have problems at sea?

We need good mentors in Maritime Shipping today!

Things like mentoring, nurturing, standards of conduct, leading by example and high moral values for cadets aren’t really a priority and like our children, the cadets know this – especially when they see us modeling other behavior. What to make of it all? Is this the final lesson to the next generation of seafarers. If it is, then we as a maritime industry can expect the catastrophes to continue at scale as Human Performance Improvements really aren’t a priority. Might as well get it over with and go down with the ship! Until next time, thanks for reading.



“Interim Report: A Review of 15 Years of Shipping Accidents.” Web. 30 Jan. 2016.[/one_half]

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