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The vital interface Michael Grey, MBE


e need, said Branko Berlan of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF),

as he spoke at IMO’s 2015 World Maritime Day symposium ‘a proper relationship between men and machine’. It was a phrase that made me sit up, something rather more incisive than well-rehearsed arguments about why young people turn their backs on marine industry careers and why maritime awareness seems to be fading among the general public. The symposium, on maritime

education and training, was predicated on the statement that ‘shipping’s future needs people’. (This might seem self evident, but it is not so obvious that enough high quality people are seeking out the industry for their career). Berlan’s intervention, which in some respects, deserved a symposium all of its own, recognised the relationship between the people who worked on and around ships, and the ships they served. It also recognised the need for this relationship to be balanced. It has always been said that seafarers ‘fit

where they can’ into a ship, after the designers have dealt with the business of cargo capacity, speed, consumption and dimensions. It might appear a trifle ironic, but it is true and – as long as the shipowner isn’t overly miserly on space – they probably won’t complain, as these people relate to their floating machine. Where it all starts to go wrong is where the relationship becomes one-sided, with more attention given to the machine and the technology than the human beings who will serve it. Let us consider some examples: Clever navigational equipment has emerged in the past 30 years or so, which has changed the role of the navigators from one of close profes- sional involvement in which their skill was applied, to one where they merely oversee the electronics. The same has been said about the

“It is not a proper relationship between man and machine when fatigue is a normal part of operations. This isn’t the Battle of the Atlantic.”

on board for social interaction. This of course, requires enough people on board to er... interact. A very hard look needs to be taken at the nonsense of minimum manning and those silly certificates. You won’t retain intelligent people in

the industry if this relationship is wrong and the people on board ship are always thought of last. If every ship in the world was delivered without a single spare berth aboard, where would trainees ever get any sea experience? Do those owners who buy these mean cut-price vessels from shipyards ever think of the people who will work on them and who might man them in the future? Or do they just think about the bottom line and throw up their hands in horror when some crafty shipbuilder, trying it on, quotes another $100,000 for a spare cabin, rather than telling the blighter where to get off? A proper relationship also has a lot

to do with attitude. The employer would like the crew to be well-motivated, but may fail to make the connection between motivation and a job that is enjoyed by the person doing it. This

role of the marine engineer, taking him or her away from a close relationship with the machinery, into a less interventionist mode, serving increasingly as an onboard messenger between the data and the shore-side supervi- sion. You may suggest that this is necessary with the more sophisticated machinery and onboard systems, but the fact is that people who were trained to operate in a more hands-on age are finding it difficult to adapt. You might also consider the ‘proper’ relationship as being one in which there are sufficient people on board the ‘machine’ to cope with all its operational needs, not a small band of stressed out people worried that they are exceeding their 93 hour weekly maximum. It is not a proper relationship where fatigue is a normal part of operations. This isn’t the Battle of the Atlantic – these are 21st century normal marine operations and there needs to be space

relates to the way that people are treated, by the employer, but also by all those folk who stamp up the gangways in the ports around the world and start throwing their weight around. Seafarers – those members of the human

race, who have this relationship with floating machines – do an essential job and need to be treated with rather more respect than they sometime are. They don’t deserve to be treated as potential terrorists or illegal migrants, smugglers or criminals by port officials waving the ISPS Code. They should not have to jump through hoops if they want to get ashore for a few hours, or have unreasonable visa restrictions placed upon them. Those who have dealings with seafarers need to treat them rather less like aliens, or machines and perhaps, from time to time, put themselves in their place. With men or machines, it’s the relationship which matters.


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