The Captain – Hero or Villain?

The following article is an extract from Capt. John’s Dickie presentation during 2012 Safety4Sea Annual Forum and was initially posted on SAFETY4SEA. Shipping changes so much and there is over-regulation. But the people who make the over-regulation do not come from maritime background. The demands on the Master for his time and ability are being stretched to new limits. The advent of the STCW 2010 Manila Amendments came into force on the 1st January 2012. This is in respect of the Hours of Work and Rest. Do you work by hours of work or by hours of rest? If you calculate the hours of rest, things are more flexible. The Master continues to see more and more administrative tasks being awarded to him, but where is the time to complete these and ensure that his ship operates at peak performance? Add to this the increasing numbers of maters who are being prosecuted as criminals and the recipe is set for disaster.

2013.02.07 - The Captain - Hero or Villain

Concerning the criminalization of the Master, there appears to be in shipping that the common rule of law does not apply. “Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply. It would appear to be more the saying of “Guilty until proven innocent”. If this situation continues it will drive more seafarers to leave the sea instead of staying. This will result in more expertise being lost that cannot be replaced. This is not to say that every Master is innocent no matter what. That would be stupid. But at least being given access to proper legal defense and the ability to return home or earn a living while the case continues. Or that they have proper insurance cover in place to protect them and be able to bear the costs involved. While P&I Clubs will help it does not appear to be understood by many that its primary consideration is to protect the interests of the ship owner not the crew. This results in Masters being left unprotected.

At plenary of the IMO DSC Sub-Committee Session 17 (17-Sept-2012) there was an extended debate over the weight of containers where wrong tonnages were being declared and that the contents not as stated. The debate moved from the point of origin to the container being loaded on the ship. At every step no one was held responsible for checking that the declaration was correct, all the way through the terminal it was still left untouched. Then suddenly, once the container is on board the ship the master is responsible for weight and content.

Figures from SRI by 3480 seafarers as of February 2012 from 18 countries and 68 nationalities show that:

  • 8% had faced criminal charges
  • 4% had been witnesses in criminal prosecutions
  • 33% knew of colleagues who had faced  criminal charges
  • 24% of Masters surveyed had faced criminal charges
  • 44% of seafarers reported had had body searches
  • 87% of those who faced charges relating to the discharge of professional duties had no legal representation
  • 91% of seafarers who needed interpretation services were not provided
  • 89% of seafarers who faced criminal charges stated that they did not have their explained to them
  • 80% who faced charges felt intimidated or threatened
  • 46% felt reluctant to answer questions after above
  • 81% of seafarers who had faced criminal charges did not consider that they had fair treatment

The following are some characteristic cases.

  • Mass Trader in Panama. 169 kgs of drugs were found in bow thruster compartment. Captain remains in detention.
  • Sv Nikolay in Spain. 3 tonnes of cocaine were found on board. Captain and crew are in custody.
  • Ocean Atlas in Venezuela. Weapons were found on board. All weapons were legal. Due to an administrative mistake the vessel and crew were released after 21 days.
  • Star Princess in Caribbean. Crew was accused of not rendering assistance to ship in distress. This accusation was ongoing from March to September 2012. The case was dropped after photographic evidence.

Also, there is some cross over about criminal acts and piracy attacks and this is becoming off Nigeria where kidnap and ransom are rising.

There are some possible solutions. Maybe mariners should carry personnel insurance to cover such incidents to ensure that they get a fair deal. But who should pay? The individual or the company? Masters are more liable to prosecution than other crew members. Should protection be directed at them? There are a few personal protection solutions out there with varying sets of cover. Should they be used or new cover produced? The question is where do we go from here?

Shipping is evolving. Part of this evolution is not about business models but to external influences such as criminalization, piracy, abandonment (which is supposed to be covered under the MLC), shortage of seafarers’ numbers. If the seafarer feels that they are not being protected and given access to Human Rights and Fair Treatment then many will leave. Solutions need to be found / but how can they be financed? In times of austerity there is no spare money about. There is so much legislation that we need millions of funding to implement it. Where is the money going to come from? So this is minor in respect to many things. But it is going to be important if we want to manage ships and keep professional seafarers.


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