PictureClick picture for IMO Day of the Seafarer page
It’s the Day of the Seafarer - our day - and I wonder how most of us are spending it? I’ll bet that, given the average seaman’s work schedule, most seafarers are spending the day at work; during most of my long career, I spent at least two days afloat for each day I spent ashore. I’ve known sailors whose schedules were much more rigorous than that, and I’ll bet you have too.

The Day of the Seafarer is a pretty new phenomenon, having started only a few years ago. Here is the IMO’s description of its purpose:

• to increase awareness among the general public of the indispensable services  you render to international seaborne trade, the world economy and society at large;

• to send a clear message to you that we recognize and appreciate your services; that we understand the extraordinary conditions and circumstances of your profession; that we do care about you; and that we do all that we can to look after and protect you when the circumstances of your life at sea so warrant; and

• to redouble our efforts at the regulatory level to create a better, safer and more secure world in which you can operate.

I know most of you have also read the IMO news release and may be familiar with the social media campaign that was launched. The idea was to use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to personalize the “invisible” seafarer by submitting pictures  - to literally put a face on the seafarer. The Twitter hashtag -  - is doing pretty well, with some interesting posts. It’s easy to disparage the social media initiative, but it also has a good side, particularly when individual seafarers post thoughts and pictures unique to them. It’s fleeting recognition, but some of it is quite engaging. These are views of our industry that can only come from those seafarers. Many of those at sea, though, won’t be able to participate that way.
Barista Uno (whose take on the buzzphrase “the human element” is right on the money and well worth a read) takes the IMO campaign for this year’s Day of the Seafarer with a grain of salt. In “The myth of the invisible seafarers” he skewers the idea of our “invisibility” with affecting honesty and a scalpel wit. He rounds out the sentiment with this post when he says, “It’s a day for greeting seafarers and wishing them happiness and success, not a day for mouthing slogans.” Amen!

One of the things I keep reading in this year’s Day of the Seafarer coverage is how this is the year MLC 2006 comes into effect. If it’s fully and honestly implemented, mariner’s lives should be positively impacted. Not everyone is sanguine, however; Manu makes the case that shipowners are already trying to negate the wages provisions of MLC 2006 and draws gloomy inferences for the other, less fundamental provisions of this “fourth pillar” as well.

What is certain is that whether we’re recognized and appreciated, cared about and protected - or not - that seamen will continue to operate below the level of the average person’s consciousness. We can’t hope to raise the general level of awareness much.

But we can try to take care of each other. We can refuse to take part in the exploitation of other seamen. We can honor those who honor our profession and work to make it safer, such as the bloggers linked to above, and many others like them. We can work for the freedom of the 70 seamen still held captive in Somalia. And we can work for justice for the poor and powerless everywhere - a pair of adjectives that too often describe seamen themselves.

Did you celebrate Day of the Seafarer, or mark it in any way? Did you follow the Twitter stream or the YouTube videos? Let us know your opinion in Comments!

PictureUSS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef - click for The Philippine Star story
It's been a long time since I've been able to post! No, I haven't been away at sea, but have been “at sea” in a sense – see my post “Distraction” which dates from several months ago.

Last week several intense activities I started last winter finally ended for the summer, and another less important one was ruthlessly terminated by me. I now have room to breath. I wasn't entirely happy with all the work; but having taken on the responsibilities, I didn't want to abandon them.

I suppose everyone has been in that spot from time to time. Sometimes, at the moment you say “Yes!” it’s hard to visualize all the time and effort some very good cause might require. Just because it's a good thing for somebody to do doesn't mean that it's a good thing for you to do!

A lot of maritime news has rolled under the bridge since my last post. One that interested me was the account of USS Porter colliding with a tanker in the Straits of Hormuz – this recording of the bridge audio would get any mariner's heart pounding.

I wonder whether a similar groupthink mindset played into the Tubbataha Reef grounding of the USS Guardian, although the situations were clearly different?

In both cases it seemed the momentum of the large bridge teams involved carried things forward into danger; almost as if each individual on the team was thinking, “with all the people on the bridge right now, we must have everything covered”. Or perhaps even, “this is someone else’s responsibility”. To judge by the recording of the USS Porter, it seemed the officers on the bridge might have been afraid to cross their  excited commander, even when they became aware that the ship was standing into danger.

In each case, also, situational awareness was wanting. In the USS Guardian case, the Digital Nautical Charts were found to have inaccuracies - but how about keeping a lookout? Did the watch team “neglect. . .  any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen”? And in the USS Porter collision, the commander wasn't made aware of the approaching tanker until collision was inevitable.

Of course, Navy ships have their own bridge culture. I don’t know it well, and won’t presume to correct their way of operating. They safely cover a lot of sea miles, and handle precise maneuvers such as unrep with great skill. Overall, they are obviously doing many things right.

But those two episodes took me back to my early days at sea, when I had a friend who joined the Navy Reserve. This fellow was a licensed Master; held pilotage for Delaware Bay among other routes; and although young, was a capable, experienced mariner. He was on the bridge during a Reserve cruise; the ship was transiting up Delaware Bay, and various Reserve officers were taking turns conning the ship. When it came my friend’s turn he was told to take the ship around the next mark. He felt fine about that - he’d piloted ships up that same channel many times as a civilian. But he reckoned without the “Navy Way”.

Now, anyone who has endured Navy training will remember the phrase, “there’s the right way, the wrong way and the Navy way - we do things the Navy way!” Translation: “don’t question how we’re doing this, or bring your own ideas into this operation - you do it our way.”

In this case, as explained to me by my buddy, the Navy way is that the bridge team is supposed to work together as the ship approaches her turn, plotting positions and calling off ranges something like this: “1000 yards to turn - 500 yards to turn - 300 yards to turn” and so on until the turning point is reached, when it’s something like “initiate turn”. Apparently quite a procedure; any of you Navy guys out there who know the exact procedure please comment below and tell us how you do it today, as it’s been many years since I heard that story.

Regardless of this being the “Navy way”, however, my friend was a trained, licensed professional Pilot and really felt that he knew how to handle this job. Here was his method: watch the ship approach the mark; at the appropriate moment, say “Right 20 - ease to 10 - amidships. . . steady”. Period. He completed the maneuver safely - and was promptly thrown off the conn “until you can learn to do it properly”. With some difficulty, he kept his mouth shut.

I’m not knocking the Navy, though that's a funny story. But I do wonder about the effect of such large bridge teams. I think there may have been a similar “crowded bridge” effect at work during the Costa Concordia disaster. Maybe having a lone Mate on watch, bereft of even a lookout, is going too far in the opposite direction! But at least that lone Mate knows who’s responsible for the ship’s navigation. I think it would take strong leadership and focus by the OOW on a Navy bridge to maintain the team’s focus, shut out static, and effectively use all those resources. Maybe that was lacking in these two cases.

Have you had any experiences with large bridge teams? Can you tell us about it? Please comment below!