January 02, 2014

Bashing on with obsolescence

I have sometimes made the case that outdated senior ex-sailors  in regulatory bodies, or those that have no seafaring background, should be required to sail on modern merchant ships every once in a while. That too many who pontificate, resolve, enact and audit on matters that affect the lives of everybody at sea do so without a clue of what it all translates to on the ground. I believe this outdated disconnect, and the fact that administrators- not up to date seamen and seawomen- make most major regulatory decisions is the reason why the IMO and national regulatory bodies like the Indian Directorate General of Shipping are so spectacularly ineffective. 

I now add another category of ex-sailors that should be required to sail periodically- all those in the education and training space. 

Besides administrators with no seagoing experience at all, tens of former Captains and Chief Engineers are deciding on maritime training syllabi today who have not stepped on a gangway in more than a decade. Hundreds of these folk are teaching everything from seamanship to navigation to engineering at training establishments across India. From the same somewhat incestuous group come examiners who pass or fail, every year, thousands of pre-sea cadets and ratings and officers appearing for competency exams.  I have come across a few of these gentlemen who have not sailed for a quarter of a century. And administrators, who are the final arbiters in so many matters of maritime education and training, haven’t sailed at all.

Meanwhile, the whole world has changed at sea. A basic example: an outdated ex-Master cannot even begin to know what a seaman’s basic port duties are on, say, a Ro-Ro ship today. How do they manage three ‘open’ access points- a gangway and two ramps- in the ISPS age? How do they, with less than half the crew the ex-Master sailed with when he sailed last, manage the explosion of operational requirements- crew changes, stores, bunkers, cargo lashings, machinery maintenance etc. etc.- in a port stay that is measured in hours, not, as he was used to, in days or weeks?  How is that damn ramp secured, anyway? How does the ECDIS marry with other equipment? How does the GMDSS really work? How are port state control inspections conducted? And so on, and on. And on. 

This lack of current knowledge can be extended to all operational, regulatory and knowledge related matters. The huge and very rapid changes we are used to seeing today, from the types of ships out there to changes in seamanship, navigation, engineering, systems, communications, the way business is now done at sea – in fact, in everything- means that a person will start becoming dated in half a decade or less. An outdated person should not be regulating or teaching or examining anybody professionally. QED. 

The solution to this, I think, is to make it mandatory for this new category of mine (educators and training regulators) to sail as observers (at least) for, say, a month every four or five years.  This stint should be on a modern ship on an international voyage, and it should involve at least two or three port calls. Sailors are not stupid; former senior officers are perfectly capable of quickly understanding the changes and the many ways these impact lives at sea.  ‘Administrators’ are not stupid either and, although I obviously don’t expect that they will become professional sailors in a month, I am hoping that a periodic stint at sea will at least give them an appreciation of what a sailor’s life is all about, and help them to make more informed decisions. Perhaps tone down the arrogance too. 

Of course there will be resistance to such a  proposal.  This will cost money; who will pay? Insurance premia are likely to be high for older ‘supernumeries.’ Lack of cabin space or lifeboat capacity will exclude many ships. Critics will come up with a million other reasons why this is a bad idea.
Maybe it is, but do you have a better one? Besides, worked right, this is not as expensive as it first appears, and it is not that impractical either. Think about it; it can be done.

The reasoning behind ex-sailors’ induction in maritime training is that they have been there and done that. The problem is ‘that’ has changed- and changes enormously every few years, and ‘that’ is now unrecognisable. They may have been there, but they haven’t done that. Not anymore. 

And the administrators haven’t done anything at all at any time, so they should not be the final arbiters in the training space for anything- that is a recipe for the failure that we see every day in maritime training. 



Reid Sprague said...

Dear Manu,

Quite a good article, and it bites uncomfortably close to home for me. I now work in the office. I last sailed professionally (on tugs) almost ten years ago. My last stint on the bridge of a ship was in the 1980s.

Since moving to the office I've taken advantage of opportunities to ride incoming LNG tankers. With my Stone Age ship background, this experience has been akin to visiting the bridge of a starship - very little resemblance to the oil tankers I sailed in!

Tugs have been a little less of a culture shock - I can run a tractor and it hasn't been so long - but I can see equipment changes sweeping through the industry, and I'd have some things to learn if I were to re-enter a tug's wheelhouse today. Give it another decade, and I'd be seriously out of date.

Maybe progressive or innovative training institutions could carry the ball on this. They invest in very expensive simulators, schoolships, etc. Keeping staff up-to-date on actual industry conditions should be considerably cheaper, and might help draw students to a school where they knew they could get the real "lowdown".

Thanks for a thoughtful article.

DEEPAK said...

As usual sir another eye opener for you.
As my self have done recently ETO course form india,I can say that the maritime institutes are far disconnected from the truth .
In my case of been Electro-techncial officer i can that the 4 months i send for the ETO course were all bullshit.
They technology has changed so much I mean by the time you learn one this their is another advance stuff ready to be fitted onboard

any how good article sir