December 25, 2014

Fatigue- chasing tail again.

1990 article (Michael Grey in Lloyd's List)

I have no doubt about what will happen next in the quarter-century old ongoing farce that propagates the notion that shipping has taken concrete steps to stop crews suffering chronic fatigue immediately- and finally. For those who do not believe that this travesty is at least that old, I post, as I had done here a few years ago- a scan of a 1990 article from Lloyds List written by the always delightful Michael Grey. It is titled ‘Fatigue facts jolt shipping.’ 

Twenty-five years later, like Bond’s martini, shipping continues to be shaken, not stirred, by this issue of fatigue.

Three years ago, after those of us at sea had already suffered years of chronic fatigue backed by rubber stamped (by the Flag State) Minimum Safe Manning Certificates and fabricated rest hour spreadsheets (I told one manager that filling those sheets was making me fatigued), the IMO adopted yet another resolution that would solve our problems. It revised the Principles of Safe Manning, where it did its usual urging, recommending, and requesting before coming to the critical point known forever to sailors- that the safe manning of a ship needed to take into account more than just navigation and emergencies. Properly manned ships should, the recommendations said, take into account ship specialisation, level of automation, frequency of port calls, length of voyages, crew involvement in cargo operations, the ship’s security plan requirements- and, course, the two biggies, maintenance and administrative work.

As usual, barring a few countries, nobody paid much attention to the IMO, which consequently made some amendments to SOLAS and ISM, effectively seeking to make things mandatory. These changes- that redefined the concept of safe manning- will come into force next month, a fact that has quite a few quite excited. Including the ITF, which says that Flag States and shipowners must now safely and transparently meet the unique operational and administrative needs of each vessel.

Hah. If only I had a penny for every time I have heard similar sentiment, I would not need to be fatigued anymore. I have faith in the system, though- a faith that nothing much will change soon. That faith is reinforced by those shoreside creative geniuses today who are creating paper showing crew overtime as ‘bonus’, to avoid Port State scrutiny of actual crew working hours; no doubt they will come up with more such gems.

My critics tell me, however, that things have changed, and that- also with the MLC- crew issues like fatigue are  at least now strongly on the industry’s agenda. That may be so, but my rebuttal to that is that the enemy of action is not inaction; the enemy is insidious inordinate delay and selective or self-serving implementation.

So, for my money, nothing substantial will change- or it will change so slowly that the next generation of seafarers will be dead, or at least gone from the industry, before anything useful really happens. For my money, the game- the dance, if you prefer- will go on. The IMO recommends. A couple of years pass, during which duplicitous owners and managers and a lethargic and an inconsistent Port State apparatus conspire to selectively and cleverly circumvent the recommendations. In response, the IMO toughens up. It deliberates and eventually mandates new regulations to be effective a year or two down the line. More years pass, with everybody congratulating themselves that the problem has been solved. Then, at the dawn of the implementation date of the new regulation, two things happen. One, most in the industry creatively and maliciously tries to dilute the regulations, pushing the envelope as much as is possible. Two, sundry noise is made by assorted interested parties about facets of the impending deadline that are detrimental to their partisan interests.

Then, to complete the never-ending circle, a couple of years later- by now, around a decade later since the latest round of the game began- the IMO tries to plug regulatory loopholes and  recommends changes. The next round of the game is then on; everybody goes back to step A. Everybody starts dancing again.

I once had a dog that used to chase its tail with impassioned concentration, whirling endlessly round and round in my living room, not even stopping after he bumped into furniture and hurt himself. He played the game for abnormally long periods. He used to end up fatigued, panting heavily with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth.

The poor mutt never caught his tail. I often wondered if he really wanted to. 



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