The scandal connected to almost all of the many training ‘courses’ that seamen are required to suffer goes way beyond the way they are conducted- at least in India and other large maritime labour supplying countries- or their general uselessness. I question the very motive behind the mandatory rubbish that allows the corrupt rolling out of STCW courses like confetti at a drunken parade. I question, on the same grounds, the equally useless ‘in house’ courses that shipmanagement companies love to bill their principals for. To me, this kind of training is what makes ‘courses’ a dirty word.
The primary objective of the IMO, national administrators and shipmanagers is that training establishments and shipmanagement companies make quick money off captive seamen or clients; there appears to be no secondary objective. Nothing I have seen of the conduct of the new MLC mandated courses in India- and nothing I have heard about these new courses from other countries like the Philippines- has changed this simple fact that is well established for almost twenty years. Not that I was holding my breath waiting for change, anyway. Were you?
At sea, I have sometimes felt the need to be better informed. Usually on professional matters- shiphandling, machinery limitations, legal implications of my contemplated decisions and such. I have even felt, looking up in a flat calm at the stars on a moonless night in the Southern Indian Ocean, and looking down at the strangely inviting sea, that I wished I knew more about the cosmos above and the ocean below.
I never felt- not even once in those many years- that I wished I had attended more STCW courses or ‘in house’ (should be outhouse) training. I am not alone here, for once. The contempt with which most seamen treat ‘training’ in this part of the world has to be seen to be believed.
Actually, I was luckier than most; I fell between the cracks. Because I resisted these courses, because I was sailing in Command on FOC registered ships at the time STCW 95 was foisted on me and because the company I was with was better than most, I suffered less than many of my contemporaries did. I have never attended a Bridge Team Management course, for example, and even my first revalidation course was done three years too late. Later, I have refused to attend almost all outhouse training and was lucky that the demand-supply paradigm was in my favour when I was belligerent. I had to do the Security Officer training thrice, for different flags, though. What a load of crock that was. Multiplied by three.
Actually, what I could have done with, most of all when I was sailing in Command, was real-time information from shore. Vital information, and information a four year old was capable of accessing- and forwarding to me on the ship- at the click of a mouse. For example, in the years before this information was freely promulgated, location and frequency of pirate attacks off Somalia. We were on a fixed Red Sea- Kenya and Tanzania run, and were always in these waters. I asked the office; much hemming and hawing, but nothing happened.
There were many other instances when I could have done with recent information on a host of important-to-the-ship issues- port, coastal, regulatory or technical information, for example. I often asked for this, but, as usual, nothing was forthcoming. The implication was, usually, that I was being problematic or I did not know my job. After all, other ships were running without this stuff, weren’t they? Meanwhile, here are twenty useless emails we need immediate replies to, to keep you busy.
The fact that I was seeking information- that could have been sent to me after talking to a manufacturer for five minutes, for example- to do my job better was lost to those dense minds. Once, on a ro-ro ship in a hurricane in the North Atlantic, I asked for a ramp manufacturer’s input to figure out why the stern ramp was taking in water. I did not get it.
It was only then that lightning struck and I realised, with complete clarity, what was happening. The managers ashore and I were talking at cross-purposes. They thought they were the bosses of the ship; I knew they were support staff to it. The thing was this: by continuing to play their games while we were fighting for our lives, they were more than inefficient. They were well on their way to becoming the enemy.
Perhaps we should mandate some basic STCW and outhouse courses for those ashore- administrator and managers both. They will still be better off than seamen- at least they will be on salary while they attend.