June 27, 2008

Inhuman Error

Twenty ports a month in the North Sea, English Channel, Mediterranean and off the Bosphorous. Thick fog almost all the time off Northern Europe. Master living on the bridge at sea. A small short manned ship. No pilotage except when compulsory. High winds in almost all Mediterranean ports. Pressure to meet schedules. Inexperienced third mate, fourth engineer and two AB’s. Not enough competent crew to steer the ship even while under pilotage. Specialised ship, so almost the entire deck officers and crew involved in cargo, including unlashing and lashing alongside, during approaches and in rivers and locks. Almost weekly inspections or statutory surveys, port inspections and others, the ship having been just taken over from a previous management who let it run down as usual. Company refusing Master's urgent requests for an additional experienced navigator. Charterers used to running their own ships where the European crew works on a two week rotation and permanent wages and expect similar initiative from the crew. Our crew on board working on a nine month contract, officers 4/6 months. Cold as a witches unmentionables in winter. High seas in the Bristol Channel, some Mediterranean ports and in the North Sea, resulting in some ports being occasionally closed, and ships steaming at slow speed for a day or two in heavy weather just off port. No sleep. No rest for the wicked.

This has happened to many of us, including me.

And this relentless stress, fatigue and constant multitasking is, I firmly believe, one of the main causes of human error.

Recent insurance and P&I statistics highlight the increase in casualty rates and, since money is involved, ring alarm bells. Insurance companies are tightening up, statistics are being compiled and premia and calls recalculated. The complex financial structure that makes for insurance at sea is worried.
Human error is usually cited as the biggest cause of casualties; and though fatigue, stress and other such factors may be sometimes mentioned in passing or obliquely, this is not really dwelled upon. It literally rocks the boat, asks uncomfortable questions and is best left swept under the carpet. It also costs shipowners money to fix this problem. It is almost as if human error is taken in isolation; it seems like a well rested and not overstressed seafarer has made a blunder because of his innate stupidity, contributory factors not being mentioned too loudly.

Some factors impacting safety of navigation are well chronicled because they are easier to highlight. Drunkenness or inebriation. Poor seamanship, and here, the ‘ordinary practices of seamen’ is a catch all phrase, nothing being ordinary these days with seamen being relegated to administrative roles for much of their 'free' time. Other reasons sound good too: Poor navigation. Command breakdown.

Here are some others which I hope some of the braver casualty investigators have highlighted at some point in time: I believe these are major factors in declining safety standards at sea today.

· Lower professional standards of seamanship and navigation. Very limited use of doubling watches, since two times zero is still zero. Result, Master spending an absurd amount of time on the bridge on short sea trades.

· Poor training standards. The industry’s penchant for adding fancy course titles with poor content and delivery must be stopped at once.

· Navigating officers’ over-reliance on electronic gizmos and under reliance on common sense and basic navigation. The VHF and, increasingly the AIS, being used as a collision avoidance tool, basic navigational rules and common sense is being ignored too often.

· Masters and navigating officers’ incomplete understanding of the Rules of the Road

· Administrative overload. Enough has been written about this, ad nauseum. Maybe all feel that by ignoring the problem it will go away. It won’t; it will bite back.

· Management passing the buck to the ship, effectively daring the Master to use his prerogative to stop the ship with all the resultant fallout. In this respect, the catch all ‘Master’s overriding authority’ is being used by all shore personnel, whether in insurance, operations, ship management, Class, Flag States or the IMO, to simply pass the buck. At the same time, countries are backtracking from traditional maritime commitments, criminalising seafarers, adding ponderous, arbitrary and unilateral laws to their arsenal, and making the IMO partly redundant. This is a recipe for disaster.

· Shortmanning or inappropriate manning for the ship and run. Manning certificates are a joke, and one can short man ships to dangerous levels and still exceed the requirements by about twenty five percent. No allowance is made for the trade or mandated rest periods on a hectic run. The blind are leading the blind on this one.

· Poor communication and language difficulties with multinational crews. Poor ability to multitask in such an environment, which is essential in any emergency.

· Poor maintenance of machinery. In these booming days it is not the cost of repair which is a factor, but the time for repair. Ships are surreptitiously drifting just off busy sea lanes in areas of quickly changing weather catching up on machinery maintenance in fits and starts. There is no time in port. And, while there is no time at sea either, one can perhaps steal a couple of hours on charter to quickly do some maintenance. And hang safety for awhile.

· Commercial pressures resulting in ships reaching open seas in all kinds of weather before they are battened down and therefore seaworthy.

· Lack of dissemination of critical information, often intentionally by operations or charterers. I have been asked to call a small port in South America when everybody and his mother in law knew that there was no water in the channel. Except me, the Master. Also, nobody told me that the NAABSA clause had been added to the charter party, and it was customary for ships to sit on the mud at the berth. The agent was surprised, then bemused, that I did not know. The Chief Engineer was not, at least the first time I told him, in a hurry, to prepare for shutdown.

· Substandard or unsafe ports/berths. These days, anybody builds a finger into the sea and calls it a terminal. I could write a book on this one. How each call, every two weeks to a port, used to be a harrowing affair, with strong weather and incompetent pilots at a borderline unsafe terminal, the office communicating every ten minutes with me expecting immediate answers and applying commercial pressure. In actual fact, any sensible person would have agreed with me that that terminal was unsafe at that time of the year. We often talk about substandard seafarers. Perhaps we should talk of substandard charterers, management and terminals more often.

· Incompetent or inexperienced pilots.

Unfortunately, Safety is a culture and not a checklist. Besides, a concerted approach is required to address this, with at least Management working in tandem with the Master, and not second guessing him in real time.
The fact that communications is easier is a handicap; I have lost count of the number of times I have had to indicate to managers that I was too busy handling an emergency to be communicating. Sometimes I seem to be giving an almost ball by ball commentary to them by phone, email and fax.

As to making a ‘quick’ report in writing as per some elaborate reporting format which has been designed without practical thought, I once had to tell a gentleman that if I made that report now as he wanted I would be making a longer one later since we were still in a pretty hairy situation, and I needed to concentrate there.
That seemed to strike a chord, or ring a bell, or whatever, but I did not get any more calls.

I have a term for this kind of communication which is detrimental to basic safety: Paralysis by communication.

Meanwhile, we prefer to pay higher premia and justify it on the bottom line. We prefer to ignore some of the root causes (a term we otherwise love with gay managementspeak abandon) of casualties. We prefer to jail seafarers for being on the wrong junk at the wrong time.

Maybe I need to remind us that, along with Human Error, there is a term in Maritime and Admiralty Law called 'Error in Management' too. And, as far as I can recall, limitations on liability are traditionally low or nonexistent with that one.

Maybe we should just call this one the 'Error of the Untouchables'. That should set the cat among the seagulls.



June 22, 2008

Bipolar disorder

(Also known as manic depression. Extreme changes in mood, energy levels and behavior.)

Right up into the early eighties, we sailors used to look forward to the next port. Often, after weeks of sailing, it meant a break from monotony and sometimes from hardship; many ships were old and usually without air conditioning or heating. We looked forward the long port stays, working like dogs during our watches or during the day and then going ashore like kings. Communicating home was another attraction of making port; letters came only there, phone calls were possible, sometimes with great difficulty, only in port. Shopping, drinking, and otherwise letting our hair down was expected, even encouraged. A German Master I sailed with as an officer used to get angry if he saw me on board outside my watch keeping hours. An Indian Chief Officer used to tell us cadets, with the usual profanity thrown in, “Roger off from the ship. If I see you on board you will be chipping the whole night”.

In short, we behaved like sailors on shore leave, and it didn't make us poorer seamen because of it.

There was not much thought given to port officials, the US Coast guard, superintendents and surveys. Those happened anyway, nothing too alarming to worry about. And Superintendents, in Indian companies at least, came aboard only in Indian ports. Foreign company bosses were not so problematic or egotistical, and not under the pressure they are today.

Sometime, in the eighties and later, things changed. The recession hit. Ships and cargo became more unitised. Turnaround times decreased rapidly. The industry learned how to run ships cheaply, with minimum maintenance and short manning. One started hearing the adage “A ship does not make money in port” more often. Regulations fell on us like a ton of bricks. Chief Stewards and then Radio Officers disappeared. Workloads increased dramatically and paperwork increased to ridiculous levels. The ISM code, and later, the ISPS code, hit us. Checklists checkmated the most intrepid. Short manning now became the norm. Criminalisation of the profession became more common and dreaded. Short of going to the loo, we had checklists for everything. (Aside- a hilarious Chief Officer I sailed with had this checklist, too, stuck in his cabin. Right from opening the door in the beginning to using air freshener at the end, everything was covered and had to be ticked!)

As port calls started being measured in hours rather than days, as regulations and paperwork choked the fun out of sailing, as clerks and minor officials were given powers disproportionate to their knowledge and responsibility and as everybody from ashore became a pain in the neck in one way or another, as all this happened, the fear and distaste for the shore establishment, from boarding officials to Superintendents to the Coast Guard to everybody in between, became more widespread.

Most seafarers today prefer long sailings over long port stays any day. Simply put, there is minimum interference from the shore establishment at sea. Sure, there are the usual emails, some horrendously long winded and autocratic. (Companies should really put in place an email policy which stresses that the shore establishment is a support function, not a control one). Sure, at sea there are maintenance schedules and watches to keep, ubiquitous paperwork to catch up on, periodical and ever increasing reports to be made… but there is no chance of a clerk landing up and threatening to fine the ship because a garbage can has its lid displaced, or an environment guy saying that the tyres of vehicles being imported carry 'foreign' dirt and therefore he will stop cargo operations unless 'the Captain can be cooperative'. There is no chance of a ship chandler's delivery guy calling up the Master on his mobile and even satellite phone (the Master having just gone to sleep after two days without any) and asking the crew to be sent down to receive stores. There is no chance of a Ministry of Agriculture functionary demanding ten cartons of cigarettes because she found a spider in the provision room rice. There is no chance of a Superintendent arriving for two days with an agenda that should cover ten. No chance, also, of a Port State Control inspection which was done ten days ago and is being repeated now to 'train some of our youngsters, hope the Captain doesn't mind'. There is no chance of being bombarded with a dozen different people all of whom seem to think the crew exists just to service their often minor needs. There is no chance of being mentally and physically stressed by people one wouldn't give the time of day to in other, different circumstances.

No exaggeration. All that has happened to me, and surely to almost everybody at sea.

The distaste and dismissiveness for the 'other side' is not limited to seafarers. An ex Master now in port operations gleefully and dismissively says, "We visit the ship, but we don't even go up to see the Captain". A senior functionary of a huge manning company says, with less tact and even lesser sense, "If seafarers behave like prostitutes they will be treated as such". A charterer's representative takes great pleasure in seeing the Master ten times a day for minor matters which could have been sorted out at the gangway; he also needs a more comfortable cabin to spend time in, given that today's ships are not built with well appointed spare ones. A US Coast guard inspector wants everything including six drills yesterday, when the ship berthed ten minutes ago. A ship chandler's delivery guy arrives with parts of his body apparently on fire, and knocks on all crew and officer cabin doors at three in the morning, the crew having just gone to sleep after arrival. He is kept waiting six hours, which increases communication with his boss remarkably well.

And, in these days of mobile phones, well, they just don't seem to stop ringing. Not unless you switch them off, which once created some friction between yours truly and the Managers of the ship, who seemed to believe that a telephone operators job was part of my job description. Things were sorted out only after I threatened to throw the phone overboard instead of switching it off. Batteries and charger included.

Antagonism within an industry is hardly uncommon. Operations and management are often at loggerheads everywhere, fighting turf wars and ego battles and the usual useless things. But in the end, in almost all other industries except shipping, saner brains realise that they need to work together and not against each other. Hang together, or we will surely hang separately.

This does not work in Shipping for one reason and one reason alone. The crew and management have no long term association plans worth speaking of. Even after ten back to back contracts, nobody at sea really belongs to an organisation. Everybody is temporary, and the maximum that can usually happen is that a seafarer will not return or will not be recalled. Besides the alarm this may cause in these days of shortages, nobody, deep down, really cares about that.

Besides, we in Shipping have a unique disorder, akin to a manic depressive or bipolar disorder. Depending on shortages or excesses of manpower and the imperatives of demand and supply in this cyclical industry, we treat each other either as prospective bridegrooms for our daughters, or something the cat brought in.

Small wonder, then, that this is an additional negative for a youngster contemplating the sea as a career. And, while one can always blame the economic boom in India for the increasing unattractiveness of the sea as a career option, we ignore the perception of Shipping as a backward profession at our own peril. And this perception, that it treats its professionals like bonded labour being sent to the Middle East, is not without justification.

Fix this, my friends, or we will never be home free.


June 14, 2008

Monster's Maritime Ball

In the last few weeks, panicked voices from the manning world within the Industry, like postcards written from the edge, seem to have become shriller. Perhaps this is an illusion; perhaps it is just coincidence that a few reports and surveys have been published recently. The Ship talk recruitment survey was one. The Drewry/PAL associates report, "Manning 2008" was another, and of course, Lloyd's Lists' "Seafarers 2008" event in Singapore was, perhaps, the icing on the cake, or the final nail in the coffin, depending on how maudlin we maritime folk were feeling.

And, depending on whom you read when, or what event you attended where, alarming figures are bandied about. Thirty four thousand officers short already this year. An additional sixty thousand required over the next four years. A thousand officers short in the Indian domestic market; after some time these numbers, like Bill Gates' billions, overwhelm and don't mean much at all, except, of course, that phrases like 'unprecedented manning crisis' stay in one's mind.

So, let us reduce all this cacophony to one statement: In the next four years, almost ninety thousand qualified officers are projected to be additionally required by our world's shipping fleet.

Additional to what we have, and seemingly out of thin air. No wonder there is an acute sense of panic out there. All seems dark and gloomy.

Now and to paraphrase Santana, all you sinners, put the lights on and take several deep breaths, because this is what I see happening:

One, as the honchos at Bear Stearns will tell you, every boom has a bubble and every rose has a thorn. With the world's largest consumer, the USA, in recession and with growth rates in India and China slowing down a bit, trade is likely to drop. Figures out of Europe and Japan are not too encouraging either; in addition, inflationary pressures and oil prices are high. The food crisis worldwide and upcoming elections in the USA and India will result in politicians becoming more protectionist: witness the Indian governments on/off policies in recent times on everything from cement to sugar to food grains.

Not good signs. I am not saying that trade will stop, far from it, but a slowdown is likely. Boom graphs cannot be extrapolated to infinity. The consequence of such a slowdown is likely to ease the pressure on manpower to an extent; how much, of course, remains the million dollar question.

Two, the Industry will press for, and win, even smaller manning requirements from Flag States. This process has already begun. Indian authorities have recently reduced the requirement for one navigating officer on bulkers "on a trial basis" (this probably means that unless there is a major accident with a consequent hue and cry, the shorter manning will continue). There are already rumblings about reducing the number of engineers on board. Questions are even being raised about the Chief Engineer's role. My opinion is this: we need a Chief Engineer like we need a Master, because we in the industry need a fall guy when things go wrong. Who will fulfill that critical role?

Three, we will drift inexorably towards 'Creative Manning'. Place a BCom graduate as admin officer and remove the third mate. Place two welders (call them fitters, though) and remove a junior engineer. No Chief Engineer available, can we sail short 'on dispensation? The aim of the exercise will be to reduce the number of certified officers and engineers on board at any given time to the bare minimum as provided for in the Safe Manning certificate.

Four, and while still on the manning certificate, commercial pressure on Flag States to 'review' these certificates will increase. Review downwards, obviously. We will get creative here again, showing, on paper, non existent technical and operational shore support to persuade Flag States that skeleton crews will still be in line with all rules, including the STCW ones on rest periods. As things get worse, some owners may even threaten to change to more malleable Flags if their demands are not met.

Five and related, increased pressure on statutory agencies to do two things: Reduce sea time requirements for trainees and also pressure to pass them through the examination system faster. These pressures are already underway and are nothing new. We need certified warm bodies now, says the industry; we don't really care how competent they are.

Six, pressure on Class and internal auditors not to examine systemic non conformities too closely. We are short manned and it is tough to get good people, you know, so don't push things too much. Let the facade remain.

Seven, faster promotions, shorter contracts and higher wages on offer. We can have crews fatigued beyond the STCW convention but we can't have them burnt out. They have to return, though we will try fair and foul means to extend their tenures on board. Sometimes we prefer to burn them out even if they don't return to us. And we would rather promote before time even if it adds another less than competent officer to our fleet.
Seagoing wages will continue to rise till the business model can't take it any more, or till ….

Eight, China will, sooner or later, begin to supply manpower to the maritime world. The Philippines will increase its market share. Officers from the Philippines, some already under fire for perceived lower standards, will increase. This is because many Filipinos have the English language advantage which Indian crews often do not. Indian ship managers have already pointed to the Chinese storm on the horizon; given the disparity in the two (actually three, if you include the Philippines) nationalities wages and difficulties in getting new Indian bodies into the industry, this is just a matter of time.

Nine, many in the industry will revert to a bygone era's worst practices. Sitting on mariners' passports and documents, not relieving seafarers on time, promising the moon and delivering the gutter and poaching like drunken gypsies are tactics some are well experienced in.
Many seafarers will get more and more unreasonable; many of these prima donnas will skip jobs for a few dollars more, make outlandish demands and otherwise behave unprofessionally. This will feed the unprofessional on the other side of the fence; ship managers who will impatiently await a time when supply exceeds demand, so they can, in turn, treat seafarers badly. As children do, each side will bawl and say, "But he started it".

Ten and a critical assumption here, which is this: The Maritime Industry, with its present small resource pool of Officers, will fail to address, in the short term, the Officer crisis with any authority on its own. This is because of two main reasons (though I am sure we can all list several more)

a) It is fire fighting time now; issues pertaining to immediate shortages will consume the industry, not five year plans.
b) The maritime industry has no history of managing manpower well, and it does not seem to have the will or expertise to do so this time around either. Supply and demand have always balanced out in spite of our managers, not because of them. Maybe the Chinese will balance the scales this time.

In all this drama, my fear is this. At a time when ships are getting more complex, sea lanes are getting busier and casualty figures are rising, all these 'solutions', unplanned and inevitable as they may be, will cascade into an alarming downward spiral in safety standards. Less experienced officers, faster promotions, untested nationalities, pressures on statutory and non statutory organisations and cuts in present skeleton crews will all contribute to a world fleet which will be increasingly unsafe. Safer seas and cleaner oceans will remain a slogan and a pipe dream.

It is ironic that the industry, whether in boom times or bust cycles, always seems to lower quality; in a boom by leaning towards cutting corners in skilled manpower to keep ships moving and in a bust by cutting corners in ship maintenance to save money. Ironic, but not surprising, because we are conditioned to only looking at the short term. The long term doesn't matter, we think. In the long term we are all dead.

At the moment, the industry is in a bit of panic, like the man who dreams that a monster is sitting on his chest, trying to choke him to death. The man awakes in great fear, and actually sees the monster sitting on him! The man cries aloud "What is going to happen to me??!!??"

The monster grins at him and says "Don't ask me, it's your dream."


published in http://www.marexbulletin.com/


June 08, 2008

The colour of blood.

Right through the nineties, I seemed to be assigned ships which were predominantly plying in the Malacca Straits and South East Asian waters, and some of these never stirred out of the Straits and Indonesian waters adjacent to them. And, right through the nineties, the Straits and surrounding areas had almost daily multiple incidents of piracy, or attempted piracy.

We were boarded once, probably by amateurs, because a foolhardy chief officer could chase them away with a raised voice and a searchlight. Other company ships were not so lucky.
Ships used to call on the VHF to report attacks all the time, and daily. I remember one of these incidents was almost within the Sultan Shoal anchorage area; regulars there will know that the North West bound traffic lane there passes less than a mile from anchored vessels. This is practically Singapore harbour. Surely something could be done here to assist the ship?

The response? The dedicated anti piracy VHF channel effectively saying "There is nothing we can do right now", and calling, later, to collect data for some babu in some crusty office to collate, analyse and use with authority at the next anti piracy meeting.
Seamen died during that time in piracy attacks, and later. Fortunately not too many at first unless they resisted. Of course, later there was Aceh and the separatist movement there, when things escalated and more sailors died. Later and suddenly, pirates became terrorists in the world's myopic yes, though dead seamen stayed dead. Later, everybody suddenly discovered that these pirates were the bad guys. Later, we were expected to hear, all wide eyed and impressed, how various authorities established that links existed between these pirates, sorry, terrorists, across the world. Later, we were meant to assume this was a new war.

Somalia has not had a government since the early 90's. Fishing boats started getting hijacked a few years later while on the Somali coast, and merchant vessels a few years after that. No real action, besides paying ransoms for the ship, cargo and crew, was taken by the world or shipping community.

Contrast this to sometime around 2002, when I was on a regular run from Kenya to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The International Maritime Bureau used to send daily warnings asking ships to stay at least a 100 miles from the Somali coast. Ships closer to the mainland were sometimes hijacked, sure, but the French Navy patrolled the 3300 mile long coast. The German navy, too, as part of the 'Allied' fleet (love this term, please always remember that the Allies are the good guys), seemed to be in attendance at the entrance to the Red Sea and around Aden. Military aircraft used to fly low over this area and check out ships in transit. We were regularly called on the VHF, in international waters and by the US navy, and particulars taken.
Remember this was after the New York World Trade Centre attacks, when the 'war on terror' was taking off, or freaking out, depending on your point of view.

As a seaman, and in my experience, many ports and waters have been dreaded for decades. Authorities like to hide behind semantics, but Robbery, Armed Robbery, Piracy, Hijacking and Terrorism are just words to a seaman when he is at the wrong end of a knife or a gun. The southern Philippines, the Sri Lankan coast, certain African and South American countries, the Indonesian archipelago, the Malacca straits and parts of the South China sea have been known, sometimes for decades, to be piracy prone, even infested, and supported by powerful people ashore.
Authorities within some countries have been strongly suspected to be involved. Or elements within governments. Various international fora have raised these issues, and, as our industry often does, raised them impotently. At the end of the day, insurance covers everything, don't you know?

Go back a decade or two. I remember reading that, during the worst of the Iran Iraq war, more than a seaman a day was being killed, usually in rocket or such attacks in the area. Unfortunately, some of those years of sailor casualties coincided with the recession in Shipping. Seamen's lives became even cheaper then; nobody was really interested in a boring body count.
Seventy one merchant ships were attacked in 1984 alone. Unarmed civilians were killed, while the industry, the IMO and the world community stood by wringing its hands and mouthing platitudes. A couple of tankers were supposed to have been sabotaged by the Iranians, or the Iraqis, depending on your affiliation, and were bleeding oil into the sea. Alarm bells were rung at the possibility of the potential for disastrous ecological damage.

Of course, we were shown the usual pictures of seagulls drenched in oil and the environmental fallout of that war. I don't remember seeing the body of a single dead seaman. Oil stained seagull photographs are a favourite tear jerker with the media. Dead seamen don't evoke the same response, of course. But, as much as I like animals and seagulls, if I see one more oily bird I may puke.

So much for history. Let's fast forward to the present. Today, we ask all our seamen to implement the ISPS vigorously and with great gusto. We ask them to participate in the war against terror. We ask them to forget semantics.
Certain countries ask us to forget our dead comrades and grieve for their nationals instead. Not only do they not ask us nicely, they stop our shore leaves while doing so. We can bring massive ships capable of doing huge damage into their ports safely, but we can't be trusted once we are there.

Once again, the industry watches, impotent and uncaring. Once again, a ship is hijacked with ten Indians on board off Somalia. Once again, the crew survives because they are lucky. Once again, we are told about the fractured nature of our business, and how difficult it is for authorities to coordinate things to any degree of satisfaction. Once again, the spiel is dished out. Once again, the assumption is that the world is doing the best that it can.

So let me ask you this. What would have happened if a passenger ship had got boarded and robbed during the nineties in the Malacca Straits? Would any action have been taken? I can see the headlines and the sanctimonious talk show hosts going to town with this. The pirates were too smart to hit a passenger ship, of course, because they knew there would be fallout. But, what if? What if a couple of passengers were killed? Remember Achille Lauro and the military response later?

Or, what if a tanker ran aground 5 miles from Singapore or Malaysia after a pirate attack, with crew incapacitated or dead? What if we had more oil soaked seagulls? Do you think the world would have taken action then? Do you think our industry would have remained impotent?

My beef is not with the Western world, or the double standards prevailing there which we Indians have seen enough of. Those are outsiders. My beef is with my own brethren and contemporaries who have failed to fulfill their responsibilities, including many in my own country.
Actually, they haven't failed. Failure is when you try and don't succeed. Actually it is worse, because my colleagues haven't even tried.

Let's face it; this is an industry which regulates as much as it can. It regulates the number of checklists and frequency of equipment checks and drills. It regulates maintenance schedules, alcohol intake and training and procedures for everything under the sun. Hell, it even regulates the colour of the lids on segregated garbage cans. Safe ships, cleaner oceans and all that jazz, remember?

It does not, however, even begin to get a handle on the man made risks a seaman faces (natural risks are passé'). It does not even begin to regulate on any single issue which effects a seaman's well being, leave alone his life.

The ISPS code is brought out within weeks and months of an attack on mainland USA. The industry is dragged into it kicking and screaming, prepared or not. Practicality of implementation is thrown to the winds. Officials in international organisations are as usual petrified that if powerful countries act unilaterally, they might well become redundant. (Usefulness can be debated, redundancy seems final).
Tell me then, how come no quick and concrete action is similarly taken on seafarer fatigue issues which were first raised by respected organisations almost twenty years ago? The industry dithered for years, and even now pays lip service to the STCW rest period rules.

One of the largest manpower suppliers to the world of shipping, India, does not even have an apex body which coordinates seaman's welfare and interests. Associations which exist are toothless, clueless and useless. Most are social or networking fora, nothing more. One or two State run ones are proven corrupt; officials have been found fraudulent.

So and anyway, folks, what we are saying are this: Seamen's lives, like those of citizens of some third world (oops, developing) countries, don't really have much value. And if you are a seaman from a third world country, you count least of all. Even worse, you count least in your own colleague's eyes. Your life is insured, sure, but your life counts for less than a life in the western world, it counts for less than your colleague's life in Mumbai, and it may even count less than a seagull's life.

Because, you see, in the case of the seagull and the others, the colour of their blood is white.

first published in www.marexbulletin.com