July 25, 2013

The MLC and flexible responsibility

President Borromeo of InterManager- the trade association of ship managers- asked Flag States a few weeks ago to exercise ‘maximum tolerance’ and ‘flexibility’ in the implementation of the MLC. Intermanager claims to represent the management of almost 5000 ships and to be ‘responsible’ for some quarter of a million seafarers, as its website says. It feels that, ‘as the MLC requires total commitment from its global stakeholders, restraint and a common interpretation of the rules needs to be seen from inspecting authorities.’ 

Apprehensive about disruptions to ship’s operations and schedules post the convention coming into effect, Borromeo says that “InterManager welcomes the entering into force of MLC but remains concerned that many of the world’s major ports which our members’ vessels visit, lie within the borders of countries which have yet to ratify the MLC such as the US, Korea, UK, Italy and Japan”. 

I can understand Intermanager’s angst; the words in shipping legislation often have a habit of running away with themselves, sometimes being interpreted- as in the Port State Control regime- in a dozen creative and unintended ways by lazy, arrogant or corrupt officials. The MLC has the potential to be pretty draconian unless common sense is applied. Which may explain some of Mr Borromeo’s concerns; there is scope for mayhem until everybody ratifies it and the dust settles, after which we can all presumably live happily ever after. 


My memory is poor; which is probably why I can’t recall such apprehensions being expressed before with, for example, the implementation of the useless ISPS convention, which has done little except add a layer of daily drudgery to a seaman’s life without adding an iota to a ship’s security. (Ask the hundreds of seamen that are still being taken hostage every year.) I don’t recall such public misgivings before the ISM Code was implemented either; that was the one that started the conversion of seamen into clerks, running around the ship with clipboards and checklists; that was the one that contributed immensely and directly to fatigue at sea. That was the one that asked ship’s crews to lie in writing. It still does; nothing has changed. 

No concern has been expressed, as far as I know, about the need, effectiveness or usefulness of the new courses that the STCW regime has slapped on seamen with every amendment for the last twenty years. As we speak, for example, hundreds of seamen are running around trying to get a certificate for the ‘Designated Security Duties’ course, another one in a long line of piffling courses that should have been aborted with extreme prejudice before it was born. 

The problem with selectively expressing concern, as Intermanager has done, is that organisational credibility takes a toss. People wonder about who is actually being sought to be protected. People know what the real agenda is. People suspect that asking for flexibility may be another way to wiggle out of the financial cost of responsibility.

Which reminds me. I take exception to Intermanager’s claim that the organisation’s members are ‘responsible for some 250,000 seafarers.’ 

With a small handful of notable exceptions that actually value their seamen, the driving force for most ship managers’- particularly  third party ship managers- is the retention of old clients and the addition of new ones. Other major forces include penny pinching, blinkered short term outlooks and the covering of the organisational backside. Responsibility for seamen is very low down on their agenda. I can tell you, from first-hand experience, that some of these managers- including many considered blue chip- care two hoots about the seamen working aboard their ships. But then you know that already.

Had I suffered from the misconception that these managers were ‘responsible’ for me in any way whatsoever, I would have died at sea long ago. 


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