Thursday, January 22, 2009

PUT A LITTLE SKIN IN THE GAME

The title of this Post was taken from a comment made by the new American President in a recent interview. I thought it was pretty good so borrowed it.

When I started my sea career as a 16 year old cadet in 1953 it was a different world and a very different maritime world. No this isn't one of those Posts glorifying "the good old days" because overall things are much much better today. However we did have, back then, something that really stood to us. All of the Masters and most of the senior officers had served at sea during "The War". Everybody then knew what that was of course but today it is World War Two. As a 16 year old I did not much appreciate the strict discipline and formality in running European merchant ships at that time. Pretty much all the senior officers had naval ranks and awards from WW2, which were very modestly held and rarely displayed. Many were also very stressed people, they had been through hell and survived but wounded. These men just made do by grinning and bearing it, there was no medical backup in the merchant navies. Many did tend to drink far too much and all looked elderly.

It is only now that I am some twenty years older than those officers were then that I realise they were in their early 50's. With all this we learned from them every aspect of seamanship, navigation, and how to command a ship that it was possible to learn. This learning was accomplished by following the traditions of the sea and keeping simple accurate records such as the Logbook and standing Bridge watches. And so it was that as a 19 year old fourth officer I had to give orders one day to a bunch of hard case seamen. These were the same chaps that had been teasing the hell out of me a couple of years before when I worked on deck beside them. To my complete astonishment they turned around and said "Yes Sir" and we set off together to do the work. It seemed I had arrived!! The "going to sea"training had been absorbed bit by bit, day by day, without any ISM Code, training record books or all the things we have today. If you do not understand, you see the fact was that they knew that I knew my stuff because we had worked on deck together. I was giving them orders from knowledge not because I now had a thin gold stripe on my sleeve. As I continued up the ladder to Master that learning and working together continued. Indeed it continues today but from a different perspective.

My recent Posts have received some comments, thankfully because writers always love that. But it is these comments which make me wonder just what values and understanding current seafarers have. Some clearly came from persons with little or no knowledge of seafaring however one serving Master admires the piracy action of Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherds. This surprised me, any of my Masters would have strung him from the yardarm!! Well they would have felt like doing it anyway!! So social mores change and sometimes, just sometimes that is good but command responsibility never changes. I feel sorry for the crew sailing under that Master because I do not feel he has their best interests at heart. My personal reply to him is in the Post comments. In command that is your first duty and if you look after your crew then you in turn will be looked after by them, particularly when you really need it. Your ship will be run well and your own career will be much more pleasant and successful.

The Posts were triggered by the actions of MS "Steve Irwin", CAPT. Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd ship. In turn the Posts triggered the comments. Clearly the MS "Steve Irwin" is a poorly run ship and we know this because they choose to show us on the series "Whale Wars". There is currently a film crew from Animal Planet documenting "Whale Wars 2" so once again they are putting themselves on display. Sadly both the Australian and Netherlands Governments, as the Port State and the Flag State, have decided to allow this disgusting affair to continue undisciplined. This in spite of ISM Code, IMO Regulations, and STCW which the rest of seafarers must follow at great personal expense for the required training program. That has been discussed in our previous Posts so we will not belabour the issue again.

Clearly the persons-in-charge of the national maritime authorities did not have the training that I had or if they did it has got lost in their bureaucracy. It may be that you feel this Sea Shepherd Dutch pirate ship should be taken off the High Seas. If so please contact your professional organizations, national maritime authorities and "put a little skin in the game".

Good Watch.