Over the past year we have looked at the seafarer welfare issues and challenges affecting those at sea today. We’re building an A-Z of the most important … and those which are having the greatest impact – send us your own suggestions for entry into the Crewtoo A-Z.
Seafaring “A” is for…
Let’s get this rolling with:
Abandon ship – Perhaps the worst thing that can happen at sea is when an emergency becomes so serious that the only option is to abandon ship. The ship itself is always considered to be the “best lifeboat”, so when all options have been exhausted, only then will the order be given verbally by the Captain or next most senior officer to “ABANDON SHIP”.
Today, lifeboats and liferafts have improved massively – and so too has the ability to get a MAYDAY message received. Still though the idea of leaving the ship, to head away into the wide sea is one which is taken with trepidation.
Perhaps the most famous abandoning of a ship was that of the RMS Titanic – this has taken on mythical proportions. The band playing, scoundrels dressing as women to get in the boats, and of course tales of heroism too – as the open boats headed into the freezing North Atlantic.
Some believe that is where the idea of “Women and children first” – but actually the phrase first appeared in the 1860 novel Harrington: A Story of True Love, by William Douglas O’Connor based on the 1852 evacuation of the Royal Navy troopship HMS Birkenhead.
Able Seaman – As a member of the deck crew, an Able-bodied Seaman (AB) has a varied role on board a ship. An Able Seaman or “Efficient Deckhand” works as an unlicensed member of the deck department.
The work is often physically demanding, as these deck ratings are responsible for cleaning, sweeping, chipping of rust, polishing, etc. They help in loading and unloading of cargo and in port they assist in the mooring of the ship as well as taking a watch at sea. They are also members of the emergency team, lifesaving, damage control, and safety equipment.
The AB’s duties include standing watch, where the AB will steer the ship according to the Deck Officer’s instructions and generally assist the Officer on Watch, performing routine maintenance and docking duties, and any other tasks that Bosun tells them to do.
While this is a fairly lowly level on the vessel, it is possible for ABs to work their way up the rankings – spending more time at sea and gaining qualifications as they go. This is important, as there is currently a bit of a glut of crew – while there are predicted to be major shortages of officers in the years to come.
Accommodation – The ship is in essence like a factory, with one small problem – the small matter that people live there. So the accommodation takes on even more significance, with the cabins, offices, saloon, galley and recreational areas which can make life at sea either comfortable or miserable.
The standard of accommodation is subject to many rules and regulations, and these have become stricter since the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006) entered into force.
The Maritime and Labour Convention (MLC) makes sure seafarers have access to decent accommodation and recreational facilities when living on ships. The key aim is the provision of safe, decent space for seafarers to live and work on board ship
The MLC requirements cover a whole range of issues – from the size of rooms and other accommodation spaces; through to the heating and ventilation; noise and vibration, sanitary facilities; lighting; and even hospital accommodation.
In ships other than passenger ships, an individual sleeping room shall be provided for each seafarer – while this is progress, some have claimed it has made it even harder for crew to interact and build a community onboard.
Each cabin has to have adequate headroom and even furniture requirements, including a clothes locker and a drawer. While the master, the chief engineer and the chief navigating officer shall also have, in addition to their sleeping rooms, an adjoining sitting room or day room.
Admiralty Law – Shipping is a complicated business. Moving vast ships, full of cargo around the world’s seas calls for some equally robust rules in place, and these are laid down in “Admiralty Law”.
Admiralty law is a distinct body of law that governs maritime questions and offenses. It is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans.
It consists of the statutes and case precedents that govern legal disputes on navigable waters and at sea. Dealing with factual scenarios, such as commercial accidents resulting in damage to vessels and cargo, injuries, and hazardous material spills.
Admiralty law can also apply to piracy and criminal activity, and places “liens” against a ship, wake damage, and towage contracts. Following an accident, litigation can arise over who is responsible for the lost or damaged cargo and Admiralty law is at the heart of settling the disputes.
Legal recourse is the oil which lubricates the shipping chain together – knowing that if cargo is lost then action can be taken, or knowing that if someone damages your vessel, or the waters off your coast – it all becomes about liability and of how the law interprets blame.
Aground – Running aground is perhaps one of the cardinal sins of shipping. Time was when navigation was a clever, yet fairly unsophisticated business. Out at sea, in the wide oceans – there was enough wriggle room to make the best of star sights and the like…but when the shore hoves into view, or the water depth shallows out, that is when big trouble can start.
As the name suggests, when a ship stops floating and instead finds itself jammed onto rocks or even sand, then she is “aground” – there is not much which can be done. Hopefully the next rising tide will lift her clear – but sometimes a ship can find itself stuck fast.
Sometimes vessels can actually run aground on purpose – whether to “beach” when they are being scrapped, or to allow some form of maintenance, or to avoid a disaster. Recently the large car carrier “Hoegh Osaka” ran herself onto a sand bank off Southampton, as she had begun to list over dangerously, and the Captain decided they would be safer on the bank.
You might think that in these days of ECDIS and sophisticated navigation systems that groundings would be a thing of the past. Sadly not – in the past year or so there has been a number of high profile groundings. They occur all over the world, many in the great Lakes of Canada, off Australia, and off the Philippines too. Basically if there is a shallow bit of rock, then seafarers can always seemingly manage to find it – today, just as centuries ago.
Ahoy – Hello sailor just doesn’t really sound right these days, perhaps it is time for a resurgence of “Ahoy”, that old time greeting which sailors shouted out to all kinds of situations.
There is nothing which doesn’t sound more seamanlike with “ahoy” added to it. The word originally stemmed from the Middle English cry, ‘Hoy!’ and is a most adaptable word – “Ahoy” can also be used as a greeting, a warning, or a farewell.
Records back as far as the mid-1700s seem to feature the cry of ahoy, and there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest it goes further back still. Back to an age in which seafarers had to communicate at relatively close quarters.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone even originally suggested ‘ahoy’ be adopted as the standard greeting when answering the phone. We think this should be set for a resurgence, and will be answering all calls this way from now on.
Allision – Just like running aground, managing to hit fixed objects is a major no-no. Sadly it happens all too often.
Whereas a collision involves two or more moving objects, an “allusion” is a bit more embarrassing…just a ship managing to hit something that happens to be in the wrong place at the very wrong time.
You can get into some crazy legal minefields exploring the concept of fault when one object moves and another can’t. The “Oregon Rule”, states that when moving object hits a stationary object, the moving object is presumed at fault. Which would seem logical – but there are arguments that objects such as fenders can block waterways or be incorrectly installed…so not everything is always as it seems.
Better to be safe than sorry and keep clear…