Listen to the VHF and you will hear seafarers calling people “Sir” or “Ma’am” – giving polite respect and deference to those they deal with. But does this regard and esteem flow back the other way? We look at how respect can be rekindled in the shipping industry as we try to discover a little something to make those ashore sweeter.
We all know there are so many requirements on seafarers – from the rules and regulations, training demands and the fact that shipboard life demands a lot more than working in an office ashore.
But did you know there is a “Code of Conduct for the Merchant Navy”? Not many people do, and granted it is very British in nature – but it is worth a read for all that.
The Code was agreed between Nautilus International, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and the UK Chamber of Shipping and approved by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2013.
It sets out disciplinary rules and procedures which apply when you are employed to work on board ship, and tries to deal with the difficulties of seafaring being civilian occupation but one which imposes certain demands not found in land-based jobs. The tough reality of life at sea versus the softer non-military mindset.
Seafarers are often required to spend both their working and leisure hours in the confined environment of a ship with the same individuals. This can make seafarers more susceptible to the stresses of everyday life than those working ashore. In this environment, the need for discipline and good behaviour is particularly important.
The Code sets out disciplinary rules, reflecting the standards of behaviour generally to be expected of all seafarers. According to the authors, “Observing the Code and the disciplinary rules within it will make seafaring a better and more rewarding job for all those involved and will help to secure the safety of everybody aboard”.
There is a major focus on discipline – and that is perhaps a little unfortunate, as it sets rather a negative scene, However, the Code states that disciplinary procedures should not be viewed primarily as a means of imposing sanctions – they are designed to emphasise and encourage improvements in individual conduct. The flogging will stop when moral improves, as the old saying goes.
The main thrust of the Code is to shape a group of civilians who may otherwise react differently into a cohesive unit, able to get the ship where it needs to safely. You can’t help feeling that the Code is an attempt to deal with the generational divide as baby boomers wrestle with the free-thinking and spirited approaches of Gen X, Y and the Millennials.
Ships are dangerous, seafaring is demanding and tough, and without some form of social glue to hold a crew together, then you can get real problems. Ships experience violence, intimidation, and bullying. So having a foundation and set of ground rules is no bad thing.
It is all well and good having a code for seafarers – but what about those ashore who are dealing with crew and vessels? Shouldn’t they be expected to apply certain standards? It only seems fair after all.
According to the Code, “good communication” is key, and not just onboard, but also between a company’s shore-based administration and the ship and to communications within the ship itself.
Perhaps it is time to explore this theme more, to give seafarers the respect and boost in esteem which is sorely needed. A covenant between seafarers and those who come into contact with them – setting out the ways in which each can make the interactions as smooth, productive and happy as possible.
One of the closest to this is the Ship Welfare Visitors Course (SWVC), which is run by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board. This lays out in detail the requirements which those visiting vessels should remember. Yes, much of the focus is on safety and security – but there is a lot on the respect that people should show to seafarers onboard. Especially as the ship is home, and the visitors are guests.