Ship Crew

Ship Crew

A ship without a crew member is solely a huge, expensive metal device. In the eyes of the law, a ship with an inadequate or incompetent crew member is unseaworthy. A crew member is a crucial factor in a trading ship. The number of crew members (officers and ratings) changes according to the size of the ship however other factors such as flag and ship type may determine the number of crew members (officers and ratings). Different countries have different laws about ship manning which is derived from their viewpoints on safety and the persistence of labor unions. Regardless of ship size, there must first be a Ship Master (Captain) who is in overall charge of the ship. Assisting Ship Master (Captain) is the First Officer who has a traditional range of extremely important duties of his own as well as being the Ship Master’s (Captain’s) deputy. Beneath First Mate (Officer) is be the Second Mate, Third Mate, Fourth Mate, etc, the number of officers is being dictated by the ship’s size but the minimum number of officers has to be adequate to have at least one qualified navigating officer on watch at all times. Ship engineers led by the Chief Engineer. The number of engineers is not only dictated by the ship size and flag but also by the sophistication of the engine room. New ships are thoughtfully monitored by electronic gadgets that the Chief Engineer can work normal office hours and lock up the engine room at night, leaving computer-aided sensors to set off alarms to wake Chief Engineer if an emergency occurs. Modern ships employ electronic engineers in addition to mechanical engineers. Besides officers, both the deck and the engine room have numerous ratings to accomplish the routine work during the voyage and at port. The traditional operations of a radio officer have been overtaken by technology with satellites, telex, and fax. Complicated ships such as refrigerated cargo carriers and certain specialist tankers whose cargo requires care during the voyage employ a Deck Engineer or Cargo Engineer Department completely separate from the engine room.

Ship Master 

Most of the interaction between the Ship Manager’s office and the ship will be via the Ship Master. Modern communication devices facilitate instant communication to be made at almost any time between the Ship Manager or Shipowners and the Ship Master. Nevertheless, the Ship Master is one of the most lonely responsibilities in the world. Sometimes, there is no time to discuss Ship Master’s decisions with his shore-based colleagues. Ship Master has to fulfill three (3) roles:

1- The Ship Master is accountable for the safe navigation of the ship. Not just to protect the shipowner’s investment and the cargo but also the lives of all on board. Even today’s modern ships are no match for the weather at times and a wrong decision by the Ship Master can still be fatal. Therefore, navigating a ship safely remains to be a substantial responsibility.

2- The Ship Master is an administrator and disciplinarian. A much further-reaching responsibility than taken by most of shore-based staff. The days may be long gone when the Ship Master (Captain) could order a crew member to be whipped for insolence or even hanged for mutiny, however, while the ship is at sea, there is no police force to be called in to lift the problem person. Besides the passenger ships, there is not even any medical help to call on and the Ship Master (Captain) may often have to treat very serious medical problems. So the Ship Master (Captain) is absolutely in charge of all those on board.

3- The Ship Master is the manager of a commercial enterprise. This duty has changed enormously with the improvements in telecommunications however there are still lots of circumstances where Ship Master (Captain) is the man on the spot and has to make decisions based on his judgment and he is alone. For instance, every country has various Customs and Immigration regulations. Customs and Immigration regulations may appear so bureaucratic as to seem grotesque. Precious time will be lost if the Ship Master (Captain) fails to anticipate what will be required in the way of documents, lists, etc. It is an unfortunate reality of life that the Ship Master (Captain) even has to be an expert in knowing how to deal with the foibles of officials in some ports.

Furthermore, Ship Master (Captain) has to have a comprehensive knowledge of the major charter-party clauses. No matter how conscientious the ship agents may be, it is for the Ship Master (Captain) to make certain that Notices of Readiness (NOR) are given in good time. Ship Master (Captain) has to ensure that the ship complies with all the relevant requirements so that the ship is indeed ready to load or discharge without delay.

In liner shipping, it is normal for the ship’s agent to sign Bills of Lading (B/L) on behalf of the Ship Master (Captain). Commonly, under charter-parties, the Ship Master (Captain) himself will have the Bills of Lading (B/L) presented to him for signature. Sometimes, the Ship Master (Captain) is pressured to do something unorthodox at a time when trying to discuss this with the Ship Managers could only cause serious delay. The Ship Master (Captain) has to be wise enough to evaluate the risk and either sign or wait for the Ship Manager’s instructions.

In emergencies, there may be no time to consult the Ship Managers, and major decisions such as signing Lloyds Open Form of Salvage Agreement often still rests with the Ship Master (Captain) alone. In some incidents, catastrophic pollutions might have been avoided, if the Ship Master (Captain) of a grounded tanker had not wasted time discussing with Ship Managers and Shipowners what the Ship Master (Captain) should do instead of letting a tug commence salvage work straight away.

Ship Master (Captain) is ultimately responsible for some duties that are delegated to other officers on board. Typically, stowage of the cargo is the First Officer’s duty (First Mate – Chief Officer). Proper stowage, even of bulk cargoes, is of vital importance. Decisions have to be made about the quantity of cargo to go into each hold to ensure that the ship is properly trimmed fore and aft and athwartships. It is crucial to calculate the order in which the ship holds are loaded and discharged so that undue strain is not placed on the structure of the ship during these procedures. First Officer (First Mate – Chief Officer) on ships carrying general cargo have to develop cargo stowage to an art-form. Heavy cargoes need to be near the bottom of the ship to ensure stability and in any case, heavy goods could crush more fragile pieces. Furthermore, care must be taken to ensure one type of cargo does not contaminate another as would be the case, for instance, if a pungent-smelling commodity was stowed near foodstuffs. In the case of dangerous goods, some substances are harmless on their own but become lethal in the presence of certain other materials. Cargo stowage has to be arranged so that goods to be discharged at the first port are accessible first and so on without disturbing the ship’s stability.

In modern container ships, there is no time for the First Officer’s (First Mate – Chief Officer) artistry. Instead, a team of Ship Planners assists the container ship’s command by recording every container as it is booked, and using sophisticated computer systems, Ship Planners calculate where each container must go both to satisfy stability and accessibility.

Communication between the Ship Manager’s office and the ship will be via the Ship Master (Captain). Frequently, there is a paradox of instructions being sent to an experienced Ship Master (Captain) from, perhaps, a new shore-based employee with far less knowledge and experience. Nevertheless one should never overlook the status of a Ship’s Master in his world. The Ship Manager’s responsibility is to recruit the Ship Master (Captain) for the ship under his control and the foregoing glimpse at the role he has to fulfill gives an idea of the caliber of person needed to fill the post. The financial pressure to reduce the size of crew members makes it imperative that every member of the ship’s company is an efficient unit.

Standards for Training, Certification & Watchkeeping (STCW) 

Ship’s Crew Members (Officers and Ratings) require proper training if crew members (officers and ratings) are to do their job safely and competently. Deck Officers and Engineering Officers have separate training routes. In the case of Deck Officers (Navigating Officers), there are three (3) levels of certification:

  • Second Mate
  • First Mate (Chief Officer) 
  • Master (Captain)

Each level requires a mix of both study with examination and time spent serving at sea to qualify. Engineering Officers’ qualifications are similarly structured. In all cases, the qualification achieved is identified by a Certificate of Competence.

Ratings must also be properly trained and today the traditional differences between those who work on deck (seamen) and those who worked in the engine room (stokers – donkeymen) have disappeared. Most ratings today are trained as General Purpose Seamen.

Certificates of Competence are issued by the Flag administrations. Admittedly, there have been concerns about the quality of training required by some countries or the ability to obtain Certificates of Competence without being properly examined. The international convention Standards for Training, Certification & Watchkeeping (STCW) establishes the minimum standards that should be accomplished in each of the related areas.

Ship Crew Recruitment

Great responsibility is resting on the shoulders of ship officers. Millions of dollars of capital are invested in a ship to carry remarkably expensive cargo. In the Shipowners’ and Ship Managers’ office ashore where decisions are regularly made by a Board of Directors (BOD) assisted by several layers of management each carrying its share of responsibility. In a ship, the officer on the bridge can be faced with a few minutes in which to make his decision with no time to seek anyone else’s advice. Therefore, there cannot be too much care taken in selecting Ship Masters and Officers for the ships under management. Ironically, many senior managers and directors in a shore-based enterprise have grown up with the company and have therefore had many years to show their qualities. On the other hand, Ship’s Officers are often quite unknown to their employers before the time of making the appointment. Ship Managers should check the previous employment of crew members. Furthermore, any inconsistencies should be investigated and hints of problems should be double-checked. Most ship management companies ensure that shore-based ex-masters and ex-chief engineers in their role as Marine Superintendents and Engineer Superintendents are closely involved in the crew recruitment process.

Offshore Flags

Shipping is an international business. A few decades ago, ship-owning was largely in the hands of several traditional maritime nations whose costs and standards of living were mostly similar. Therefore, crew costs were approximately the same regardless of ship flag and competition was at a very moderate level. In more recent years many different factors have conspired to disturb the financial picture regarding crew costs causing minds to be bent to the problem of cost reduction with Flags of Convenience the result. Americans started Flags of Convenience when their domestic wages so far outstripped the rest of the world that the wages necessary to compete with jobs ashore plus the manning levels demanded by the labor unions put flying the USA merchant flag impossible without heavy subsidies. As a result, such flags as Liberia, Panama, Marshall Islands were encouraged by even the most respectable ship-owning enterprises in the United States. In the 1950s, Greek ship owning expanded at a remarkable rate but the Greek government of the day imposed such unsympathetic taxes on ship-owning that to this day the Greek ship-owning population of London and New York is each probably far greater than that of Athens. The emergence of ship-owning in countries that are not previously considered maritime nations built up large fleets under the flags of the USSR and other communist countries. Therefore, competition became far from equal with many national fleets being operated as a means to bring in or save foreign exchange and with crew costs being based on local wage scales far below those of the developed countries. Flags of Convenience not only permitted any nationals to be members of ships’ crews but some of them are far from fussy about manning levels and competence. The latest response to this inequality of costs has been the emergence of Off-shore Flags which are more respectable than full-blown Flags of Convenience. While many of the safety regulations of the original country are retained, strict rules about the nationality of crew members are relaxed and national agreements regarding wage levels and the payment of social security contributions are avoided. As a result, very well-known and respected British shipowners registered their ships to such places as the Isles of Man. This is a dependency of Britain but still retains sufficient elements of its sovereignty for it not to be subject to the United Kingdom’s Merchant Shipping agreement.

Ship Crewing Agencies

Ship Crewing Agencies are companies that are set up to specialize in that one duty of ship management. Ship Crewing Agencies sign a contract with shipowners to manage a suitable crew on board at all times. Usually, ship managers themselves sub-contract their crewing duty to one of these Ship Crewing Agencies. The main advantage that Ship Crewing Agencies provide is that the shipowner or ship manager could be based in one country but not being the employers of the crew, so they are not bound by that country’s employment laws. Besides, Ship Crewing Agencies can offer the economy of scale as many of them are crewing far more ships than one shipowner. Ship Crewing Agencies have emerged as a result of the spate of Flagging-Out. In the first half of the 20th century, many British shipowners employed lascar crews. Lascar crews were provided by Ship Crewing Agencies which supplied men from the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent and this was such a well-established tradition that successive agreements and legislation for United Kingdom merchant ships have maintained to accommodate this source of inexpensive labor. Many countries have followed this pattern and have made it a deliberate policy to train seafarers for the shipping business. The funds remitted by crew members to their families in their home country contribute to the balance of payments. The types of crew members supplied by Ship Crewing Agencies vary according to what the shipowner requires. British ship officers are still favored by the United Kingdom-based ship operators that principally seek to achieve their savings in no longer having to make social security contributions and being able to close down their personnel departments. Some shipowners are happy with crew members of different nationalities, however crew members diversification might bring other obstacles such as language. Most of the crew members are recruited from Asian areas where religions and customs vary widely. Besides traditional antipathy between certain populations, ethnic diversity frequently have a particular impact on the type and preparation of food. It must be emphasized that an Off-shore Flag, even a Flag of Convenience, is not automatically bad. There are no bad flags, only bad shipowners. Some of the most respected shipowners have found flagging-out the only way to survive.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

Traditional maritime nations have well-established maritime trade unions that negotiated with the employers, customarily on a national basis. Trade unions’ achievements might have contributed in part to the transitions towards flagging-out. The problem unavoidably lies with the wide variations in both the cost and the standard of living in the developed western nations as compared with the undeveloped nations. For crew members from the Philippines, a wage far below that of a western crew member can be a fortune in contrast to that which his compatriots ashore are being paid. Moreover, part of the struggle opposed by the traditional maritime unions has been over manning levels but under many offshore-flags, the shipowner decides on a crew size commensurate with his assessment of the numbers needed for efficiency and safety. Furthermore, shipowners’ decisions are influenced by ideas of seaworthiness expressed by classification societies and insurers. Nonetheless, crew numbers as well as wage levels are unavoidably lower on vessels with so-called Free-flags. To redress the loss of employment by the members of maritime unions in what were the traditional seafaring countries that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) comes into the picture. In 1896, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was established as an international secretariat of transport unions all over the world in London. Currently, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has a membership of more than 400 trade unions from nearly 100 different countries. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) represents more than four million transport workers. At the time of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) establishment, there was no such thing as a Flag of Convenience, however when that phenomenon emerged the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) saw it as an effort to undermine trade unionism and the standards of seafarers’ working and safety conditions. In 1950, at their Stuttgart Congress, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) approved a Plan of Action which in principle required all shipowners to adhere to precisely determined minimum conditions. Failure would result in boycott action to bring such shipowners to the negotiating table. In 1971, at their Vienna Congress, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) adopted a standard agreement for all ships whose crew members were not covered by an agreement properly negotiated between union and employer. Such agreements also included provision for contributions to an International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) fund set up to support the operations and to provide a charity to support crew members’ missions and other forms of welfare in port and onboard. The strength of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) lies in the fact that almost all transport unions are affiliated with it. This denotes that immobilizing a vessel by arranging for services such as tug-men and lock-keepers to black the errant ship is quite easy. So many of the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF’s) goals are admirable that affiliated unions are ready to assist any boycott. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) should never be underrated. International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF’s) fund raising from seized vessels now provides for permanent International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) officials in many major ports and their intelligence network is first class.

Ship Crew Department  

Managing crew members’ requirements requires a well-disciplined organization. Besides the recruitment of the crew members, the duty of ensuring crew members get the correct wages at the correct time is vital. Ships’ crew members are too remote to be able to look in on the personnel department to clear up minor mistakes and those left unattended soon become sources of irritation and consequent poor morale. Therefore, Crew Department has to be well-founded so that data about basic pay, overtime, bonuses should be written into the system without a glitch. Crew Department takes on the responsibility of passing some of the crew members’ wages to their next of kin in compliance with allotment agreements. Such a payment may well be a wife’s only source of income so that mistakes can cause vital trouble. Crew Department can make a positive contribution to the shipping company’s economy. Most crew member contracts allow an appropriate margin for a voyage to complete. Precise coordination with the timing of voyages can ensure that crew changes take place at the shortest traveling distance. Precise timing can save accommodation costs for crew members arriving too early or keeping the ship up for crew arriving too late.