The incident I have been most shocked by is the bullying by some officers on other crew. I had sailed with a certain Asian 2nd Officer previously and sailed again with him onboard a vessel last winter. The Chief Officer was European and certainly had a chip on his shoulder against what seemed like the whole world. What the world had done against him I’ll never know, but maybe it was just being deep sea for so long. The Asians do 9 month contracts compared to the 3 months by the Europeans – a long time by all standards. The Chief Officer verbally abused the 2nd Officer both privately and publicly – usually over VHF whilst the 2nd Officer was working hard. All the crew would cringe and wince as the foul mouthed insults would fly towards the poor 2nd Mate who knew that he could not talk back or his job would be in jeopardy. This continued for 2 months until one day the Chief told him that he thought that he was s**t, had bought his license and was a waste of oxygen. Combined with that he told him that his English was crap (it wasn’t because I spoke to him all the time). The Chief smiled as the 2nd mate quit his job and signed off the ship in tears. I was ashamed that day.
The Master was fully aware of the bullying that was occurring on the vessel but chose to turn a blind eye because he “didn’t want to interfere with the Chief Officer” (who was feared even by the Captain). The Captain was a very laid back man who was quiet with all the crew and barely uttered a word to anyone.
The reporter took steps to inform the company, but decided to leave the organisation. This is an extreme example of bullying with a potentially devastating impact upon the teamwork required for safe operations.
Bullying and harassment issues are not restricted to European/Asian cultures or exclusive to multi-culture crew complements and are often less overt than the example given above. European guidance on the subject (www.etf-europe.org) states:
“All workers have the right to work without suffering harassment and bullying in their workplaces. Unfortunately, there are many workers who do not enjoy this basic freedom. It is the responsibility of all employers to ensure that all forms of harassment and bullying of workers are eliminated from their workplaces. It is also the responsibility of trade unions and workers to make sure that harassment and bullying do not take place.”
“Although, in a minority of cases, those committing acts of harassment and bullying do so intentionally, in many cases there are actions which could be classed as harassment and/or bullying that are carried out unwittingly and result from outdated management styles as opposed to any deliberate malign intention. Hence, the adoption and encouragement of management styles that do not involve aggressive and intimidating behaviours would also make an important contribution to the eradication of workplace harassment and bullying.”
The document quotes evidence provided by NUMAST suggesting these issues are underreported and Confidential reporting programmes such as CHIRP are intended to help address the incident/reporting gap by providing the industry with better information about safety related human factors incidents and a means for concerns to be raised confidentially.