Medical Indisposition

Report Text:

The Captain of a ship reports that, whilst serving, he was suffering from an injury and reported to the port doctor.  He was declared medically unfit and advised to sign off.  However an immediate relief was not forthcoming.  The ship was engaged in busy operations and short passages in bad weather.  The Captain continued his duties under severe pain.  He made several requests to be relieved.  After two weeks he advised his intention to sail no further and was thereafter relieved.

The Captain has asked what other masters would do in such circumstances.

CHIRP Comment:

Whilst we have the reporter’s permission to publish this report, we do not have the ship manager’s perspective of it.  We are therefore commenting on the generalities of such situations rather than on the particular circumstances of this report.

As a Captain, managing a situation when a key member of the ship’s personnel is indisposed is difficult, and even more so when that person is yourself.  There is a natural tendency to struggle on with one’s duties even if this is painful.  It may be helpful to hypothesise what you would do if the indisposed person were to be, say, the Chief Officer, rather than yourself.  In such a case, you would probably either relieve him or her of normal duties, allocate the essential tasks to others and defer non-essential items.  You should be particularly aware of the risk of fatigue.  If there is such risk, you should consider what can be done to allow some rest before continuing with critical operations.  For example, delay sailing by some hours, postpone voyaging through a difficult channel, etc.  Tell the ship manager what you are doing and why.

If it is not the Chief Officer, or other key member, but yourself that is indisposed, apply the same guidelines.  Remember, if you are in pain, then perhaps your performance and possibly judgment may be affected. You will receive no thanks for having struggled on if the ship is involved in an incident.

If you are the manager of a well-run shipping company, you would put into place contingency measures for such a situation, although with tight availability of officers this may be difficult.  You would keep the master updated on this.  And if the master phones you to advise that key staff are showing signs of fatigue so he is delaying sailing by six hours in order to allow some rest, your response will hopefully be along the lines of “Well done Captain. I fully support this. Are you sure that six hours will be sufficient.”

We would welcome correspondence on this subject.