The company employs British masters and I had a good, mixed complement of nine nationalities. I, as master, was the only Brit onboard. Fortunately for us Brits, English remains the language of the sea and my senior officers all spoke it to a greater or lesser degree, even some conversation, while I learned helm orders and a few other important words, like “Please” and “Thank You”, etc in other languages.
Conducting the required monthly safety meetings was interesting. The second mate and I devised a pantomime, which we would put on to the assembled crew – all hands not on duty – in the crew mess room. Many shipboard accidents are caused by thoughtlessness – leaving a bucket of water near the foot of a ladder, not changing a lamp bulb properly, not roping off newly painted or dangerous places, leaving bits of wood, shackles, all kinds of spare parts lying around the deck for people to trip over – not checking that a lifeboat is safe to lower before you lower it – and so on.
While on the subject of lifeboats and emergency drills, it is essential to carry these out frequently and so that every man aboard knows what to do – so that when he has to do it for real on a dark night with the ship on fire and rolling heavily – he’ll know what to do almost by instinct. Regardless of often ill-written manuals, everyone on board must be taught in their own language what and how to do by the master via their own bilingual language-speakers.
For our pantomime audience, I came down a ladder and stepped into a bucket of water placed nearby, causing me to fall over. To my surprise several sailors gasped with horror and rushed forward to pick me up! But our panto seemed to work, got the safety message across. A ship is a potentially dangerous workplace, especially at sea – liable to move in all three dimensions without warning. If all hands realise this and THINK what they are doing, accidents become less common.
Multi-national crew complements have become a feature of modern shipping and a number of companies employ such complements as a matter of policy. Nevertheless, poor onboard communications often feature in accident
investigations, so it would appear the standard of management of this policy varies.
The master’s attempts to accommodate the various languages spoken onboard are understandable, but could cause confusion.
The Maritime Advisory Board wishes to stress the importance of a common working language adequate for routine operations, training delivery and emergency response. Communications failings in the first two areas are often emphasised in the last.
CHIRP would be interested to hear more on this important subject; both positive and negative and will be writing to relevant organisations.