Skip to content

Maritime HR & Crew Development conference

The ACI's 13th Maritime HR & Crew Development conference took place on 23 and 24 October in London, and Spinnaker Chairman Phil Parry was honoured to chair both days.

The conference played host to shipping operators including VPs, directors and managers of: HR, crew & personnel, HSEQ, and manning and training. We thought we would share Phil's summary of the conference, which he presented to the delegates:

"There has been considerable consensus that we focus too much on equipment rather than human skills and that despite what CEOs the world over say about people being their most important asset, we actually only regard our ships as assets and our people as costs.
As a result, we are training to comply, to meet legal requirements; rather than investing in personal development.

It's interesting how we measure costs, value and risk. There is unanimous agreement that poor management trickles through the organisation. Poor management skills and weak communication lead to perceptions (our word of the day) that were not intended. Did he say yes, no or maybe. Did he nod, shake his head or shrug his shoulders? Is he a blunt plain-speaker or a face-saving fence-sitter? What was the intended tone of that email sent to the ship?
So, we all accept that communications and management skills impact our crew morale, our crews' understanding of their instructions or of the answer to their request for early shore leave and much much more.

But, we're not investing in it. I read an article last week by a tanker owner to its shareholders that compared the cost of retrofitting an improved Mewis duct propulsion system versus the cost of investing in so-called ecoships. This was referred to as "less than $500,000, a payback period of less than half a year" in fuel savings.

Therein lies the problem. We know the right thing to do, but we can't measure it in the short term. It requires an investment in hidden outcomes. We're investing in prevention rather than cure, in something not happening – staff not leaving, morale not reducing, staff not becoming depressed, accidents not happening and so on. We know it, but we're not forced to do it. We were told earlier that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we'll keep getting what we've always got.

The management and leadership aspects of the Manila Amendments to STCW don't quite go all the way. There is some suggestion that insurers and charterers are getting interested in how management impacts safety and certainly the Joint Hull Committee in the Lloyds insurance market does now have survey guidelines that focus on management systems.

Moving to seafarer communications on board vessels, we have all 'perceived' better on board connectivity as a good thing and I think largely we do probably think that is still the case. However, it was pointed out to us earlier that modern technology gives seafarers a means of escaping. Escaping the fact that crew sizes are so small and so multicultural that there is no opportunity to build any kind of social life on board. The perfect analogy given was our teenagers locking themselves in their rooms all day. We heard an example of a company where the master has instituted quizzes on board. And ultimately, that is what it's about – ensuring that companies, managers, superintendents, senior officers, take responsibility for doing their bit and for understanding that this is as much a part of their job as keeping the vessel in good condition.

I was shocked to hear that seafarers' certificates can be found online. Reminder of the confidentiality risks we face in the modern world, one in which the technology is often far more advanced than its users.

Insurance is the glue that holds the fabric of our society together – critical to the way in which we conduct our everyday business. Can play a significant social role. I recall maths lessons at school. We were always asking 'what's the point of studying this?'. During my legal education, we were always asking, 'well, then, who ends up paying?' And the answer almost always was 'an insurance company'. I don’t think we fully understood why but once I entered the real world, I discovered it to be true.

Lot of misunderstanding about the role of the P&I club and of insurance generally. P&I is there to provide liability insurance but insurance can also provide benefits to employees as a part of their contract – nothing to do with a liability.

We learnt that the risk of a piracy attack is 0.11% (I think) but that the *fear* of piracy is a reality for most seafarers. Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme has a 24 hour helpline that is available to all seafarers. Good practice guides are downloadable from the MPHRP website at

So, to summarise: ask yourself whether your company truly prepares seafarers for their management roles ashore and whether you think you identify the best people for management roles, those who are motivated to manage and not just those who are the best engineers. Technical skills are required, but they are not sufficient. It's about putting the right people in the right jobs and then playing to their strengths. People join companies but they leave because of their managers."

Phil would like to thank ACI, who organised the event, for inviting him and to all the delegates for attending. You can follow Phil on Twitter at @shippingjobs_

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.