The Role of the Master
In the May 2013 edition of Sea Breezes, in my “From The Lookout” column, I talked about the latest Faststream report on marine employment. In my piece I stressed the importance, when recruiting young officers for a career at sea, of being able to indicate the existence of a potential path into marine related shore employment – if at some stage, for whatever reason, they decided to seek a job ashore.
In recent years I have become very aware that the traditional role and authority of a ship’s master has changed and indeed been eroded, with modern technology resulting in almost constant communication with Head Office ashore. In my own ‘foreign going’ days (back in the 1960s) the Master had a well established and respected level of authority and autonomy. Once a voyage was underway, he could concentrate on his prime role – that of the safe and efficient operation of his command. Interference from Head Office was virtually non-existent. How things have changed!
I read Nautilus’s excellent publication the Telegraph regularly, and recently noted that Nautilus International Council member Captain Henk Eijkenaar had taken part in a roundtable discussion to discuss how the working relationship between ship and shore staff can be improved. The discussion was entitled “Power to the Masters” and focused on the changing role of the Master and the need to rethink shore management involvement and expectation. I was especially taken by one comment from Captain Eijkenaar - “The decisions a Master should take are being taken ashore, whilst much of the work that should be done ashore is being carried out by the Master”. Captain Richard Green RN emphasised these sentiments by saying “the investment of the master in their officers, to motivate them, will reap far more rewards than making him / her do clerical work that could be done ashore by somebody who doesn’t need maritime training”.
There is little doubt that masters and all officers have a much higher workload today as a consequence of increasing regulation such as the ISM Code, ISPS and IMO Conventions. The Master’s prime role, however, must never change – it is the efficient and safe operation of his / her vessel. It is vital, for instance, that the Master of a cruise vessel (some of which today can carry over 4,000 passengers) and his / her team are focused on their principal roles and not constantly under pressure on several fronts from Head Office.
This leads me back to the Faststream report. It is inescapable to me that the present relationship between ship and shore must change – it must become one of mutual respect and common understanding. This change to a more mature and balanced partnership can be facilitated by placing more senior officers, who understand ships and how they operate, into shore positions. This would also serve to widen the future career options of young people considering a maritime career. There also has to be a renewal of the traditional role and authority of the Master, and a true respect for the position established at all levels in shore offices.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR