There is growing concern that technology and owners and labor supply are not well coordinated. Owners are loath to provide technology they do not know will work reliably. It is growing increasingly hard to recruit skilled labor for the industry. A recent survey showed that one of the big complaints among seafaring staff was the increased regulatory burden of reporting and inspection which occurs at every port visit.
The trend will get worse. The regulators have bought into the myth that most accidents are caused by “human error,” which is not a human but engineering term. Some owners have bought into the myth that technology can cure anything. Other regulators believe that a certificate and a report can cure anything. There is no real coordination among all the flag states and port states and sometimes things get completely out of control leading to inadvertent fines, sometimes charges, occasionally delayed sailings and always a great deal of continual stress for those aboard ships directly dealing with it.
It is not the nature of governments to back down or to deregulate. Indeed, regulations pile on regulation, especially in the industrialized states. It is not the nature of owners to pay for more and relevant technology to alleviate the burden on the ship’s top four. It is the nature of governments to regulate as economies and populations increase. It is in the nature of seafarers to quit a job when frustrated or simply not to show up when called or just not be recruited for a career in the industry. And lastly, it is not in the nature of technology to be wholly reliable or to be readily trainable in understandable languages. Thus, four things do not mesh well and are becoming more unmeshed.
Technology is useful in things like paperwork and reports. In some trades. A regular container run where all the ports and states are taken into account as well as their regulations can run like clockwork. Systems have been specifically designed for specific regular runs. People are trained and accustomed to them. Information flows freely. Pity the poor tramper. He next port is often an unknown. The profit margins are too slim to have the next best technological thing. In training in excess of a tight budget must be paid for by the seafarer. This puts a tremendous burden on every officer at any port call and creates many errors and is also dangerous. Often an officer should be resting but is doing some regulatory chore. That is dangerous but it is more dangerous not to sail because the reporting was not done.
How is all this going to shake out? Increase burden means increased mistakes. Increased mistakes mean increased fines. Owners hate that. In a tight labor market it is better the frying pan you know than the fire you don’t. That kind of financial pressure will lead to streamlining of systems and appropriate technology. Enlightened NGOs and IGOs and companies will press for regulatory change to take out redundancies and superannuated procedures. That will slowly happen to bring the matter under control. One wonders if it will be fast enough to solve the looming labor supply crisis. I do not think so.
The opinions expressed by Dr. John A.C. Cartner in the ‘Conversations with Cartner’ Video Series and accompanying blogs are the opinions of Dr. Cartner and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff and management of Maritime TV, or its parent network, TV Worldwide, Inc.