Nikos Gousopoulos : Head of Shipping Studies, Piraeus Campus

It is well known that STCW convention sets a series of mandatory standards, because recognizes the importance of competence in the shipping industry, which is necessary to ensure that all seafarers are properly educated and well trained.

The major problem with this convention is that establishes a minimum set of requirements without taking into consideration that the workforce of the most globalized industry is both multinational and multicultural, leading to different interpretations from flag state to flag state and from country to country.

There is a substantial number of countries which, although being major suppliers of marine workforce, nevertheless have led to inconsistent standards of training and education which, over the time, have proved to be poor and inadequate.

The reaction from the part of the industry is the continuous investment in education and training beyond the minimum criteria set out by STCW. This is a good thing.

The bad thing is the cost involved, since shipping industry needs to spend huge amounts of money in order this education and training to be continuously improved and updated.

Generally speaking, there are many involved in the crucial issue of marine education and training:

Firstly, IMO through STCW which, by definition has resulted in creating only basic competencies to mariners that is not enough to address the complexity of operations aboard.

Secondly, governments only ensure that, their nationals are trained according to these minimum standards and there is no so much care about the need to exceed them through the development of their own national training programs

Thirdly, ship owners, managers and operators, contrary to what governments do, take seriously into consideration the need to exceed STCW’s minimum requirements, in order to meet the increasing standards for quality and safe operations.

In our days, the complexity in ship administration and operations makes necessary the establishment of a training system beyond a convention which, although is revised from time to time nevertheless, fails to fill the time-gap between revision dates and rapid development of technological, administrative and other unpredictable factors.

And this is something that can not be left to governments alone. Therefore, the private sector plays a key role!

When we are talking about education and training in shipping, we must accept that this is not something which is done just for those being on board a vessel.

In fact, it is a process in which the person involved, actively participates because has the interest to do his job well, bearing in mind that this:

  1. will ensure continuous employment
  2. will keep vessel and himself safe
  3. will create prospects for self-improvement and promotion (a personal objective).

For that purpose, many shipping companies have established Continuous Development Programs (CDP) aiming to maintain and advance their workers’ ability to do their job well.

A CDP offers a systematic maintenance and improvement of knowledge, skills and competence. The main feature of a CDP, whenever it comes from, is the flexibility that offers, since a big variety of various means can be used, like:

  1. attending lectures and seminars
  2. using computer-based techniques (CBT training)
  3. using internet-based techniques (IBT training)
  4. through e-learning (The Manila Amendments to the STCW 21-5/6/2010)
  5. taking courses and obtaining degrees

It is very common to have on board a very complicated or technically advanced vessel mariners of various nationalities, where a series of continuously updated training programs constitute a necessity. The application of CBT training methods, (The Manila Amendments to the STCW 21-25/6/2010), might be proved an effective tool to overcome problems associated with:

  1. different basic training systems
  2. different nationalities
  3. different cultures

Courses may vary from the application of the collision regulations to safety, security and engineering assuming that, although multinational crews have basically the same minimum nautical education standards, it has been noted that there are definite differences in their ability to do the job properly.

And this is due to:

  1. the nationality of training and
  2. the fact that there is a very little understanding of the seafaring common sense of seamanship

Another characteristic of currently existing training programs is that, these are failing to create really competent seafarers who can consistently perform at their best and according to industry’s standards. In addition to that, many current assessment systems confuse knowledge with competence.

Leadership is another major issue which has not to be left aside The increasing role of a ship’s Master as the leader on board a vessel, is profound. Particularly, when multinational crews constitute one of the most crucial issues in operating ships today.

This Leadership role, requires a Master to demonstrate a number of qualities, such as:

  1. the ability to build and lead a team
  2. the ability to be assertive with his crew
  3. the ability to be fair and consistent
  4. the ability to understand the human nature, its needs and limitations
  5. a ship Master as a real leader had to be supportive and show particular interest in crew’s personal and professional development
  6. a ship Master must have the ability to give clear and concise orders, when necessary, and particularly, when an emergency situation exists.

To lead a team is not just an issue of pure legal or practical consideration. The shipmaster must lead his team to ensure a vessel’s seaworthiness and to apply all safety measures in a pro-active manner.

Of course, to achieve that, ship officers and crew have to be skillful and well trained, something no one can assure when a Master is running a ship with 2 or 3 crew nationalities on board. In our days, lack of leadership skills, associated with very little awareness of the need for training in this particular area, constitute a major issue in world shipping.

There is no doubt that leadership training, (The Manila Amendments to the STCW 21-25/6/2010), is essential, considering:

  1. the value of a ship as a capital asset
  2. the environment in which mariners work
  3. the risks involved

Leadership training is not an easy task. It is necessary to identify and train leaders early on in the management process, in the same way it applies in non shipping activities and therefore, to ensure that the company promotes the right personnel which in turn, will add value to the company and reduce risk.

Over the last years QUALITY, SAFETY, ISM, ISPS, RISK ASSESSMENT have become synonymous to daily shipping operations. All these, can not be considered separately. They are all tied together and thus, leadership can be only seen as a money investment when:

  1. it reduces risk
  2. it reduces claims
  3. it reduces adverse publicity from accidents

But, who needs leadership training? It is the Master or the Chief Engineer? or both? The answer is that, anyone on board a ship may be called upon to be a leader within certain circumstances. If we go through specific IMO Model Courses, we can safely say that some of them involve leadership: firefighting, crisis management, bridge team management, are some of them.

But, none of them explore the underlying principles of leadership (STCW weakness) and the gap is still there!

By filling it, we shall improve safety and efficiency in the shipping industry