The Seahealth organisation has been looking at the impact of ship and shore management relationships. Assessing what happens when these very different world collide. So what can be done to ease testing and uneasy relationships?
WHICH WAY NOW
Seahealth is a membership organisation which seeks to improve management systems and relationships. Their work over the past 20 years, working with Danish vessels and companies has led to some real advances in the industry.
As seafarers are pulled ever closer into the shore management process – what else needs to be done to ensure that crews are respected, rested and not pressured into working in ways which threaten the person and vessel?
Much of the new work on the subject is based on management and psychology, with a sprinkling of communications and PR too. To see such tools and approaches used in relations to seafarers is great, but can it really bridge the divide which can sometimes develop?
A divide based on a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy – it is very hard to scale the slopes of these problems without really questioning the very ways in which shore managers have to manage, and the very role of seafarers today.
Changes in the ship manning levels were introduced decades ago, as it was thought that maritime technology would begin to take up the slack. There was no need for so many people – and so they were removed.
That meant two things – firstly, obviously, that there were less people on the ship. Secondly, that these fewer people were more reliant than ever on input and support from ashore.
The slack was removed from the onboard systems – roles such as Purser and Radio Officer were deemed unnecessary when computers were controlling invoicing, purchase orders, payments and paper work. Or when “plug and play” systems allowed masters to flick switches to access the shore.
These roles were hangovers to the past, and they were surplus to requirements. Fair enough – technology has changed things, and there are indeed arguments that these were now superfluous. But does that tell the whole tale?
AN EXTENTION OF SHORE
With these people gone, and their jobs subsumed by technology, there has been a strengthened link between the ship and shore. Something which was really enforced by the ISM Code, and which was meant to help seafarers.
Now there was accountability and responsibility ashore…there was an emphasis on shore management to develop systems and processes, and to make sure they worked.
In an ideal world, this would mean that seafarers could do their jobs and if they needed something from manager ashore, then they could ask for it. There would be a clear relationship, and a means of ensuring the vessel had all the resources it needed.
There have been wholesale changes in law and legislation, and with environmental demands, as well as safety and security…and a need to manage paperwork, the demands placed on seafarers have increased, and so the lack of slack in the manpower onboard can be a problem.
KNOCK ON EFFECTS
So, the changes were challenging enough – but something else happened too. Suddenly the growing responsibilities on companies ashore has seen swelling of the numbers of people in offices. This means that more people are asking more questions of the ship…the tail has begun to vigorously wag the dog.
In the Seafarers Happiness Index, many crew members complain that time and time again they are hounded by shore staff asking questions, asking for information or seemingly even passing on some of their tasks to the ship.
Crew are working in their usual shipboard roles, watchkeeping, doing all they have to do – but then they are being dragged into extra jobs. They are being emailed and asked to sort out problems.
Problems which only exist ashore, and which are the role of shore staff to fix. It may well be easier to just ask someone at sea, but there are knock on effects and these need to be understood.
MANAGING THE FLOW
The Seahealth guidance on shipping companies, shore management and “individual seamen” seeks to provide guidance on how this delicate balance and relationship needs to be maintained and managed.
Good communication is key, as too is information. But it has to be the right amount and at the right time. Striking that balance of quantum and time is easier said than done of course.
The relationship between ship and shore is crucial for the success of the business. Each fuel the success of the other…but just like an engine, the mixture needs to be right.
There is a natural challenge in the relationship – hectic, busy schedules can become a massive burden on both sides of the land/sea divide. So there needs to be consideration as to how the best solutions can be found.
A collaborative approach is key – and it is vital that both seafarers and shore managers and executives find a means of fostering better working relations, to boost productivity while also maintaining quality. The Seahealth study states that there are five critical challenges which must be overcome:
• Collaboration at a distance
Working apart and in a very different environment makes it very hard for the right answer. Shore staff need to think about how to help seafarers to deliver. Is the weather bad, what time is it onboard, where are they…little sensible questions which can have a big impact. The key is to think of others and of how a task or demand can be accomplished.
• Difficulties of Communication
Different people in different roles, from different backgrounds and cultures communicate differently. For shore and sea staff alike that needs to be remembered. Be constructive, positive and helpful – striking the right balance and tone is important.
• Establishing Trust
It can be hard to establish trust and a relationship at such distance –but it is vital to ensure positive communications and to get the best out of each party. If there is no trust, then all messages taken on sinister, frustrating tones. So it is vital that respect is given, and a relationship is developed.
• Opportunities and Limitations of email
Email can be the best of communications tools and the worst. It can allow good long distance interaction, but there are many hazards and potential issues to be aware of. There is a tendency for email messages to appear negative, so each one could be having a bad effect on the recipient. There is a need to make sure that each message is considered and the potential impact appreciated.
• Difficult, Complicated Messages
Sometimes it is easier on the phone or face-to-face. Complicated issues can become even more so if there is a long, tortuous, frustrated email. Use the right medium for the job – if you need to talk, do so…just remember the common sense questions of what the ship and seafarer is doing at the time.