Through the Captain's window

Stories on Maritime Leadership

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The Old Man and the Sea

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“I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.” 

                                                  - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

 

The Captain on a ship if often called the ‘Old Man’. More often, the ‘grumpy old man’. I didn’t realize it then, but now as I have sailed into my early 40’s, I excuse my own grumpiness saying that there’s a physiological explanation for it.

But it’s not always about how cheerful you are. Today I want to touch on the sensitive topic of the effect of aging on job performance.

Ouch.

We all will get old one day or the other.

Yes, we will.

So, how do we lead ourselves and our teams as we grow older.

Getting old has its benefits. You have more experience, you gathered a great amount of knowledge, and people respect you just for your grey hair. 

Aging after 40 also has its downside:

  • The volume of the brain declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade.
  • Neurotransmitters such as dopamine decline by around 10% per decade and this has been associated with declines in cognitive and motor performance. Memory too declines gradually.
  • Bone density decreases by about 1% every year.
  • Peripheral vision narrows, near vision becomes less acute, eyes no longer focus as quickly, and night vision degrades.
  • Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of maritime service disablement. Diet, exercise, smoking and stress management abilities are the lifestyle factors that influence the chances of a coronary incident putting an end to your career at sea.
  • Muscle strength loss above the age of 50 occurs at around 15% per decade.

I can go on about each part of the body- but you get my drift. This should be taken seriously as working at sea requires keen psychomotor and cognitive skills, as well as executive functions such as monitoring inputs. What this means in terms of work is that an older navigator may miss observing the drift of the ship, or may lose track of multiple targets on the radar. The Chief Engineer’s daily inspection rounds from ‘tunnel to funnel’, especially on the modern megaships which are the equivalent of a 20-storey building, will progressively become difficult.

Take for example, the grounding of the Hong Kong ferry Xin Jie with 81 passengers onboard. The cause of the incident was due to sudden onset of dizziness of the 57 year old Assistant Master when he was steering. The Assistant Master had been suffering from hypertension and was taking Nifedipine twice daily to control the blood pressure. The drug has a side effect of causing dizziness which it did when he was having the con of the ship.

Or the 66 year old Master on the Maria M which ran aground on the Vanguard Shoals off Sweden. The investigaton report states that the Captain confused rudder position and turning rate and gave erratic orders which took the ship from a relatively safe position to the shallows. He was really a 'grumpy' old man who often called his bridge team 'idiots'.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the aviation equivalent of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and puts the upper age limit for single-pilot commercial air transport operations at 60 years. If they have a co-pilot, they can work until the age of 65. This is based on ICAO research of on-job performance evaluated on simulators and it rates this testing mechanism as better than medical checks.

For sake of comparison, the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) adopt medical checks as the filter for service at sea, supplementing it with revalidation training every five years.

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                                                                                          Courtesy: Dr Anthony Evans, Chief - Aviation Medicine Section, ICAO

 

Good news is research confirms that you can look and be younger than the number of birthdays you’ve had. I’ve had the privilege of working with and observing some 65+ leaders way sharper than I could ever hope to be. But no two 50-year olds are alike; how well they perform depends on the various choices they make. To be able to get the benefits of experience back into the industry for as long as possible, leaders need to be conscious of this fact and make intentional choices to their lifestyle, and staying updated with technology in the workplace.

The sea is an unforgiving workplace. It does not care how old or experienced you are. There is no room for error. I’ve listed some strategies to lead yourself and your mind-body machine in my book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas. Some of these strategies are:

  • Eat right, Fuel up.
  • Sleep well, beat fatigue.
  • Exercise: Become a Man of Steel.
  • Stay Positive: Get your dose of Vitamin B+
  • De-stress: Have a Relief Valve.

How are you preparing your mind and body for the evolving leader in you? 

And if you’re in charge of managing both young and older professionals, develop goals, expectations and evaluation methods around the different skill sets each age group brings with them.

Now excuse me while I go get my fish-oil supplements for my memory. And then head to the gym.

 

 

Annual health checks are recommended if you’re over 40. Dental checks every 6 months regardless of age.


References:

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Captain, how much gas do you have?

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'Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It's self defense'

                                                                            - Joe Biden

 

 

 

I recently read a P&I Club correspondent's report that customs officials in Senegal have started asking arriving ships to declare the quantity of CO2 gas on board. I would respectfully follow this requirement but for knowing that there is no relevant regulation. The only explanation offered is that the authorities are applying article 74 of the Customs Code more 'vigorously'. These sealed bottles are fitted on board as part of the fixed and portable firefighting equipment. But ships face the prospect that they could be fined for inaccurate declarations.

What next? To declare the amount of steel on the ship?

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As usual, I lace my humour with a tinge of reality.

There are certain places which maritime insurers (P&I Clubs) routinely warn about, that are noted for their frivolous fines. Thing is, I see that countries issuing frivolous fines are in the bottom half of per-capita income list. Higher ranked countries are more transparent and least corrupt.

Take for example, Singapore proved its intention to uphold rightful business practices in the case Public Prosecutor v Syed Mostofa Romel. This inspector was carrying out a safety inspection on the MT Torero at Vopak Terminal Banyan Jetty in Singapore. The inspector produced a list of several high-risk observations which could deny the vessel entry into the terminal. The master considered the observations as minor ones. The inspector offered to omit the findings from his report in exchange for USD 3000. The master paid the bribe but secretly informed his company.

A sting operation a couple of months later, again at the same terminal, caught the inspector red-handed. Within a year, the Singaporean court sentenced him with prison time and fines. It's good to see Singapore deter corruption in both the private and public sectors through quick court proceedings and heavy sentences.

It's also good to see various shipping companies team up through the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) to fight corruption. The success stories here are growing in number.

There is still some way to go: Even today, agents email the Master to keep 18 cartons of cigarettes ready on arrival to present to the authorities. Government officials need to wake up and look beyond their own pockets. Less corruption means more prosperity for the country, and the industry. Agree?

 

Link: Maritime Anti-Corruption Network

 

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Lead Your Situational Awareness: Lessons from the USS Fitzgerald - ACX Crystal collision

What the commercial shipping industry can learn from the US Navy collisions: Part-3

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The USS Fitzgerald (F) collided with the container ship ACX Crystal (AC) on 17 June 2017 south west of Tokyo with the loss of seven lives. The duty officer was on watch. The two senior-most officers had gone to rest after a tiring day’s work.

Weather conditions were normal for that time of the night, through there was significant fishing and commercial traffic in the vicinity of the Fitzgerald. To cut a long story short, the collision regulations required F to keep clear of AC but it did not- mainly because the duty-officer on the F mistook the AC for a nearby ship which would pass clear. Having said that, the actions of AC also contributed to the casualty.

Most navigators who have sailed through the Far-East waters know that it is a challenge to find a clear route through fishing boats and nets. A dense pack of fishing boats can clutter the radar screen, making it difficult to discern which target poses a risk of collision, and which does not. Fishing boats are known to change course and speed unpredictably, some even trying to pass in front of the larger ship. Some fishing-net buoys are not visible until very late. On the other hand, the halo from powerful fish-attractor halogen lamps can interfere with the navigator’s ability to see navigation lights of other ships close to, or beyond these lights. Navigating these waters requires a calm but responsive mind, good bridge equipment, a sharp lookout and an able helmsman. Navigators will need to constantly and rapidly process all this information and be ready to constantly alter course-speed to navigate through dense traffic.

 

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Image courtesy: Report on the Collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and Motor Vessel ACX Crystal by the United States of America, Department of the Navy

 

It's easier said than done. Statistics show that around 1/3rd of all the total losses of ships have occurred in the Far-East. Some recent examples:

  • January 2018: The Iranian oil tanker Sanchi sank with the loss of 32 lives, also after a collision in this area.
  • May 2017: The USS Lake Champlain and the fishing vessel Nam Yang 502 collided in the Sea of Japan. The naval ship was unaware of the collision risk that the fishing vessel would pose on their new course.
  • October 2015: The fishing vessel Lurongyu 71108 sank after the collision with the tanker Clipper Quito and one of the five fishermen was missing- presumed died. A third of all casualties in Japanese waters is on fishing vessels and the most number of cases being collisions.
  • March 2014: The Beagle III collided with the Pegasus Prime at the entrance of Tokyo Bay, resulting in seven fatalities. The navigator on the Beagle III was not aware of the collision risk posed by the other ship.

These are issues of situational awareness. You cannot react to what you’re not aware of. To address this, Chapter-Ten in my book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas talks precisely about such scenarios and useful practical strategies. These include:

  • Keep your attention despite clutter. This could have helped the navigator on the Fitzgerald spot the right target which posed a collision threat.
  • Give ourselves time to process the information. Slowing down the ship could have allowed the navigators more time to assess the situation.
  • Keep the mind on manual. Visual lookout and use of all available information can help in developing good situational awareness.
  • Train your vision. This includes visualization techniques; for example, five minutes of preparation before the start of watch can help us build a mental picture of what ship traffic to expect and what actions may be required.

Leaders even with expertise, need to be situationally aware at all times- to be able to get themselves and their teams to act proactively, or to respond effectively. Because ten minutes of inattention in open waters can create dangerous situations. In close waters, ten seconds of distraction is enough to cause an accident. A leader cannot allow the error of one moment to undo the work of their career, or the lives under their charge.

 

 

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#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership

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Leadership on a Stopwatch: Lessons from the USS John S McCain, and the Alnic MC collision

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What the commercial shipping industry can learn from the US Navy collisions, Part-2

 

 

When I read the accident investigation report, I had a strong sense of déjà vu. My book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas starts with a steering failure which almost results in a disaster. (Read the excerpt here:Amazon Kindle Preview)

 

In this case, both the John McCain (JSM) and the Alnic MC (AM) were bound for Singapore from Japan and Taiwan respectively. In the early hours of the morning, each with their commanding officers on the wheelhouse, both ships were proceeding in the same direction of the Traffic Separation Scheme at the east entrance of the Malacca Straits.

At 0519, the Commanding Officer on the JSM noticed the Helmsman having difficulty maintaining both the course and the speed of the ship. He ordered for the speed control to be shifted to another station so that another watch-stander could follow it up. Inadvertently, both speed control and the helm were transferred to the other station.

At 0521, unaware of the shift of both controls, the helmsman assumed he had lost the steering and informed his supervisor about the loss of steering control.

More confusion followed.

When the commanding officer gave the order to reduce the speed, the watch-stander reduced only the speed of the port side propeller. The starboard propeller was on full thrust which increased the left swing of the naval vessel.

Unintended, the JSM swung rapidly to its port side and onto the AM with disastrous results. The JSM’s bridge team had lost situational awareness and were hardly aware of the collision risk with AM until it was too late. AM, which was only doing 9.4 knots compared to JSM’s 20 knots could do little to avoid the collision.

The time of collision was 0524. i.e. 3 minutes, or 180 seconds after the loss of steering was announced.

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   Image courtesy: Report on the Collision between USS John S McCain (DDG 56) and Motor Vessel Alnic MC by the United States of America, Department of the Navy

 

Your leadership ‘moment’ could come anytime, and could be short enough to be timed on a stopwatch.

On 15th January 2009, the US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was safely landed on the Hudson River after a bird strike disabled both its engines. The time between the failure of the engines to the landing was 208 seconds.

In another maritime accident, the tanker Aframax River lost engine control in the narrow Houston Ship Channel. Due to a momentary malfunction of the engine-control governor, the engines were moving astern even through the navigators had given the order to stop the engines. The Chief Engineer bypassed the governor and stopped the engine using the local control- about 180 seconds after the loss of control was experienced. Still the ship’s momentum was high, and despite tug assistance and using both the anchors, the ship struck a shore object. One of the ship's fuel tank was ruptured and a fireball erupted. The Houston pilots, Captain Michael G. McGee and Captain Michael C. Phillips stayed on the Bridge to ensure the burning ship was manoeuvred away from other ships and storage tanks. The fire was finally extinguished about an hour and thirteen seconds later. For their efforts, both the Houston pilots were rightfully awarded the 2017 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. The Chief Engineer also did a decent job in stopping the engines using the local control- though few seconds could still have been shaved off the reaction time - the outcome could have possibly been different.

Ships are often in situations where there is little time to react. And navigators, like in the above cases may not always had simulator-based training to react to every kind of situation. Our responses in that moment are shaped by our experiences, and more importantly- how much intentional work we have put into developing our leadership skills. This is something I’ve put across throughout my book Golden Stripes, concluding with the chapter on decisive-leadership and the DECIDE template.

Decision Making in Crisis Situations

Sully famously said during the air-crash investigation “Over 40 years in the air, but in the end I'm going to be judged on 208 seconds.” This is true for us all- on air, on land, in space, or at sea- these critical moments can be the ultimate test of our professional abilities- as well as the safety of our lives and those under our charge. That’s what leaders are there for.

  • Firstly, remember that a crisis can arise at any time. It’s part of your job. Include this aspect in your plans, including in the voyage-plan. JSM could have considered going at a more controlled speed in the congested Malacca Straits which could have allowed for more time for response in case anything unexpected came up.
  • Stay alert to detect anything going wrong. The navigators on the JSM should have checked if the steering had indeed failed, and the rudder position instead of simply changing over the steering controls back and forth.
  • Take positive, strong action. Have heuristics in place for such events (refer Chapter 20 of Golden Stripes). The navigators on the JSM should have immediately stopped both engines while they engaged the back-up steering system. The Houston Pilots on the Aframax River and Capt. Sullenberger on US Airways Flight 1549 did all the right things to prevent a bad situation from turning worse.
  • Train individually and as a team for such events. The supporting members of the Bridge Team on the John McCain should have turned on the AIS and alerted all traffic in the vicinity about their predicament. This could have prompted the tanker Alnic MC to take avoiding action. Each member of the team must collectively swing into action because when an emergency strikes, you're on a stopwatch, and you’ll all have to respond in seconds.

 

#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership

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Lessons from the 2017 US Navy collisions

Part-1: Common reasons for the USS Fitzgerald, the USS John McCain, and the USS Lake Champlain accidents

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Everything starts and ends with leadership. Nothing else we accomplish, no other priority we pursue, is of much consequence if we do not have sound and effective leadership in place to enact it. We all have a responsibility to develop our own leadership potential and that of the Sailors’. 

- Admiral Michael G Mullen, USN

 


The US Navy is a powerful navy, both in terms of sophisticated ships and highly trained navigators. When three of its ships collide in separate incidents, within months of each other, it’s a matter of concern for all users of the sea.

Just as we pass the first anniversary of these collisions, I will be sharing my own analysis of these collisions in a series of articles. The aim of this study is to assess what the commercial shipping industry can learn from these accidents.

First up, we must appreciate the transparency of the US Navy in sharing their findings externally, and look at their own conclusions regarding the role of its own ships in these accidents, in their own words. In the below table, I’ve mapped common findings from the three reports.

USS Fitzgerald USS John McCain USS Lake Champlain
Collided with the ACX Crystal off Japan on 21st June 2017 with the loss of seven lives. Collided with the Alnic off Singapore on 21st August 2017 with the loss of ten lives. Collided with fishing vessel Nam Yang 502 on 9th May 2017 in the Sea of Japan. Thankfully, there were no major injuries.

Failure to adhere to sound navigation practice.

One of them being that the ship was not operated at a safe speed appropriate to the number of other ships in the immediate vicinity.

Failure to execute basic watch-standing practices.
The officers possessed an unsatisfactory level of knowledge of the International Rules of the Nautical Road. Failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road, a system of rules to govern the maneuvering of vessels when risk of collision is present. Shipboard training programs regarding the International Rules of the Nautical Road were ineffective, and the officers possessed insufficient knowledge of these Rules.

Failure to execute basic watch standing practices.

One of them being that the watch-standers performing physical look out duties did so only on FITZGERALD’s port side, not on the starboard side where the three ships were present with risk of collision.

Failure to adhere to sound navigation practices.

One of them being that they failed to make proper use of lookouts

Watch team members were not familiar with basic radar fundamentals, impeding effective use. Watch standers operating the steering and propulsion systems had insufficient proficiency and knowledge of the systems. Watch team members were not familiar with basic radar fundamentals, impeding effective use.
Failure to properly use available navigation tools. Failure to properly use available navigation tools.
Failure to respond deliberately and effectively when in extremis. Loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in the operation of the JOHN S MCCAIN’s steering and propulsion system, while in the presence of a high density of maritime traffic. Failure to respond deliberately and effectively when in extremis. The bridge team was inexperienced and had not discussed or trained for emergency actions.
Failure to plan for safety. Leadership failed to provide the appropriate amount of supervision in constructing watch assignments for the evolution by failing to assign sufficient experienced officers to duties.
FITZGERALD’s approved navigation track did not account for, nor follow, the Vessel Traffic Separation Schemes in the area.
Supervisors and watch team members on the bridge did not communicate information and concerns to one another as the situation developed. The bridge team and Combat Information Center team did not communicate effectively.
The Officer of the Deck, responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, did not call the Commanding Officer on multiple occasions when required by Navy procedures The Commanding Officer decided not to station the Sea and Anchor detail when appropriate, despite recommendations from the Navigator, Operations Officer and Executive Officer. The Officer of the Deck, responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, did not call the XO on multiple occasions when required by the CO’s Standing Orders.
Key supervisors in the Combat Information Center failed to comprehend the complexity of the operating environment and the number of commercial vessels in the area.
In several instances, individual members of the watch teams identified incorrect information or mistakes by others, yet failed to proactively and forcefully take corrective action, or otherwise highlight or communicate their individual concerns.
Key supervisors and operators accepted difficulties in operating radar equipment due to material faults as routine rather than pursuing solutions to fix them.
The command leadership did not foster a culture of critical self-assessment. Following a near-collision in mid-May, leadership made no effort to determine the root causes and take corrective actions in order to improve the ship’s performance. Watchstanders did not maintain proper logs, and supervisors failed to recognize that junior watchstanders were not maintaining the surface contact log as required.
The command leadership was not aware that the ship’s daily standards of performance had degraded to an unacceptable level.
The crew was unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation. The crew was ultimately unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control, and deficiencies in training.
Principal watchstanders including the Officer of the Deck, in charge of the safety of the ship, and the Conning Officer on watch at the time of the collision did not attend the Navigation Brief the afternoon prior. This brief is designed to provide maximum awareness of the risks involved in the evolution.
Leadership failed to provide the appropriate amount of supervision in constructing watch assignments for the evolution by failing to assign sufficient experienced officers to duties.
Senior officers failed to provide input and back up to the Commanding Officer when he ordered ship control transferred between two different stations in proximity to heavy maritime traffic.
Senior officers and bridge watchstanders did not question the Helm’s report of a loss of steering nor pursue the issue for resolution.
If JOHN S MCCAIN had sounded at five short blasts or made Bridge-to-Bridge VHF hails or notifications in a timely manner, then it is possible that a collision might not have occurred. LAKE CHAMPLAIN did not sound signals with the ship’s whistle to indicate turns to port or starboard.

The US Navy’s analysis and Admiral Michael G Mullen’s own quote confirm what I mention in my book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas- that ‘all accidents are, at some level or the other, failures of leadership at sea’. Subsequent articles will examine these collisions one by one, and possible solutions. Watch this space.

The article pays respect to the mariners who lost their lives in these tragedies. One of the ways to honour their memory is to ensure such accidents never happen again to any mariner, anywhere.


#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership

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