Through the Captain's window

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The Round-Table: Making Ship-board Meetings Matter

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“I don’t agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time. If the desired outcome is defined clearly with a stated objective and agenda listing topics or questions to cover, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request them in advance so you can best prepare and make good use of the time together.”

                                                                                                                                                        - Tim Ferris, the author of “The 4-hour Workweek

 

 

 

 

On a fine day in early 2005, the Master of the ro-pax ship Arahura planned to carry out an emergency steering drill as was required by regulation. Usually the crew tested the non-follow up (NFU) system for the drill but on this occasion, the Master decided to test the steering with the solenoid valves in the machinery space. Problem was, he didn't inform anyone else of his intentions until the last moment.

The Master went down to the steering gear where he found that the 1st Engineer was not available due to some other priority work. The Chief Engineer expressed his concern of carrying out this unplanned procedure but the Master insisted, based on his experience with a sister ship. When ordered to move the rudder to starboard, the crewmember operating the solenoids, due to an incorrect marking with the solenoids, moved the rudder to port.

On the Wheelhouse, the 3rd Officer and Cadet were unaware of the details of the steering drill. And when the rudder went mistakenly to port, they informed the Master of the need to put the helm to starboard but did not mention the presence of another ship in the vicinity. The Arahura now started swinging wildly to starboard and due to the alertness of the crew on the other ship, missed a collision by just 3 cables.

Among other factors, the investigating authority, Maritime New Zealand found that:
• The Master of Arahura did not hold a prior meeting with the senior engineering officers to discuss the technical aspects of the drill.
• The Master did not inform the drill team or bridge that the execution of the drill would involve a different test method.
• The Master did not hold a pre-planning meeting to discuss the drill and how it would differ from the test method that had been used previously.

Meetings are where team focus is achieved. Here, we set up an atmosphere where the team members get comfortable communicating with each other. These meetings are very important for safety so each person knows what the others are doing and they avoid incompatible tasks. It’s also a good place to share problems so you can get inputs and even offers to assist from the rest of the team.

Here’s how to make meetings effective, whether at sea or on land:

1. Set up meetings at regular intervals. Don’t just have them when you’re having problems. The MAIB investigated a fire-related fatality on the Arco Avon where the third Engineer had worked on a failed fuel pipe without informing anyone. His reason for not doing so is likely to have been influenced by the on-board culture of routine lone working and absence of regular and frequent communication.

While it is very tempting to put off meetings under the pretext of being busy, my experience has taught me that these meetings should not be cancelled unless there’s a pressing reason to do so. You’ll be amazed at how many new challenges come to light during such meetings.

2. Cap them at 30 minutes. Start and finish on time; finish earlier if no one has anything more to add.

3. Always announce the agenda at the outset. It helps people to prepare and set expectations. A template helps to get the meeting off to a quick start and in the required direction. When you structure your meeting, the entire crew will appreciate your taking their valuable time into consideration.

4. Set an amiable atmosphere. Sit or stand in circles. Prohibit the use of electronic devices unless it’s for taking notes or referring to the agenda.

Meeting on ship cartoon

 Sketch by VS Parani in a moment of inspiration.

 

5. Take notes. Record comments and draft an action plan.

6. Encourage participation. Meetings are not the place to display authority, order, shout, argue, or preach. Limit the time each participant gets to speak. Draw out reluctant speakers by asking them open-ended questions such as: Is there anything we have not considered?

On the bulk carrier, the Great Majesty, the Master, Chief Engineer and Chief Mate met to discuss the operability of the ballast pumps. The Chief Engineer simply replied that one of the pumps could not be used. The Chief Mate did not seek to clarify if there were any other restrictions in using the ballast system, neither did the Chief Engineer elaborate.

Actually, when the ballast pump was disassembled for repair, the suction pipe and valves were not isolated. When the Chief Mate remotely opened the pump’s suction valves, the open pump’s casing was connected to the main seawater line, which resulted in the flooding of the Engine Room.

7. Conclude. Discussions are great teamwork tools, but they must always end in action plans. The last two minutes of the meeting should be spent summarising who will do what, by when, and how you will communicate.

8. Motivate and Energise. I’ve always found meetings to be a good way to connect with and motivate my team. Getting an opportunity to speak also helps team members build self-confidence. In addition, regular meetings help assess people’s individual capabilities, which is very important for a leader to know.

Meetings are a great opportunity to clarify issues, sharpen focus and align the team with the objectives. They help support a robust safety culture on the ship. Meetings are a great leadership and teamwork tool, and effective leaders run productive meetings.

What else do you do to make your meetings matter?

 

 

References:

Accident Report Arahura & Santa Regina Close Quarters Situation in Cook Strait on 27 January 2005

Marine Accident Investigation Branch, U.K., Report no: 17/2016, Arco Avon

ATSB Transport Safety Report Marine Occurrence Investigation No.257, Engine room flooding on board Great Majesty

Effective meetings are discussed in greated detail in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, available from Whittles Publishing, and on Amazon.

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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.

performance age

                                                                                          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?

corruption

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

saware

 

 

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.

 

fitzgerald collision

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.

coln1 Copy

   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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