Through the Captain's window

Stories on Maritime Leadership

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Enclosed Space: A Black Hole?

Full Panel

For this post, I chose to make this blog post an illustrated strip.

Inspired by Frank Miller and the recent imaging of the Black Hole. Motivated by recurring enclosed space fatalities, sometimes multiple fatalities due to failed enclosed space rescue.

Even if you're a Guardian of the Galaxy, you got to avoid the Black Hole.


Some good videos on enclosed-space entry can be found here and here.

The Standard P&I Club guide for Masters on enclosed spaces can be found in this link.


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Recollections of an Unsuccessful Seaman (Authored by Leonard Noake, edited by David Creamer)








This is an unusual maritime book. It’s author Leonard Noake wrote the book in the last year of his life (1929), knowing that he was terminally ill with tuberculosis. The original book was type-written, accompanied by water-colour sketches and photographs, but was lost in the attic of the author’s widow until the 1970s. It was finally edited for the modern-day audience by Captain David Creamer, the author’s great-nephew, in 2017.

The book offers the modern-day maritime professional an insight into a seafarer’s life around the First World War and the age of steam engines. The author writes from a unique perspective; he has only a few months to live and has no pretensions. Though he survived a 40 foot fall during one voyage, several tropical diseases, a mugging overseas and escaped from drowning after being torpedoed during the war, he calls himself an ‘unsuccessful seaman’, perhaps reflecting his self-depreciating sense of humour.


I asked the editor Captain David Creamer some questions about the book and the story.


Captain David  Creamer

Was your great-uncle an inspiration for you to embark upon a career at sea?
No, I don’t recall being aware of his existence when I joined the training ship HMS Worcester in 1964 at the age of 13 years. My inspiration for embarking upon a career at sea was the childrens’s author, Percy F. Westerman, who wrote many adventure books with a maritime background that must have influenced may a young lad, as it did with me. Joining the Sea Scouts when I was 11 years old also guided me in my career decision process.

How do you think seafaring has changed since the book was written?
For the better in terms of safety but for the worse in terms of bureaucracy and the criminalising of every minor incident – one is no longer permitted to have a genuine accident that might have resulted from a decision process that had split seconds to determine. In today’s seafaring practices, there appears to be an unhealthy reliance on all things electronic , when I was taught, as was my great-uncle, that keeping a safe navigation watch involved looking out of a bridge window or standing on the bridge wing to physically observe one’s surroundings. In terms of welfare and accommodation, etc. one has to only read of conditions on board ships being visited by inspectors to realise that seafarers are still subject to appalling treatment from their employers almost a century after the book was written.

Interestingly, some of the stories and sentiments shared in the book ring true today. What’s your take on that?
As mentioned briefly in the paragraph above, we are in a society that’s being continuously brainwashed to convince us that ‘progress’ is being made when it’s very clear that a lot of objectives in life have changed very little. The modern day research into ‘sailing ships’ convinces me that perhaps the best way forward is to take one step back!!!

Lastly, how would you describe a successful seaman?
One who hasn’t gone down with his ship! How do you describe ‘success’? The dictionary states it is ‘the achievement of a desired aim or something that turns out well’. I spent a lifetime at sea, didn’t experience any major disasters, brought up a loving family and have now happily retired. Is that a description of a successful seaman? I really don’t know.

Captain Creamer- Tell us about yourself, and the books that you have authored yourself.
Although I’ve written a two volume autobiography, ‘A Mariner’s Annals’ & ‘More Mariner’s Annals’, my career at sea has been of no particular consequence. I joined Bibby Line as a deck cadet in 1964, rose up through the ranks to become a master in their LPG tanker fleet in 1977, stayed as a master for 9 years before temporarily leaving the sea between 1977 and 1986 to manage my own business ashore. After re-validating my master’s certificate, I served as a chief officer for 2/3 years before being employed as a delivery master with Wijsmuller U.K., later to become ‘Redwise’ , one of the world’s most successful delivery companies. I thoroughly enjoyed my 16-year career delivering vessels, tugboats, dredgers, etc. all over the world before retiring in 2016 at the age of 69 years. Two of my voyages with Redwise resulted in my writing two books, both published by Whittles Publishing, ‘Rats, Rust & Two Old Ladies’ the story of delivering to old and clapped out tugboats from Bahrain to Trinidad, and ‘Oriental Endeavour’, another tugboat delivery voyage from West Africa to Singapore. ’Recollections of an Unsuccessful Seaman’ has been a project of mine for several years. I’m now working on a journal written by a lady in 1924/25 when she was a passenger on board two Bibby Line passenger ships.

The book is an interesting read. It’s amusing to read about conditions in shipping those days- though shipping has improved a lot- some of the stories ring true even today.

The book is available through the publishers Whittles Publishing

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Down in the Doldrums: Suicide at Sea





‘Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times’

Suicide note by Tony Hancock. He was a successful television comedian. A star. But a series of problems, including a severe concussion that affected his memory, conflicts with fellow actors, alcoholism, and divorce, led to his suicide in 1968.


It is estimated that around 800,000 people commit suicide every year. For every suicide, there are several more attempts. Suicide is the 18th leading cause of death worldwide. The problem is also prevalent among seafarers; statistics show that over a thousand seafarers have committed suicide in the last fifty years. Sometimes suspected suicide cases are simply recorded as 'lost at sea'. It’s not a new phenomenon though; in in 1828, Captain Pringle Stokes who commanded the HMS Beagle shot himself after a round of depression. It was a sad ending for a Captain of this famous ship that had carried Charles Darwin on his extraordinary voyages.

Matt O´Crowley, an auditor and consultant for both maritime and industrial organisations is currently trying to raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues amongst seafarers by working with a number of groups including the Maritime Wellness Institute. This is his story…

"I came into the maritime industry as a mature student, and after a career that included working on small passenger and work vessels amongst many other things. Whilst it was a formative and wonderful experience, I came into contact with a number of individuals that were frankly underprepared and badly informed of the realities of working at sea and the isolation that it brings. I saw first-hand how poorly cadets were recruited, mentored and developed.

During my time at college, my great friend Matt (another mature student) was scapegoated by those who should have known better whilst he was fighting ongoing mental health issues and situational depression. His story ended with his cadetship being withdrawn, and whilst appearing entirely collected and motivated to pursue other options he tragically ended his life.

My own yarn will be familiar to many, my partner felt abandoned by my going to sea which put an unbearable strain on our relationship. The stress of the situation at home and my work as a maritime auditor in West Africa for 2 months at a time led to me suffering a minor stroke which certainly pulled the rug from under my feet and spelled the end of my career (as I thought at the time). Divorce was on the cards, and of course eventually came. I attempted suicide twice, because I felt that my identity had been taken away from me, and also resented my partner for having a secret life when I was away-but frighteningly the process of getting there was not the tear soaked idea held by many. When the darkness came, I found myself operating fully on autopilot and fully committed to dying. The second event happened after a particularly happy day, where I was literally crying with laughter with good friends. You don’t need to be sad to want to end it all, and looking back on it this is a revelation to me.

Many of the ex-fishermen that I worked with described how they remembered shipmates killing themselves at sea, and how they would find their clothes neatly folded on the deck in a tidy pile; something that at the time didn’t resonate, but now I recognise as a symptom of the cold calculating process we go through to override our innate instinct of survival.

Happily, I am now at my happiest and most content, and the experiences that I went through have made me a better person, both at work and play; but I am ever vigilant of the black dog that could come back and for a reason that may shock you, and in fact meant that at no point I could access any mental health support from the health service.

Suicide comes in many flavours and for me it was THE solution at the time, it was irrational and daft. I called the Samaritans, and frankly they made the situation worse…the problem for me was that I enjoyed the feeling of being close to death and was deeply offended when I was found and cut down. The process didn´t hurt for long, and it actually began to feel good-for me the fear and trepidation of dying was removed which of course led to my second attempt. Again, in retrospect, I have to concede that sailors are a little different-we appreciate direct language and the general well meaning, breathy statements such as “and how does that make you feel” just doesn’t work for large swathes of us. Much as alcoholics may identify as such during sobriety, I am the same with suicide-even though I am ´happy´. For me, it was an autonomous process that once started became an exercise in tying good knots. On one occasion, I self-harmed in order to distract myself, leading to my cutting my arms to ribbons, I’ve never done it again-but it saved my life by breaking the sense of inevitability.

Most people that know me would say that I am a strong person, and I am. Because of the nuances of my attempts I could not tick the correct boxes to get prompt treatment, and because I was cognisant of my actions I was not sectioned. In fact, once the mist had cleared, I felt absolutely fine leading me to understand that what I needed most were tactics to buy time and let the feelings subside-a bit like a cigarette craving.

These days, I am firmly back in the saddle and rarely think about this horrific episode in my life. But recently I was made aware of another classmate from college who had ended his life in a similar vein to myself and Matt, all three of us had our identity taken away and couldn´t cope. I remember as well other members of my class who had come close, had their own crisis and handled it badly and I not only remember, but now realise in all clarity how badly we as an industry recognise and support our families at sea.

The Maritime Wellness Institute is currently working on a wellness management system to address many of the issues faced by seafarers around the world, and I would urge as many people as possible to get behind this fantastic initiative.

My personal experience became the making of me, but tragically and all too often it is the ending of others.

Anecdotal evidence that I am receiving shows that many suicides and episodes are taking place away from data collection points, and currently we have little idea of the scale of the problem. Vast improvements are required to improve the situation, and it is my personal mission to speak openly and candidly about my own experiences to try and stop others from not experiencing the joy of life from the other side."

at eternitys gate1

At Eternity' Gate, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890, completed months before his own suicide.


Matt is remarkably courageous in sharing his own experiences and I admire his determination in doing so to prevent others from going through with suicidal thoughts. I’ve lost some friends and colleagues to suicide – and I’ve seen the devastating effect it’s had on their families. It’s an uncomfortable topic for many but given its impact, we would be doing a disservice to our community by sweeping it under the carpet.

I’ve come to realize that there are not always clear signs or symptoms surrounding suicide. Sometimes, the person decides to go through almost instantly. In other cases, it’s a result of an internal struggle which has been going on for years. Though various tests and scales have been developed to predict suicidal acts, there is no clear evidence that these tests are successful. It is indeed possible for a person to fake the test should the person intend to hide suicidal intentions. Even in my own experience, I found that some of the seafarers who committed suicide had successfully passed psychometric tests.

Until we find more reliable predictors of suicide, probably the best way to prevent them is to be aware of any indicators in our family, friends and colleagues. And perhaps some empathy towards all, even towards those who appear ‘imbalanced’ or ‘not normal’ will go a long way. Do remember that most of us will go through some crisis or grief at some point of life, and we all are affected in different ways. Healthy social interactions on ships help crews to share or dissipate any concerns that may be building up. A word of compassion towards your colleague going through a break-up or a loss will help them rebound from the situation faster.

For those who do are going through feelings of grief or depression, it's OK to say 'I'm Not OK'. Reach out to your friends, family and colleagues and give them permission to help you. Even if you’re down in the doldrums, remember the wind is just around the corner.



WHO on Suicide

Suicide Predictors; Do they work?

Suicide Help Lines

Suicide Help Line for Seafarers

The Maritime Wellness Institute

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Heuristics in shipboard decision-making

stopwatch Copy2


A news reporter interviews an elderly shipping magnate:
‘Sir, what is the secret of your success?’
He says, ‘Two words’
‘and, Sir, what are they?’
‘Right decisions’
‘But how do you make right decisions?’
‘One word’
‘and that is?’
‘so how did you get your experience?’
‘Two words’
‘Interesting. What are they?’
‘Bad decisions’


From the time you and I were around ten years old, up until this moment, our life has been about decisions. All our learning, our values, our capabilities and the value we bring to our jobs – is defined by the decisions that we make.

Research shows that the average person makes over 35,000 decisions in just one day. Some of the decisions are small, and some are big. Many of these decisions will be made subconsciously but some will be deliberate conscious decisions. Since there are so many decisions to make, not acting is also a decision- which usually does not end well- because we simply delay the inevitable. Ignoring a situation does not make it go away but it leaves us with very few options at a later time.

Seafarers too make several high-stakes decisions every day. Plus, they do this in an environment that is constantly changing and unpredictable, thousands of miles away from land. With new technology and faster turnaround of ships, seafarers have not only to be fast and furious but also accurate in making decisions. Of course, we know that not all the decisions made on the high seas end well. there are on average 100 total losses of ships and over 1000 fatalities each year- most of them attributed to human error. This article looks at ways in which we can enable and empower our seafarers, our colleagues and perhaps even ourselves to make better decisions.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information required to make a decision, or wait for further information and this can sometimes lead to paralysis by analysis. Both paralysis and analysis are Greek words, and the solution- is also a Greek word. 

Heuristics or evretika is a Greek word made famous when Archimedes ran naked around the streets of Syracuse shouting ‘Eureka, Eureka’ or ‘I got it’, ‘I got it’, after he had discovered why objects sink or float. Even today, we explain the flotation of ships through Archimedes principles of buoyancy.

Heuristics today means the distilling of the issue and finding the solution in its most simple and elegant form- which comes about from experience and deep insight. Heuristics are also referred to as rules-of-thumb. Heuristics has been widely researched and recommended in various fields such as aviation and medicine. There is certainly a wide scope for its application in the maritime industry.

decision at sea

                                                                       Seafarers have to make several high-stakes decisions every day. Not all decisions end well.

Let’s start with some simple heuristics for anchoring:

Do not anchor in more than Beaufort Force 6 or above.

Do not anchor in depths of over 80 metres.

Do not let go the anchor from the brakes in depths of over 25 metres.

There are several instances of ships which have either dragged or lost their anchors in heavy weather and then grounded on the lee shore with dramatic consequences. There have also been cases where anchor with chain was completely lost after letting go from brake in deep waters.

Good heuristics are not just random numbers but based on science and observation. For example, the IACS rules contain various formulae and statements to specify the operational capabilities of anchors. However, all this information is not readily accessible to navigators on the dark wheelhouse of a vessel at 3’o clock in the morning in rough seas. For decision-making, it’s much easier to remember a rule of thumb which says ‘Don’t anchor in Beaufort Force 6 or above’.

Not all problems, even complex problems need complex solutions. around 80% of all the situations we face are routine and we can build heuristics to enable decision making. Heuristics also help clear up some ambiguity around traditional shipping rules. The collision regulations for instance, talk about things like good lookout, ample time, and good seamanship. Your definition of ample time and safe passing distance could differ from mine; that’s why I recommend that companies should establish heuristics such as:

Alter course/ speed when at 5 nautical mile range/ 15 minute TCPA.

Aim for final passing distance as 2 miles in open sea/ 1 mile in coastal waters / 0.5 nm in traffic separation scheme but with escalated watch level.

It’s also quite important to have heuristics for passage planning. Heavy weather is the number one reason for all total losses at sea, for example, the El Faro, the and the Green Lily. Heuristics such as ‘do not enter in wave-heights more than 7 metres’, or ‘do not manoeuvre in ports (unassisted) with wind speeds exceeding 25 knots’, could help mariners make rapid decisions, or at least consult with their offices when the operating environment is outside the normal envelope.

You can have heuristics in the engine room as well - when the oil mist detector sounds, stop the engine. There have been cases where the Chief Engineers have rather opted to change the circuit board, or clean the lenses of the oil mist detector. Surely enough, a crankcase explosion followed, disabling the ship at sea.

Decision making is an important part of our daily activity, both ashore and on the high seas. It’s not always easy as one must often choose between a good option and a better one and with incomplete information. But at the same time, 80% of these decisions are usually routine, or foreseeable and we can plan for them. This is where heuristics help.

In closing, I’d like to recommend two words for you: Heuristics Inventory

Figure out with your colleagues, the various rules of thumbs you can use for your daily operations. Debate them and later formalize the heuristics within your organization- both on board and ashore. Build a heuristics inventory.

Enjoy the eureka moments along the way.


This article was also published on the Safety4Sea website (link)

The Golden Stripes Podcast on the topic can be found here

This was also the presentation topic of Capt. VS Parani at the Safety4Sea Conference at Limassol on 20th February 2019 ((link)

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Maritime Author Interview- Philip K Allan









I love the sea. I love books. Maritime books combine the two. What I particularly enjoy about naval fiction is the way it blends the author's insights, research, inspiration from real-life and of course the author's creativity to paint a vivid and gripping story of life at sea. Philip K Allan is a rising star in historical naval fiction and I had the opportunity to know the man behind the Alexander Clay series.

What inspired you to writing about the sea?

I am often asked what drew me to the sea. Although I am a keen sailor, I have never been a seafarer. I am one of those people who go down to the sea in books. I have always loved naval fiction set in the Golden Age of Sail. I read C S Forester’s Hornblower books as a child and then later Patrick O’Brian. It is a world that is captivating, with sailing ships and storms, battles and raids, mutiny and exploration, and of course the sea. It is also a period full of extraordinary character, both good and bad. So when I came to sit down and write my first novel, it was a period and a subject I was drawn to.

What are the main themes of your first novel - The Captains Nephew?

The book starts with an officer drowning in the sea while a battle is going on around him. As he dies, we learn that it is no accident that he has fallen into the water. The book then moves back six months in time, and we follow the events that will lead up to the drowning. The story is set onboard a Royal Navy frigate in 1795. During the next six months the ship experiences a number of adventures, starting with a landing of sailors and Royal Marines in Flanders and ending with a long chase across the Atlantic and the battle we saw at the book’s beginning.
The ship is full of tensions. There is a growing rift between the aristocratic captain and Alexander Clay, his first lieutenant. The captain is determined to advance his incompetent nephew, the second lieutenant Nicholas Windham. Then there is tension on the lower deck too. The reader is introduced to an eclectic group of sailors, several of who have run away to sea to escape their pasts. The story also sets up the start of a romance between Clay and Miss Lydia Browning, a passenger onboard a merchant ship that the Agrius is escorting, which will continue into the other books.

Is Alexander Clay based on a historical figure you have read about or someone you think would have been a great man of the sea?

Clay is a bit of mixture of characters. He is the son of a clergyman (like Nelson), although doesn’t have an influential uncle to help him get promoted. He is a self-made man (like Edward Pellew) who has to rely on his own abilities to get on, and resents the way that less able officers with the right patrons have been promoted over him. I try to make him as human as possible, so although he can be charming and likable at times, he is also stubborn and pompous on other occasions. He is very able, but can also doubt himself.

Where do you see the journey taking us in the series?

The Captain’s Nephew starts towards the start of the war with France that will last another twenty years, until Waterloo, so I have left myself plenty of time to work with. Each book in the series covers about a year, and has a slightly different theme. The second book sees Clay’s first command, in the Caribbean; the next is spent blockading Brest as part of the Channel Fleet in 1797, the Year of Mutinies. My fourth book is set in the Mediterranean and follows Nelson’s spectacular Nile campaign in 1798. Book five is just about to be published, and I have a book six planned for the Spring of 2019.
The core of the series is around Alexander Clay and some lower deck sailors, with other characters coming and going. He starts as an experienced lieutenant, becomes a commander and then a junior captain. How long his career will last depends on how long I can still keep producing good, exciting stories. The day I am unhappy with what I am writing I will know that it is time for the career of Alexander Clay to end, but I still have a few plans for him yet.

Captains Nephew book PhilipKAllan

What makes your books unique?

I always wanted to include the voice of the lower deck properly in my books. This was something that previous writers of naval fiction have largely failed to do. My idea was to make the ship a sort of ‘Downton Abbey’, with the sailors having their own adventures and stories in parallel with those of the officers. It also lets me shift the reader’s view point. When the ship is involved in an event or battle, I can let the reader experience it both from the perspective of Clay on the quarterdeck and then from the sailors manning the cannon, or aloft in the rigging. This has worked well, with some of the sailor’s stories becoming very prominent. Some readers have told me that they enjoy the lower deck stories most of all. In particular I have a black sailor called Able Sedgwick, who is a run slave that joins the ship in the Caribbean. His life story, from a village in West Africa, to the Royal Navy via the cane fields of Barbados could certainly have a novel in its own right.

What are the differences in the leadership between the lower and upper deck characters?

A captain in the Royal Navy of the period had almost unlimited powers over their crew. He could punish them, flog them, and had an armed contingent of marines to back up his authority. But only the most foolish, like Bligh and Pigot, relied solely on such methods. There also existed a parallel lower deck moral code that was just as powerful, with sailors administering their own ideas of justice. Mutiny, which was much more common than the authorities at the time cared to admit, normally took the form of a labour dispute. There was rarely any violence; rather a crew would refuse to carry out an action, such as leaving port, until their grievance was settled. A wise captain knew when to stand down his marines, and sort out the men’s problem. On several occasions in my books I have the lower deck taking things into their own hands, sometimes brutally and occasionally getting things very wrong.

How have you found life as a published Author?

It’s tougher than I thought it would be. The JK Rowlings of this world obviously do very well, but most writers I know struggle to make it pay. There are about 5 million books for sale on Amazon in the UK, so making your work stand out is a big challenge. I am a reasonably successful author, but this has only come from treating it as a full time job. I start at my laptop each day before 8am, and I rarely shut it down before 7pm. A good portion of my time has to be spent on marketing. I do this via social media, giving talks, doing book signings, writing articles and producing a weekly blog. I do all of that before I even start to write my books.

What advice do you have for one of our readers who might be interested in becoming a writer?

The starting point for a successful writer is that you must be able to invent exciting, interesting and compelling stories to put into your book. You will need several good plot lines for most books. If you are planning a series, you will need some standalone ones that will be resolved in each book, and others that run across several books. Having a strong story to tell has never been more important. The harsh reality is that anything less will not sell, however well written. Jane Austen only had to compete with other novels, or taking a turn around the garden; today a book has to be more entertaining than Netflix!
Once you have your story, you then need the ability to set it down on the page. The technique of fiction writing is quite different from normal writing. But it is a craft that can be learned, either via a creative writing course or self taught, as I am. When I read a book that I like, I look for how the author achieved his effect. It may spoil the pleasure of reading a bit, but it makes me a better writer. Like most skills in life, it gets easier the more you do it. I have almost half a million words published now, but I am still learning.
The final hurdle to clear is the highest, getting published. This normally requires a literary agent, since very few publishers will accept scripts directly. Even with a well written and entertaining novel, the odds are long. My agent was accepting about one author in every three hundred that approached him. There is the self-publishing route but very few make this work financially for them. The brutal truth is that if a book is not good enough to be accepted by a publisher, it is unlikely to sell.

About the Author

Philip K Allan comes originally from Watford and still lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two teenage daughters. He has an excellent knowledge of the 18th century navy. He studied it as part of his history degree at London University, which awoke a lifelong passion for the period. A longstanding member of the Society for Nautical Research, he is also a keen sailor and writes for the US Naval Institute’s magazine Naval History.
He is author of the Alexander Clay series of naval fiction. The first book in the series, The Captain’s Nephew, was published in January 2018, and immediately went into the Amazon top 100 bestseller list for Sea Adventures, where it has stayed. The sequel, A Sloop of War, was published in March 2018, and was similarly well received, winning the Discovered Diamonds Book of the Month. He has since published three further books in the series, On the Lee Shore, A Man of No Country and The Distant Ocean.

His books are available worldwide through any good online retailer, such as Amazon. For more information visit

What they are saying about The Captain’s Nephew

This is the best book I have read in several years.
Ian Cowie, Sunday Times columnist

The author writes with admirable precision and fluency. His plot construction and narrative flow are tight and compelling, never losing momentum...
Jeffrey K. Walker in Discovering Diamonds whirlwind of a ride, excellently detailed, and had me clinging to every page. It's beautifully written with wonderful details that will have the readers sitting on the edge of their seats until the very end of the book.
James Brewer - The Manhattan Book Review

A captivating story in the best traditions of historical nautical fiction
Alaric Bond - author of the Fighting Sail series

...even landlubbers will find something to adore in The Captain’s Nephew...told by a storyteller well-versed in his craft, it is a tale to re-visit time and again...
Before the second sleep book blog

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Emergency Response - We've had a Collision; What Next?

This is my article which appeared in the October 2017 edition of the newsletter of Navigate Response


The complete newsletter is available at Navigate Response Newsletter (October 2017)

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The Cost of Piracy

Sharing my article which appeared on International Maritime and Port Security journal (Jan/Feb 2018)

piracy article

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A leader with a backbone

back bags1



My first experience with back-pain started when I was a Second Officer on a break-bulk ship. We had loaded refined wheat flour in bags from Italy to Yemen.

At Aden, with a tenth of the cargo remaining to be discharged, we found bags with mold in them. The affected bags had become green on the outside and hard to touch. The consignees would not accept the cargo and the stevedores stopped working.

To reduce the quantity of damaged cargo, the Captain ordered us to segregate the cargo- good from bad, so that the still intact ones could be discharged by the stevedores. So, our crew, me included had to manually remove the damaged bags. I was in my early twenties so I was working away furiously with the team. Even when others would take a break, I would continue- kind of ‘showing-off’ my youthful strength. Little did I know that this would instead be a mistake which would cause me troubles for many years to come.

At night, I got up from my sleep to get a glass of water. Just as I reached for the glass by my bedside, a searing pain shot up from my lower back. It was so intense that I believe I passed out. In the morning, I woke up on the floor and my back hurt like hell. I could not even make it to the dining salon. It took me two days of complete rest and multiple doses of painkillers for me to keep watch. Not only was I off the cargo removal duty, fearing that other crew would also end up with back pain, the Captain had engaged trained stevedores to finish the rest of the job.

For several years after that, even as Chief Officer and Master, the pain surfaced every now and then, though thankfully not to that extent. It would appear after I had inspected a few double-bottom tanks with my back bent for several hours. I soon started wearing a back-support strap when I expected to go up and down cargo tank in the drydock.

Surprisingly, in my first few years working in the shore office, I still had episodes when the back pain was too much and I worked from home instead. But these were different. I’m right handed so the stiffness usually was on the right side of my torso. Besides the physical pain, back pain can make us irritable, and we’re not at our best as a leader.

Over the last few years, I’ve researched the condition in depth and have taken preventive steps. It has worked and I will share these with you. I haven’t taken a day off over the last five years because of back pain, even though I still perform weighted deadlifts, squats and back-rows in the gym.

Back Pain Parani

First, a few facts:

1. Worldwide, back pain is the single leading cause of disability and one of the most common reasons for missed work; it is estimated that two work days are lost per year for every full-time worker.
2. Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives.
3. Back injuries (disc herniation and lumbosacral strain) are the number one reason for permanent disability claims among seafarers in the Philippines.
4. Low-back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year; add in lost wages and decreased productivity and that figure easily rises to more than $100 billion.
5. Back pain is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, behind skin disorders and osteoarthritis/joint disorders.
But back pain need not be dangerous:
6. Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
7. Most people with low back pain recover, however reoccurrence is common and for small percentage of people the condition will become chronic and disabling.

Causes of back pain:
Back pain can be caused by disease of the internal organs, such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss. However, the most common back pains are sprained muscle (like I did) or the serious slipped disc- due to accidents and sports injuries. In addition, poor posture, obesity, and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain.

What can you do about it?
I’m not going to give medical advice as this is for you to consult your physician and chiropractor. Do it without delay.
I can however suggest some preventive actions to avoid work related injury like I did.
1. I should not have lifted those bags by bending my back. Instead I should have lifted by exerting my legs. It would have helped if I had kept the bag close to my body and had I not twisted my torso to throw the bag. Better still, I should have taken on a partner for lifting those bags. In my later years, I would repeat this caution every morning during our tool box meetings.
2. Warm up and stretch before you start your work- whether on ship, or in an office.
3. Maintain proper posture. Like my mother used to say “don’t slouch”.
4. Whether you’re standing during the navigational watch for hours, or sitting in front of the computer, or working in an uncomfortable position. Take a break every hour. Breathe deeply and stretch to minimise back fatigue.
5. Sleep on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in your spine. If you’re a ship operator, keep this in mind when ordering mattresses for your ships.
6. Smoking impairs blood flow, resulting in oxygen and nutrient deprivation to spinal tissues.
7. Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

Be a leader with a backbone. A strong backbone.


Many thanks to Dr.Rajesh Botchu for his expert medical inputs for this article. He is a Consultant Musculoskeletal Radiologist and Orthopaedic Surgeon. More about what he does at and


  • An educational video on safe lifting for the maritime industry
  • A video on simple back flexibility exercises. In yoga, they say that “you’re only as old as your spine”
  • Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Published Online First: 24 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428
  • Vallfors B. Acute, Subacute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Clinical Symptoms, Absenteeism and Working Environment. Scan J Rehab Med Suppl1985; 11: 1-98.
  • Rubin Dl. Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007; May;25(2):353-71.
  • Hartvigsen J et al. Low Back Pain Series: What Low Back Pain Is and Why We Need to Pay Attention. Lancet, June 2018; Volume 391, Issue 10137; p2356-2367.
  • Gard P&I Club, A crew claims statistical analysis, 2004.
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How Leaders Manoeuvre Conflict

“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
-Ronald Reagan

conflict small


"There’s a fly in my soup, Captain". The Chief Engineer said, visibly upset.

"And I blame it on you" continued the Chief Engineer.

Everyone in the dining room stopped to look over where the Chief Engineer and Captain were seated. Some even looked back into their own soup to check for flies. Not me. I was a young Cadet, only few months into my career and this was the first major conflict I had seen on the ship which otherwise was about giving orders and following them- no questions asked.

The Captain squinted his eyes in confusion "Come again?"

"I know you told the Cook to put a fly in my soup" the Chief Engineer’s voice was raised and agitated.

Long story short, some very unpleasant words were exchanged and it ended in everyone finishing their dinner early. The Chief Engineer was replaced in the next port.

Leading up to the ‘fly in the soup’ incident were small warning signs which made sense when I looked back. It started with arguments about the ship’s RPM or the fuel figures, and at times the engine maintenance. Both the Captain and the Chief Engineer had been complaining about each other in their absence. Meetings had become a ‘blame game’ setting. Eventually things came to a ‘either him or me’ standpoint between the Captain and the Chief Engineer.

As I felt then, and as I feel about it now- it was all wrong. There are more such examples- from physical assault on board (fishing vessel Captain Billy Haver), to mutinies (HMS Bounty), these otherwise capable professionals let small conflicts get out of hand.

The 'Drydock' Conflict:

Years later, I was in a similar dining room for the daily-repairs meeting at a Chinese dockyard. This time I was in command of the ship and was concerned about getting the ship back on schedule. Just then, the Fourth Engineer came into the meeting with a worried look. He informed us that a weak spot had been found on the fuel tank boundary when the steel around the tank was being sand-blasted.

The Superintendent, the Chief Engineer and I checked out the weak spot for ourselves. Now we found ourselves in a dilemma; we could go ahead with the repairs, and it would cost us three extra days; or, we could leave it unattended, and risk the weak spot springing a leak during the voyage. We got the technical, operations and the commercial team in the office on a conference call, right there in the dining room.

The Technical Manger fired the first salvo "How the hell did we miss this spot during the pre-docking gauging?"

Me: "They gauged this bulkhead but they must’ve missed it."

Operations Manager: "OK now that we have to deal with it, what’s the plan?"

Superintendent: "We need to repair it."

Commercial Manager: "Are you out of your f**** mind? We’ll have to rearrange the booked cargo for another ship. No way!"

Technical Manager: ‘"And the additional repairs and stay in the yard will make us overshoot the drydock budget!"

Chief Engineer: "Look, you got to take care of these things from the office. I don’t want the fuel leaking into the cargo holds at sea- and then we have to deal with it."

Me: "And the leaked fuel could damage the cargo."

Commercial Manager: (pounding his fist on his table now) "We already had so many delays with this bloody ship…and you always put me in this position where I’ve to say sorry to the shippers!"

Me: "I don’t like the news either but we need a solution. We could delay for now but we may have to stop the ship again for repair few months down the line. My recommendation is we do the repairs. I’ll personally see to it that it gets done as early as possible."

Chief Engineer: "Yeah. About the budget, we’ll discuss here and see if we can shift some of the docking jobs to be done by the crew. No promises but we’ll sit down and discuss."

Technical Manager: “OK I’ll speak with the Director and get back to you within the hour."

During this debate, there were colourful exclamations, raised voices, subtle humour and heated exchanges which I’ll save you the trouble of reading. Finally, we did get the approval to get the additional repair done. Yes, there was a price to pay for the delay, but we were assured of the safety of the cargo during the voyage. Months later when I met the Commercial Manager in the office for a briefing, he let me know that despite the tough discussion that day, he was pleased with the outcome. He also realised this when he had learnt that another ship had sprung a fuel tank leak during the voyage and had to be taken off service for repairs, causing massive disruption and embarrassment to that other company.

To Argue or Not to Argue?

Arguments are inevitable in today’s workplace. Whether they are productive, like the ‘drydock’ one, or destructive like the ‘fly in the soup’ case depends on how leaders steer conflict in the right heading. Firstly, is everything up for discussion? Should every decision be debated upon? Should we remain polite in a conflict, or freely express our emotions? When should you stop arguing? What if you can’t seem to come to an agreement? What if you feel the other person is personally attacking you? What if one can lose their job if they argue too much, or oppose the more powerful person in the conversations? Will I look weak if I give in? The questions that run through our minds during a conflict at work can be quite challenging. The words and tone a person uses might press one of our ‘hot’ buttons.

For most people, conflict means stress, and that in turn triggers a flight, fight or freeze response. Research shows that high conflict relates to low team productivity and work satisfaction. On the other hand, task based debates help teams to understand the topic from all perspectives.

Avoiding or suppressing conflict is not good either. Avoiding debate all together restricts the options available on the table, and often to unsafe or unproductive outcomes. On the Bow Mariner, the Chief Officer ignored the safety concerns of his junior officers during routine tank cleaning operations. A while later, an explosion sank the ship and took the lives of twenty seamen. Unresolved conflicts lead to resentment, and poor work morale- leading to a ‘fly in the soup’ kind of outburst at some point.

Just as each one of us has a unique world view based on our experiences, we are conditioned to conflict in different ways. It starts with childhood - if our parents permitted debate, or was it order and comply, or would they give the silent treatment when in disagreement. We would be further conditioned by the environment in our schools and workplaces. Peers argue differently among themselves than in a subordinate-superior debate. And of course, ‘over-thinking’ introverts argue differently from the more vocal extroverts. Whatever our background, we need skills to be able to handle and manage conflict productively as each situation demands.

Productive Conflicts need a Suitable Environment

First and most important - the leader needs to set up the right environment for constructive, healthy debate, and even allow them to become intense, heated discussions. The right environment for this is where teams have high levels of openness and trust with each other. Leaders should provide team members with psychological safety; leaders should say it in very clear terms (and follow it up) that they will not be side-lined or tagged as a ‘negative person’ for their differing views. Leaders also need to reduce the power-distance effect of a superior-subordinate relationship during a debate to allow the free flow of views. Leaders need to remove the fear and stress of conflict from the workspace.

What leaders must not do is incite fear to suppress conflict and to control their team members. Leaders must neither create conflict for its own sake, or promote a ‘divide and rule’ toxic environment for inducing productivity or competition. Research shows that such high conflict environments are counterproductive to the team’s goals.

Keeping Conflicts under Control

The next task of the leader is to control responses during a conflict- as soon as they become aware of one. They must ensure the conflict stays focused on solving the problem at hand and does not escalate into a personality clash. The leader must ensure that the tension does not escalate; here, the use of humour helps. Appoint ‘a devil’s advocate’ so they have the permission to be creative in bringing up opposing views. I also recommend that the leader gives his final opinion towards the end of the debate; going in early discourages team members from coming up with more options. The below ‘Telegraph Model for Manoeuvring Conflicts in the Right Direction’ is an aide-to-memory for leaders for facilitating healthy debates on board.


 The Telegraph Model for handling Conflicts

Bring more information to the table and list all possible outcomes (not just two diametrically opposite choices). During a closed room debate, I find a whiteboard to be very helpful tool to help keep the team’s focus on the issues to be systematically sorted out. If you’re unable to come up with an agreement at the end of the meeting- narrow down the options and revisit the discussion. Of course, if the issue is time-sensitive, the leader must make the decision based on all the inputs gathered during the debate.

Keep your Conflict Skills ready at all times

Conflict situations can arrive without warning. We were once manoeuvring into a harbour with a Pilot on board. We had completed the Master-Pilot exchange and had established a good rapport with the Pilot soon after his boarding.

Half an hour later, the officer-of-watch announced loudly for everyone on the Wheelhouse to hear: “Our planned speed here is 6 knots. Our current speed is 9 knots”

Pilot: “Never mind. It’s OK”

Me: “We’ll need time to reduce the speed before we approach that turn. Best if we keep the speed as planned.”

Pilot (pauses, checks his watch and then looks up): “OK let’s bring to dead-slow ahead”

I wish I could say that all conflicts can end with such a quick and positive outcome. I’ve also had the experience of workplace conflicts which did not end well, or were left unresolved. Once we’ve learnt from these experiences, it’s time to move on. Playing those moments repeatedly, or criticizing oneself does not help anyone.

Summing up

  • Create the right environment well in advance before conflicts start occurring at your workplace.
  • Manage conflicts constructively using all tools both active and passive, with a fine sense of balance.
  • If you feel the conflict is getting out of hand, seek help from an external mediator.
  • No matter how the conflict ends, move on.





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Argo- The Shipping Supercomputer

This is an article I wrote for the SeaNews magazine. It's part sci-fi, part reality.

The complete magazine e-copy is available at this link and my article is on page 60. There are many other interesting articles in this edition.



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Tool-Box Meetings: A Valuable Safety-Leadership Tool

tool small


“Toolbox talks can be a particularly useful way of ensuring a common understanding of how even the most basic tasks are to be carried out. If you don’t already conduct toolbox talks on your vessel, give it a go! You will be surprised at how effective these are at improving risk awareness and encouraging better, safer ways of working.”

-Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, UK MAIB



The anchor-handling-supply vessel Skandi Skansen was to start a charter which required the current gypsy to be replaced with an 84 mm one. The new gypsy weighed close to a ton and required a crane to lift it onto the chain hauler guide rails. Six members of the crew- the crane driver, the bosun, and four able seamen participated in a tool-box meeting before the operation.

However, as the gypsy was being lowered, only one rim of the gypsy fell into position, causing the heavy gypsy to become unbalanced. The gypsy tipped over to one side, crushing one of the seamen on the chest and trapping him against a nearby bulkhead. He succumbed to the injuries before he could be transported to the hospital.

The Bahamas Maritime Authority, during its investigation found that during the tool-box meeting, the risk of the gypsy toppling was not considered. In fact, the risk assessment for the job only considered the dangers of working at height but not the dangers involving moving a heavy, unwieldy piece of steel. Additionally, the supervising officer was not present, neither for the tool-box meeting, nor to monitor the actual job.

A tool-box meeting which discusses an inadequate risk-assessment is no good. Worse still, is not doing it at all. Shore workers boarded the BBC Baltic at Port Hedland to cut the securing lugs in the cargo hold. All the precautions listed on the ship’s hot work permit were not taken nor was the permit completed properly. Furthermore, a tool box meeting was not held to discuss the work and risk, define roles and responsibilities, and the action to take in case of a fire. Eventually, a tarpaulin near the work site caught fire, and soon spread to the extent that the harbour tug had to assist in fighting the fire.


                                                                                                                              Sketch by VS Parani

Tool-box meetings are meetings of a shorter duration conducted just before the start of the work day, or before a complicated operation. These are an effective safety-management tool but as you read above, we don’t always get it right. Here’s how to:

1. Have them every day. Even if it’s work ‘as usual’, these meetings help deliver last-minute reminders as well as create the right frame of mind before your team begins their work. A quick reminder to ‘stay clear of ropes under tension’, or ‘don’t stand under the piston while it’s being lifted’ helps.

Besides, the weather may be rough or there may be another factor which would significantly alter the risk levels from the previous day.

2. Conduct a thorough risk-assessment before the meeting. The senior officer in charge of planning and following up the task should ensure all risks are thoroughly assessed and recorded. Consult with the office or other departments as required by the safety management system. You will be mainly referring to this risk-assessment and relevant permits-to-work during the tool-box meeting.

3. Involve the crew undertaking the task. I’ve observed that on some ships, the risk assessment is discussed only with the Bosun or the Fitter. They in turn pass on the instructions to the remaining crew. I don’t recommend it. Every crew member (and any shore/ riding teams) should be present in the meeting involving the tasks that they are about to undertake.

4. Cap them at 10 minutes. You should have already prepared the risk-assessment form in advance so use the meeting only to review it and exchange additional information.

5. ‘Walk-through’ the tasks. During the meeting, discuss the risk-assessment and create a mental picture of how the work would flow.

When relevant to the task at hand- share a story, or a safety bulletin which can improve risk awareness. A monotonous repetition of the risk-assessment will quickly make it a drag.

Sometimes you can demonstrate best-practices, such as the proper way to use an angle-grinder.

6. Encourage questions. Tool-box meetings are not one way briefings. In fact, ask questions early on into the meeting. Ask the Able Seaman what safety precautions he intends to take. Ask the Bosun if there’s something else he’d like to add to that. You can then add to his list your own points from the risk-assessment form.

7. Listen. Respectfully acknowledge any apprehension raised by your team. If someone feels the job should not commence unless additional safety precautions are taken, evaluate the risks again with your team. Follow it through and don’t be defensive.

At the same time, not everyone is comfortable in expressing their doubts so be aware of body language cues. If you see the oiler clearing his throat, scratching his head or shuffling his feet- respectfully ask him ‘Shall I repeat this?’, or ‘if you have something to say, share it with us’.

8. Motivate and Energize. Strive to conduct your meetings with enthusiasm and positivity. This will help your team proceeds to their respective tasks with focus and clarity.

Make it interesting by sometimes sharing a safety slogan; for example, ‘Safety glasses: All in favor say “Eye!”

Follow up the tool-box meetings with proper supervision and verify that the work has been carried out to your expectation.

Tool-Box meetings done regularly and properly help strengthen the safety culture onboard. Tool-box meetings are an effective safety leadership tool. Don’t start your day without it.



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The Round-Table: Making Ship-board Meetings Matter

Meeting on ship Copy

“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?




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.


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.


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Who moved the cheese?


The 2017 US Navy collisions


swiss cheese mini


“Things change and they are never the same again”
            -Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?





The US Navy is a powerful navy, both in terms of sophisticated ships and trained navigators. When three of its ships collided in Asian waters in 2017, due to navigational errors, with the loss of seventeen lives, it’s reason enough for concern. If an organization such as the US Navy with enormous resources at its disposal, with robust systems can suffer such tragedy, what about shipping companies which in comparison, spend only a fraction on technology and training?

This added to my bewilderment with which I had been studying investigation reports on accidents which have happened with operators who represent the top quartile of the maritime industry in terms of safety standards. I have some answers now but I find it tedious to build all the arguments within the Swiss-Cheese model. I also know I’m not the only one having these questions or being sure of how it applies; see Article by Thomas V Perneger.

The US Navy has one of the best systems and training in the maritime domain. So, where are the holes in the cheese? The US Navy is rightly looking at organizational factors in improving the situation– but how do you explain loss of situational awareness? Or, the inadequate response in an emergency? Can these accidents happen without latent factors always being pre-existing?

I think yes. It’s sometimes possible. It’s accidents like these that made me come up with another model which represents the dynamic nature of risk and safety- as well as combines the concepts of safety management systems and that of safety-culture. The video below explains:

Video: Copyright Seawise Ltd. and Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas.

As also mentioned in the video, the model is part of a larger context of leadership- both on the individual and team level. Both the barriers and the energizing aspects of safety-culture help the safe-man manage risks and stay away from dangers. The practical leadership skills such as for attention, focus and decision making skills which I’ve covered in my book Golden Stripes, help the mariner stay alert and react to unexpected-new hazards.

In the video, I’ve also provided a quick-reference slide to recap all you need to implement to ensure a high level of safety in your workspace. If you need a pdf document with this quick reference, mail me for a complementary copy at

Also see: My previous post on Safety Culture.

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Captain, how much gas do you have?

corruption 1



'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?


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




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.



situational awareness Copy

#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

stopwatch Copy2

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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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




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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Two Groundings, One Safety-Culture







A culture of safety starts with leadership, because leadership drives culture and culture drives behaviour. Leaders influence culture by setting expectations, building structure, teaching others and demonstrating stewardship’.
- Rex W Tillerson, Chairman and CEO, Exxon Mobil, and 69th US Secretary of State

In February 2015, while on passage from Belfast to Skogn, Norway the general cargo vessel Lysblink Seaways ran aground at full speed, near Kilchoan, West Scotland.
The Lysfoss ran aground in 2001, under similar circumstances while on passage from Lysekil in Sweden to Belfast.

The first three alphabets of the two ship’s names are the same. So, are their groundings a coincidence? Not when you consider that the UK MAIB found that the ships shared a similarly deficient safety culture. The findings indicated that the shortcomings identified with the Lys Line safety culture in 2001 were still prevalent on Lysblink Seaways at the time of the accident, despite the change of ownership. But how can we explain the concept of safety culture to seafarers?

Models help us understand abstract concepts. And if it’s based on something familiar, even better. That’s why in my book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, under the section Safety Leadership, I’ve explained the concepts of safety management and safety culture through the Safe-Man model - based on the popular Pac-Man game.

safety culture

Imagine yourself and your shipmates as Safe-Men (Safe-Man 1 and 2). The game is to fulfil a task, such as navigating through a narrow channel, carrying out a crank-case inspection, or hot-work in a tank. Implementing all the safety management barriers such as checklists, use of required equipment help us work in the ‘Safe Zone’, where the risks are reasonably low.
Now, three of the devils (Hazard, Risk, and Accident) are locked under barriers, while one (Unexpected New Hazard) roams free trying to catch you by surprise. Throughout the game you also watch out for the other members of your team. Because if any of the devils catch even one of your crew or ships (Safe-Men), the game ends.

The game also has power pellets, or energizers which once eaten by Pac-Man weaken the devils while gaining him more points. Similarly, a robust safety culture is the energiser which helps the Safe-Men carry out their tasks every day, while keeping dangers at bay.

Like all good things in life, a good safety culture doesn’t just happen. It requires intentional leadership to create, maintain, and inspire such a culture. In fact, every member of the team should feel enthusiastic, even overzealous, about their safety culture. This is where safety moves from the realm of safety management to safety leadership. Here are my seven leadership strategies for a strong safety culture:
1. Create symbols
2. Open feedback channels
3. ‘Hands-On’ risk management
4. Share stories
5. Enforce Routines
6. Reinforce
7. Decide ‘safety-first’

On the Lysblink Seaways, the Chief Officer had consumed half a litre of rum before his night navigation watch. He fell asleep and missed an alteration of course. The ship grounded on a rocky shore at a speed of over 13 knots. The ship was later declared a total loss. Though this may seem like the reckless act of an individual, the investigation report found that there were systemic failures in safety leadership.

An earlier audit had found that the navigators had not renewed their 5-yearly Bridge Resource Management Training as required by the Flag-State rules. A Flag State recommendation required another crew member to be placed as a look-out during darkness hours but this was not done. On this ship, it had become regular practice to disregard the company procedure of using the dedicated ‘dead-man’ alarm system. The ‘enforce routines’ power-pellet was never used, weakening the safe-man’s ability to play the game.

Random alcohol tests were never carried out on this ship. These ‘feedback channels’ were not utilized. The significant consumption of alcohol by the crew from the ship’s bonded stores was not flagged by the company. Many of the findings regarding the implementation of the safety-management manual which came to light after the accident should have been identified during routine internal audits. The ‘reinforce’ energizer was not used effectively.

The company which operated the Lysblink Seaways had few years earlier, bought the company which operated the Lysfoss but the lessons from the Lysfoss grounding had not been applied on the Lysblink Seaways. Not ‘sharing stories’ meant one safe-man could not learn from the other.

On the Lysfoss, detailed passage-plans and master-night-order book were not used, which otherwise are powerful ‘symbols’ of a working safety management system.
The investigation report also found that the master’s familiarity with the navigation routes had caused him to adopt a relaxed attitude to the proximity of navigational dangers. ‘Hands-On risk management’ and safety leadership was lacking.

Research shows that workplaces with a healthy culture are 49% less likely to have accidents and 60% less likely to make errors in their work. Help your colleagues understand how safety culture provides us the energy to work safely, day after day. Feel free to use the Safe-Man model to explain how it works. Do remember that poor safety culture can ground a ship- maybe even two.


Captain VS Parani, FNI, FICS, CMarTech-IMarEST is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, the world’s first book on leadership for mariners, by a merchant-mariner. Whittles Publishing, ISBN: 978-184995-314-6. He can be reached at (

Reference: MAIB report 23/2002 (Lysfoss) and MAIB report 25/2015 (Lysblink Seaways)

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Social Media for Seafarers: The Digital Semaphore

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“You are what you share.”

― Charles W. Leadbeater, We Think: The Power Of Mass Creativity

Social media for seafarers is almost a lifeline- giving them the ability to connect with friends and family even from the opposite corner of the globe. It connects, informs and entertains. I certainly love seeing pictures of sunrises from the middle of the Pacific, or time-lapse videos of ships passing through canals.

But like every technology, it pays to use it smartly. The rules for social media use for mariners are just about the same as for other professionals- these are more than social graces- they are practical.

social media

Legal implications

What you post on the internet never goes away- never ever. It is common for employers, insurers and law-enforcement agencies to check your online profile. Before you share anything, ask yourself if you would be comfortable having your family or colleagues read about it?

If you’re frustrated with things happening at work or in your life- social media is not the place to vent. Besides, offensive or untrue posts can give sufficient reason for disciplinary, or even legal action.

Few weeks ago, a video of a seafarer being killed by a wire under tension was shared on social media. Though this was a shocking video which can help understand the dangers at sea- such graphic images are hard for family members of the deceased seafarer to watch. In any case, it is unwise to post personal injury photos and videos as these can have serious impact on legal or claims proceedings.

Ensure what you post complies with the laws of your state, or the place that you are visiting. Do not share anything which could contravene intellectual property laws (photos, movies, technical manuals for example).

These days it’s quite common to see drone photography of ships appear on social media. Be aware of local regulations (and fines) for the use of drones in port.


Do you put up a poster outside your house to tell everyone where you are travelling- especially when you are going to join ship for several months? If not- why do it online? Do check the privacy settings for your accounts- including the geo-tag options.

When sharing pictures of friends and family, especially young children- take care. Ask your friends or colleagues if they’re OK with you sharing a photo with them online.

Do change your passwords every three months and check routinely that your account has not been hacked.

Company Policy

Read your company policy on social media use. Check what you can share, and what you cannot about the company. If in doubt, ask your HR Department. Particularly check if you are allowed to share photos and documents of your ships, especially:

• The location and cargo on your ship. This information in the wrong hands could be used for targeted piracy, smuggling or theft.
• Maintenance work, especially that done in dry-dock.
• Demolition photos of the ship. Even if the ship was recycled in compliance with the relevant conventions, these photos could end up on newsfeeds and raise un-necessary questions.
• Security arrangements on the ship or in the port.
• Emergencies. While it’s good to capture evidence on camera, beware of sharing it with the external world, especially the media- it can hurt your employer’s position and reputation.

Even an innocuous photo- such as of crew celebrating with non-alcoholic beer can create a negative perception. Once the images are out there, damage control is difficult. You don’t have to share everything that’s going on in your life, or all that you feel.

What you like, comment, or share is watched by the world and recorded for ever. Think before you post.


In August 2007, a collision between the fishing vessel Vertrouwen and the motor cruiser James 2 resulted in the cruiser sinking with loss of 3 lives. Vertrouwen’s skipper used his mobile phone to send a message on social media to a friend and neglected his lookout duties.1

Do not use social media during work hours, especially if you are on watch. Period.

Are you neglecting your normal relationships?

Be mindful if your internet activity is weakening your social interaction with your shipmates while at sea. The ship is your home away from home. Nothing can replace the good time and support one can share during face-to-face conversations. Sadly, most ships these days don’t even bother to have a TV in their lounge- and seafarers stick to their own personal devices. Is it then a coincidence that suicide rates among seafarers have tripled since 2014?2

That said, I’ve met some very interesting people through social media, and learned a lot in the process. I don’t even have to remember birthdays- I get prompts so I can wish my friends on their special day.

With around 2.5 billion social network users worldwide, and growing- it’s a powerful tool. Use it effectively, and - stay social.

And please share this post!


Captain VS Parani, FNI, FICS, CMarTech-IMarEST is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas.

1: MAIB report 02/2018

Related link: Intertanko Social Media guidance for seafarers

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