Sharing my article which appeared on International Maritime and Port Security journal (Jan/Feb 2018)
Stories on Maritime Leadership
Sharing my article which appeared on International Maritime and Port Security journal (Jan/Feb 2018)
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.
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 www.mskradiology4u.co.uk and www.bonesradiologist.co.uk
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
"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.
“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.
“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.
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?
Effective meetings are discussed in greated detail in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, available from Whittles Publishing, and on Amazon.
“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:
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.
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:
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.
The 2017 US Navy collisions
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also see: My previous post on Safety Culture.
'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?
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.
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:
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:
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.
#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership
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.
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.
#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership
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
‘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.
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
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 parani.org. (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)
Reference: MAIB report 23/2002 (Lysfoss) and MAIB report 25/2015 (Lysblink Seaways)
“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.
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.
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 http://www.intertanko.com/upload/106576/Social_Media_Guidance.pdf
‘The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do but the absence of doing it’.
- Peter F. Drucker, management expert
Most of us maritime professionals may, through our competency exams, diplomas and training courses, gradually build our knowledge to a level which is good enough to perform our respective jobs- maybe even excel in it. That helps us to know what to do, why to do it and how to do it well. That helps us to lead with expertise.
Still, we need to be motivated enough to want to do our jobs, and alert enough to be able to do it well, consistently. To intentionally develop the mindsets and abilities to do what we need to do is to lead oneself.
But even the most accomplished professionals drift from their course, as we too may have done have at some time or the other in our career. Sometimes, we get distracted and lose focus. The tanker Attilio Levoli grounded off Southampton, and one of the factors reported was the Master’s use of the ship’s mobile phone distracting him from his navigational duties during a critical manoeuvre.
Another accident report mentioned a crew member who was walking up the stairs to his cabin with a cup of coffee and a hard-drive after watching a movie in the lounge. He stumbled- as he was not holding the rails, he fell and injured his face. He had to be repatriated home for facial surgery.
There may be days when we may simply be fatigued, or stressed, or feel unwell. Lack of sleep is a big leadership killer. The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch reported that 'a third of all groundings involved a fatigued officer alone on the bridge at night'. Take for example the grounding of the Danio in the Farne Islands nature reserve, off the east coast of England. The chief officer, who was the officer on watch, had fallen asleep. We all know the days we are irritable and moody when we haven’t slept well -we get into an unhelpful state of mind which could cause us to make wrong decisions.
When we do not organize our time and work space, it comes back to trouble us. On the El Faro, the ship suffered loss of propulsion when it was manoeuvring to disembark the Pilot at San Juan. The investigation determined that an Oiler mistakenly closed the lube oil outlet valve instead of the salt water cooling valve. The error caused the flow of lube oil to the main turbine and gravity tank to stop. The rest of the crew responded by securing the main steam turbine and locking the shaft to prevent bearing damage. This incident was caused by a lack of adequate marking and organization of the workspace.
The sea does not care if we have a problem at home, or we don’t feel motivated enough to do a good job. A single mistake can result in grievous harm to ourselves, our team on board, the ship, the crew and the environment. However, it is possible to navigate through all these challenges and steer yourself to successful leadership. The steering model helps us remember the steps that we can take to ensure that we are at our best every day. The model is explained in detail over five chapters in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas.
The steering model expands to practical steps such as time management, the essentials of planning on board and helpful habits.
For example, there are tips on how to retain our attention during routine tasks:
Leading yourself is all about you. You must lead yourself before you think of leading others. You are the person everyone on the ship and ashore count on to make it happen. It is you, and only you, who is responsible for what you are able to accomplish. You can and should steer your own ‘Leader’ ship.
Captain VS Parani, FNI, FICS, CMarTech-IMarEST
Author, Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)
This article also appeared in the Safety4Sea Log May 2018 edition (https://safety4sea.com/steer-your-leader-ship/)
'All accidents are, at some level of the other, failures of leadership at sea'
-Golden Stripes - Leadership on the High Seas
My heartfelt condolences to the families of the 33 men and women who lost their lives on the El Faro on 1st October 2015.
This article to share the last lessons we can gather from this tragedy, and in doing so honour their memory. No one is perfect, though we can aim to be a better version of ourselves- for the sake of our own safety, and of those who depend on us. We all make mistakes, and each mistake is an opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, many of these lessons come at a cost- lives in this case.
The El Faro was on a voyage from Jacksonville to San Juan with the hurricane Joaquin in its path. The Captain had a choice of alternate routes to avoid the storm. The 2nd Mate who had signed off the ship some days ago, had the extraordinary presence of mind to alert the Captain of the developing storm, and sent another text message to remind him of the alternate routes through the Old Bahama Channel. The Captain however, made a unilateral decision to continue his normal, shortest route to San Juan. It was a failure of decision making- though the Master had earlier undergone the STCW Leadership and Management Course just six months earlier, decision-making being one of the topics.
The DPA was on vacation and the deputy was not asked to step in his shoes. Thus, there was no oversight on the ship's operational safety matters, particularly in regard to voyage planning. This was a failure in planning for continuity of operations.
The ship's Safety Management System did not have a heavy weather procedure, plan or checklist- which is a failure in safety leadership and in risk management. This was probably one of the reasons the main engine lube oil sump was not topped up, contrary to usual marine engineering practice. When the ship listed to port and trimmed by the head, the lube oil pump lost suction- tripping the main engine at a critical time. This was a deadly blow to the ship which was already close to the eye of the hurricane and it lost control in the face of wind speeds exceeding 100 knots.
The El Faro is one of the latest in a long line of maritime accidents, unfortunately involving fatalities. There are lessons in leadership to prevent future accidents.
There were other safety leadership failures as well -
In an unrelated incident on the El Faro months earlier, the previous Chief Mate was found sleeping on watch on numerous occasions- but the Masters did not alert the DPA about it. It was finally when another crew member brought it to the attention of the shore management, the issue was dealt with. Perhaps this points to the lack of reinforcement of discipline and procedures which also flowed into other areas of operation, such as the ventilators for the car-decks were not bolted shut- these ultimately gave way, leading to progressive flooding of the cargo spaces. A failure to ensure this critical procedure, especially when expecting heavy weather was a failure of team leadership.
The other watchkeepers raised their concern about the direct route to San Juan but the Captain did not review his decision. The sad part is that this is not the first such accident. I wrote about the Green Lily foundering in heavy weather in Golden Stripes, which was before the El Faro incident. The various failures of leadership remain the same as I describe throughout the book- only the names of ships and people change. When are we going to learn?
There are more lessons about failures on organizational levels from the US Coast Guard's detailed investigation report, which I will share in another article. But I wonder if there were more reasons why the Captain chose a route dangerously close to the eye of the storm. The SVDR transcript reveals the Master and few of his officers were concerned about not getting a position on ships that were being built to potentially replace the El Faro. The Captain had to leave his previous company because he had ordered extra tugs for a port manoeuvre. Probably it was an attempt to prove his performance as a Master and secure his re-employment. Or was it just a rash decision the Captain made without consulting his team? Either way, it was a failure of leadership.
This tragedy was a failure of leadership on various levels.
In closing, I ask you to think about the following questions:
How are we enabling those who we lead, for them to lead better, and make better decisions?
How are we encouraging a culture of effective, practical leadership?
The answers will determine how safe the ships and the mariners are, in a ruthless environment as the sea.
#GoldenStripesLeadership #CaptainParani #LessonsFromSea #ElFaro
Link to the USCG report: https://media.defense.gov/2017/Oct/01/2001820187/-1/-1/0/FINAL%20PDF%20ROI%2024%20SEP%2017.PDF
Link to my earlier article on decision making: http://www.parani.org/Blog/port-or-starboard-decision-making-on-the-high-seas
'We've been merging with tools since the beginning of human evolution, and arguably, that's one of the things that makes us human beings.'
Taking care of our health is a must for any leader. This will always be true, though there are new ways to track how well we are doing it. After all, you cannot improve what you cannot measure.
Lack of sleep is a big leadership killer. the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch reported that 'a third of all groundings involved a fatigued officer alone on the bridge at night'. Take for example the grounding of the Lysblink Seaways (MAIB report no. 25/2015). We all know the days we are irritable and moody when we haven’t had enough sleep. We get into an unhelpful state of mind which could cause us to make wrong decisions.
Enter the smart watch. I use one, and I like it. A few of my seafarer friends- some use it, some don’t. And not all of them leverage the smart watch for all its benefits.
One of the the most useful function is the sleep tracker. This is how it interprets my sleep from the previous night. You can see how I have cycled between the REM and non-REM sleep, and overall it looks I’ve been doing Ok for my age. It’s important - during the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. Maritime professionals need also be aware that if the REM sleep is repeatedly interrupted or shortened, then longer REM “rebound sleep” tends to occur at the next opportunity in compensation (instead of slowly moving through the various stages of non-REM sleep first, the sleeper slips quickly into REM sleep, and stays there longer than usual). There are also long-term effects to chronic poor sleep- the risk of gaining weight, and becoming more prone to cardiovascular disease, infections, and certain types of cancer. The sleep tracker can help warn you when you aren’t getting enough sleep so you can prepare for sleep better next time.
The sleep tracker can help us take intentional steps towards improving our sleep quality
There are also other helpful features in the smart watch. You can track your daily calorie burn and cardio activity. Apps like At Work app can be used to record your work hours. Dictate notes when you are doing a tank inspection (in intrinsically safe environments). Set alarms to make sure you wake up in time for your next cargo watch.
Of course, it also tells time.
How else do you think smart watch can help mariners lead smartly?
Here's video link to the HE Alert Video on Fatigue:
#GoldenStripesLeadership #LessonsFromSea #Mariners #CaptainParani #MaritimeLeadership
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves."
- Steven Spielberg
These days when I meet people at social events, I try to focus on getting to know others well rather than just focusing on exchanging business cards. When possible, I ask them their stories, and remind myself that there is something I can learn from everyone.
On one such endeavour, I met Mr. Georg Von Oppen. He is currently the Director of TMH Ltd. which serves the shipping industry in providing equipment spares. He narrated a story from the early years of his career:
After school, I didn’t have any particular direction in which to take my career. By chance, I joined TMH through a mutual acquaintance of my family. The manager of the factory asked me to work on the store-floor and learn about all the products. After a few weeks, he saw me on his rounds and stopped to assess my progress:
“How does this pressure gauge work?” He asked in his usual booming voice.
I gave a feeble response “You plug it into the socket and it reads the pressure”
“Yes, but what makes the gauge know what is the pressure in the pipe?”
I shrug my shoulders.
He then proceeded to explain to me about the Bourdon tube and how the radially formed tubes inside operate without any electrical power.
I had not grasped the underlying mechanical principles and I said so, shaking my head.
My boss was thoughtful for a minute, and then declared “You’re going to the gauge factory for two weeks. I will inform your supervisor about the arrangements”.
So, the next day I was off to the factory a hundred miles away. They were one of the world’s leading makers of precision pressure gauges and one could learn whatever there is to know about various gauges. I learnt in detail how these gauges could achieve precision at different pressure ranges, and work in various external environments, and what safety features were installed to ensure the gauges would not burst in front of the observer.
When I returned to TMH, I had a spring in my step. My boss observed this, and to test me, asked a few questions, which I promptly answered with pride. The fire of learning and passion for the job had been stoked within me, and there was no looking back.
It started as a short-term apprenticeship, but encouraged by the environment of mentoring, I stayed on at TMH. I could share my knowledge with clients and help them choose the right products for their industrial needs. This in turn helped my company build deeper relationships with their customers. Some years ago, my boss retired and passed on the reins of the company to me.
His act of mentoring helped me find the right direction for my career. He had challenged, inspired and motivated me. He didn’t spoon-feed me but he helped me find the right resource from which I could learn.
Telemachus and Mentor from Odyssey. In this depiction from the ancient Greek epic, Mentor (actually Athena in disguise) encourages Telemachus to stand up against the suitors for his mother, Penelope and go abroad to find out what happened to his father, Odysseus. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia commons.
These days, I make it a point to encourage my younger colleagues to go on similar learning trips and seminars. We share learning experiences from work and enable each other to create their own learning path. Based on my boss’ philosophy, that is how we view mentoring at TMH. I believe this is a great way to help leaders discover their own potential, and enhance their own leadership abilities.
TMH Cyprus website (http://tmh-eastmed.com/)
Captain VS Parani is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)
"Our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted - folks who work hard for what they have, then reach back and help others after them."
- Michelle Obama