Anger and despair over officer training


We wonder if any ship officer who’s still sailing has gladly welcomed the ever-increasing training requirements introduced in the name of maritime safety. Certainly not Jill Friedman of Houston, Texas. A holder of unlimited master, 1600/3000 master and DPO unlimited licences, Captain Friedman recently kvetched over having to re-take the Basic Safety Training (BST) course in her feisty and engaging blog, Capt Jills Journeys.

She wrote: “BST is a very basic course that is supposed to teach you what you should know before you can go offshore. Things you would know if you’d ever spent more than a couple of days (working) out there. Things like ‘what is a station bill? what is a muster station? what are the alarm signals? what do you do if someone falls overboard?, where can you find a lifejacket? how do you use a fire extinguisher?’ etc.”

“It’s really pretty sad,” Captain Friedman noted, “to have to require someone who’s been going to sea for 20 years (or even ONE year) to spend a week of their time off in this kind of class.” She’s not the first or will be the last to complain.

In Manila, there’s anger over the Management Level Course for ship officers (MLC). One officer commented on Facebook: “Why require active senior officers to take MLC for renewal of their COC (Certificate of Competency)? MLC is supposed to be for junior officers who are aspiring to become senior officers or for those senior officers who stopped sailing for more than 5 years.”

It’s not only the officers who are whining. Reacting to our blog post “A cat’s view of Manila’s manning sector“, Virginia Alviola-Arao, president of the Philippine School for Maritime and Medical Access (PSMMA), wrote: “Observe the faces of all officers taking this course. They all look the same – angry, sad, drained, confused – but they can do nothing.They are like puppets being pulled in strings to go to the left or right. When they enrolled they were informed the MLC will take only 2 months. In the middle of the training they were informed again that there will be additional 1 month because MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) wants this.”

We can appreciate the need for training for the sake of maritime safety. But we also remember what IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu said on 20th January 2014 when he addressed the opening of the 1st session of the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction: “I have my targets to eliminate piracy and reduce maritime casualty by half and I will maintain these targets this year as well.” Three months later, on 16th April, came the Sewol ferry tragedy in South Korea.

So much for safety. Many ship officers think that the mountain of training requirements is all about making the fat cats fatter. Based on what we’ve seen in Manila, they can’t be blamed for thinking so. ~Barista Uno


Feel free to comment on this article. You might also like:

Long way to go for culture of safety



19 Replies to “Anger and despair over officer training”

  1. Laperouse

    Why all this seemingly useless training? Well, maybe because our authorities, whoever they are, company training officers, managers, controllers, anybody having spent only few hours on a bridge, know perfectly well that most of our captains have lost their ability to train their crews. Having become Masters, they suddenly get super powers which enable them to know everything and prevent them from sharing it. If something may go wrong, they alone will fix it then, when it is all over, give back the conn.

    How many of them show an interest in raising the juniors’ capability, maritime culture and seamanship? Our young officers hardly dare talk to their captain (provided the latter is willing to use a common language). It is not about being kind with the guys, it is about requiring the best from them with constant stimuli to lead them along the road of knowledge and excellence.

    There are only two possibilities: either they do not care, and this leads to continuous stupid shore training, or they are themselves not so smart, which leads to continuous boring shore training. And when the seafarers come back on board, as nobody cares about what they are supposed to have learnt, nothing happens, till next revalidation.

    Yes, asking an experienced sailor to sit behind a desk to hear what he should know for having spent half his life on a ship amidst other seafarers is outrageous. But who will do the job? Who will stand up and say “listen guys, this sailor has been under my responsibility for a couple of months now, what do you think you could teach him that I did not?”

    Not so many, I’m afraid. We have not been at sea only by love of commercial operations. The old man who doesn’t spend every single minute of his time at sea to prepare the next generation is the first one responsible for this big fat cat feeding.

  2. Jill

    Thanks for the mention of my blog, Barista.

    I have said it before and I’ll say it again… I am not against safety, I AM against more and more BS coming from people who have NO idea of what we do out there at sea. They have NO idea of what would or would not make things safer. They do anything they can to blame everything bad that happens on the seafarers when it is all we can do to do our jobs in SPITE of all the crap coming from shore.

    Too many offices (and regulators) care nothing about the seafarers and only want to blame us when something goes wrong and never consider that is was most likely THEIR policies which were the root cause of any ‘accident’.

    Yes, I AM sick and tired of being forced to take classes over and over again on what is SUPPOSED to be my vacation! It does NOTHING to promote safety and is no good for anything at all except to satisfy the lawyers (and fill the pockets of the schools).

  3. Arthur

    Thanks Laperouse for your wise words.

    In case of an accident, we usually end up in blaming one person: the captain. That may be a satisfactory revenge for the casualties, but that will not prevent a similar disaster to happen again.

    Nancy Leveson (MIT, 2011) shows that we must concentrate on WHY things go wrong instead of blaming somebody or something. Leveson states that systems tend to migrate towards states of higher risk under the effect of cost-effectiveness and that the capacity of people to fix the resulting larger number of incidents increases complacency, thus leading to a situation of unrecognised high risk.

    Furthermore, Leveson states that the behaviour of each person is the product of the environment in which this behaviour occurs. Should we then have to look into the behaviour of the bridge team as a whole?

    Anyway, Leveson concludes that a safety culture is mainly a matter of genuine commitment of the company’s top management … and the old man who spends every single minute of his time at sea to prepare the next generation is a major player in this safety culture.

  4. Capt Richard Teo

    Learning is a multi-faceted critical technology. This means that when there is learning to be done, it is not about reading from a book, memorise all the information and them regurgitate it all out at some sort of test or examinations. This is a the much preferred methodology across the world for MET, with a smattering of some practical applications either by role play or simulation. What absolute nonsense when we are to expect competence through a competency based education and training system.

    CBETA calls for very careful and detailed training needs analysis whenever some form of training, coaching, mentoring, education you name it. This has never been done properly and most of it is left to vendors who think up something that the lumbering maritime industry through its various distribution channels suddenly say or demand must be done.

    The result is a hodge podge of training vendors, resources, materials and bunkum that have no meaning, nor proper levels of learning, cascading or otherwise leading from bilge rat to head honcho. This at the mercy of those mongers of “training” and subsequent substandard products at sea. What I say here is just touching the surface. There is more, much more about MET that is so hopeless and not suited for our profession.

    But hope is not lost and the Gen Y & Z may take over the maritime world yet and rid us of all the fat cats and mongrel vendors out there. And hopefully the dinosaurs who are holding back right and proper CBETA and learning, doing and praxis properly designed for each level of work responsibility and accountability.

  5. Capt Alex

    All that twisting of the regulations to feed ‘the greedy bunch’ masquerading as educators and guardians of maritime safety. BLAH!!! Who said that it is sad? No, it goes more than that – it is CRIMINAL!!!

    Gladly welcome? It’s been up our throats and we’ve been puking for the longest time. Except those who have some take or some future plans in joining the “seafarers’ scourges” (Survival instinct kicking in, then there will be no shortages – ‘join them if you can’t beat them.’)

    For donkey’s years, crew of other nationalities, mostly smug in their apathy, have seen Filipinos being subjected to onerous ‘training’ regime and documentations (leave it to their own to wipe out the competition, maybe?). But guess what? ‘What goes around comes around’ and almost everyone is a believer of the cliché ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’. So here we are, welcome to the feast!!!

  6. Barista Uno

    Great comments. Thanks very much indeed, folks.

    @Captain Richard Teo – I believe your views on how training should be designed and conducted deserve wider attention, not least from the IMO bureaucrats.

    @Capt Alex – Your anger is shared by countless ship officers, but I wonder: is anyone in Manila really listening?

    I would also like to add a note concerning the Management Level Course (MLC). Those who are now profiting from its implementation have the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to thank for. The fact is that EMSA was pushing for the MLC even though, as the EMSA inspectors admit, MLC per se is not required under the STCW Convention.

  7. Leon somar

    You are right, Barista. MLC per se is not required under the STCW Convention. The problem is the people who are tasked with implementing the Convention have been meeting monthly with the training center owners. They are the vultures of the industry and the reason we have so many upgrading courses. ‘Rebates’ are given by training centers to crewing managers as bonus for sending more trainees for upgrading. Even courses only required of officers are made obligatory for crews due to the big rebates.

  8. Michael B. Cuanzon

    When the MTC (Maritime Training Council) together with the PRC (Professional Regulation Commission) came out with their circular about MLC, I objected to it for reasons indicated by the comments here. I talked with Barista regarding this, and he made a direct inquiry to the IMO, which refused to be quoted but said that the 701 and 702 were recommendations for the maritime course curriculum.

    One must realize after all these years that the MTC then was under the thumb of the maritime training centers and MARINA under the thumb of the local shipowners…Now it appears that the consolidation of the maritime functions in MARINA brought in so many problems, mostly to the seafarers but also to the crewing or screwing companies, whichever is appropriate. Some may be considered birth pains…most, however, are due to putting square pegs in a round hole.

    • Barista Uno

      Thank you for weighing in, Mike.

      The IMO officials I contacted back then said the Management Level Course was not required under the STCW Convention but that the interpretation of specific provisions under the Convention was up to the member states, so long as the minimum standards were met. On hindsight, this seems to me a dangerous policy as it could lead – as indeed it has in Manila – to a kind of ‘free-for-all’ to the detriment of seafarers.

      I am all for the consolidation of maritime functions under MARINA. In fact, the Marine Café Blog was the first to publicly call for the scuttling of the Maritime Training Council. Then acting MARINA administrator Nick Conti followed through on our call, resulting in the issuance of Executive Order No. 75. Those who continue to oppose the so-called maritime consolidation forget that seafarers’ affairs in all other countries fall under the aegis of a single state agency.

      The question is: what good is a newly refurbished and retrofitted ship if you don’t have a highly professional and dedicated crew?

  9. Johnny

    What baffles me the most is in the quality of education and training institutions worldwide. STCW 2010 is still a baby step and not good enough yet. After spending so much time in educating and training ashore in IMO Model Courses, how can one rest assure that the seafarer that was “produced” is of a competent standard? STCW is a paper qualification to say the least. To me, a competent person is only when he /she is qualified to work independently onboard. If Officers onboard do not bother to augment the training of seafarers onboard, he/she is a damned incompetent one to begin with.

  10. leon somar

    Senior Officers are badly needed now in Manila due to this reason.

    Why require active senior officers to take MLC for renewal of their COC (Certificate of Competency)? MLC is supposed to be for junior officers who are aspiring to become senior officers or for those senior officers who stopped sailing for more than 5 years.

  11. Jill

    All good comments but it doesn’t look like anyone with the power to do anything is listening (as usual).

    IMHO, the so-called ‘training’ we have all been forced into due to STCW is a huge waste of time and money. All so we could tell everyone around the world that every seafarer has the “EXACT SAME TRAINING”.


    Yes, I personally think it was a scheme worked up by the shippers and training centers so they could run off all the mariners from high wage countries and hire a shipload of Filipinos or Ukranians for what it used to cost them for one Brit, Norwegian or American!

    I’m surprised to hear that the sailors from the Phillipines are also having issues with the whole scheme. Just goes to show it does NONE of us any good. I wonder if there’s any way possible to scrap the whole thing?

    As far as REAL training and competence goes, the REAL way to ensure that is by having on the job training by ships crew. Yes, just like in the old days. That means we need to get the number of crew increased to where we have a few minutes to spare to help out and teach the people who can use the help!

    Some companies actually spend quite a bit of money on “training” that is completely useless other than something they can show their insurance companies to SAY all their people have now been trained (yeah, riiiiight). For the rest of us forced to pay those fees out of our own pockets it is a HUGE disincentive to continue going to sea.
    It seems to me, we would all be a LOT better off by putting even just 1-2 crew back onboard.

    For instance, put a purser back onboard so the captain can be more than a paperwork flunkie! Let the captain spend his time and use his knowledge where it would be most effective: TRAINING the officers!

    For another instance: put a 2nd 3rd mate onboard so the Chief Mate can do HIS job more effectively: TRAIN the jr officers and the deck crew! Same goes for the engine dept.

    In everything I’ve ever seen/read/heard from the shipping companies, it’s ALWAYS crew cost that they complain about. They cut off their nose to spite their face.The crew is what can help them the most if they LET US!

  12. Capt Alex

    Again, whatever it is the powers that be will do now is too little too late.

    My present work, have to interface with quite a number of ships in some of the busiest ports in the world in terms of cargo tonnage. I see it daily that even senior officers do not have all the skills even to perform all the tasks involved, let alone doing their job safely!

    Officers (from all nationalities) have compliance papers but do not have the competence! Why? The ships by regulation have to have a chief officer. And so what is the next best thing to having a good one? Yes of course, someone who holds a certificate that says he is one. Yes it has come to that sad state now, and still definitely still going down that linear path to the rock bottom.

  13. Jill

    And so, what is the solution?

    IMHO it is NOT more and more shore based training. But yet that is what we are being subjected to.

    That decision to force those of us who work at sea to spend even MORE of our well earned time and money on useless classes when we SHOULD be enjoying ourselves on vacation is only going to cause even more of us to quit sailing!

    As a person who has chosen a life at sea and all the sacrifice that has entailed over 30 years, it is saying something that I am seriously considering giving it up. I am just finding it harder and harder to justify the demands of the job vs the compensation.

    The REAL solution to having well trained and competent seafarers is to go back to when we DID have that situation on board our ships!

    STOP cutting crew size and the benefits of a life at sea (shore leave, time off at home, etc), and START giving us a decent crew size where we can have a decent life at sea.

    It is damn hard to train people when you don’t have a minute to spare and the stress of the job is overwhelming. It is REALLY hard to stay competent on the job when you don’t have a minute to THINK due to crews cut to the bare minimum (or below)!

    Go back to having CADETS on board. Go back to having a purser on board. Go on and put 2 3rd mates on board (and 2 3rd engineers!!). THAT is how to TRAIN people! THAT is how to have competent (and loyal) crews.

  14. Capt Richard Teo

    Good morning dear colleagues.

    The issues and problems are very well aired.

    My comments on competency-based learning are not unheard of. In fact, it is the agreed and accepted best methodology in most institutes of higher learning in US, Australia and across the world. It is also the standard required by the STCW since the 1995 amendments.

    The anomaly and discrepancy is that many regulators and lecturers are unqualified teachers and assessors so they do not even understand what competency-based learning, education and training mean and how the various courses and examinations must be conducted. IMO still insists on a knowledge-based written examination, defeating their own ruling on competency-based learning methodology.

    If the authorities are wandering around half-baked then the whole of MET suffers. Never mind what some ruthless employers do to compound the problems. I dare say that it will take another generation of professional seafarers to sort this out. But by then, technology will have overtaken all human-centred efforts?

    We often forget that advances in technology cannot offset management and organisational techniques. These coexist to augment the total factor productivity growth and human-centred approaches and engagement cannot take a back seat and become anonymous as seems to be the trend as we remove more and more key personnel and replace them with machines and equipment.

  15. Capt Alex

    Jill, I can’t agree with you more. As said earlier, this whole shebang will hit rock bottom and no one seems to care or wants to do something to stop the free fall.

    Everyone it seems is in a ‘wait and see’ trance, hoping to catch the thing on the bounce back up – sounds like a plan but forgets that the thing can break into smithereens (not so far taken from the proverbial ‘shit hitting the fan’).

  16. Leon somar

    Senior officers are running out of supply in Manila due to so many upgrading courses being emplemented which are not required under the STCW Convention.

    Most senior officers are obliged to undergo MLC (Management Level Course) that would take them 3 months to complete. And a lot of hassle in submitting documents in Manila maritime office and waiting for seafarers’ documents to be released. No wonder a lot of seafarers nowadays refuse to go back to sea.

  17. Capt Alex

    There has been talk everywhere, in so many internet forums; in my work, face to face everyday with those few (and quickly disappearing) who have the experience and competence to do the job right… A lot of of them are saying, ‘they would rather call it quits than to go through this Manila Amendments BS.

    Not really good for an already hemorrhaging business with a dire need for better skilled individuals. All that experience going to waste! If only most have been given a chance to transfer that ‘know how’ in the first place… Work overload, under manning… just a couple of those nonsensical flair of the ship management business. But who really cares about sustainability, it is bigger profit that matters, doesn’t it?

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