The STCW convention sets minimum standards for the training and certification of seafarers. That’s all well and good, but is competency enough for ship officers? Many a seasoned captain has figured in horrific sea accidents, not on account of bad weather or an unseaworthy vessel, but because of some character flaw.

Only a seaman realises to what great extent an entire ship reflects the personality and ability of one individual, her Commanding Officer.

~ Joseph Conrad, ‘Command at Sea: the Prestige Privilege and Burden of Command’

Some even fall from grace because of certain defects of character. Take Captain Francesco Schettino, the main actor in the Costa Concordia disaster who was sentenced to 16 years in jail for manslaughter and abandoning ship. His name may live forever in infamy. So what makes a captain or any ship officer ideal and worthy of emulation by others? In my view, he or she would be one who:

  can express himself or herself in clear, effective English

  knows how to manage and motivate people 

  is assertive without being arrogant or bossy

  keeps an open mind and is free of gender and racial discrimination

  recognises his or her own limitations

  remains humble in spite of his or her achievements

  treats others fairly and has a strong sense of right and wrong

  has moral courage

  is honest and trustworthy

  likes to read books.

The last item on the list may seem odd to some people. However, I have a good reason for including it. I have known ship officers who remain quite parochial because they are not into reading books. They may have travelled far and wide, but they are stuck in their own little islands, unable to carry an intelligent conversation outside their own social circles. Books can be liberating, and what ship officer does not desire to be liberated?

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