You hear it from every Tom, Dick and Harry: 80% of all maritime accidents are caused by human error. Maybe so but what of it? The clichéd statement says nothing about what causes the errors to be committed in the first place, sometimes by seasoned ship captains. Nor does it suggest what needs to be done aside from requiring seafarers to undergo more training like dogs in Pavlov‘s laboratory.

For sure, you see many attempts to propagate a culture of maritime safety – by shipping companies that invest in better shipboard equipment; by Port State Control and vetting inspectors; by international audit bodies; by unions cracking down on FOC shipping; and by environmental activists. But how could anything thrive in a garden full of weeds and pests? Below is a list of such weeds and pests – 11 factors that continue to stunt the growth of a safety culture:

  1. Pride and conceit on the part of some ship captains, leading to complacency and the smug feeling that one is too good to make mistakes
  2. Misplaced compassion for errinig ship captains who commit culpable mistakes that result in serious accidents and who set a bad example for other officers
  3. Lack of self-confidence and assertiveness amongst officers from developing countries, resulting in their blindly obeying orders from foreign captains and senior officers even if these could compromise safety
  4. Over-reliance on modern navigational tools (e.g., ECDIS) at the expense of good old seamanship
  5. Increased paperwork on board due to tighter shipping regulations, thus exacerbating the problem of crew stress and fatigue
  6. Crew discontent and low morale arising from inadequate pay and poor working conditions on board
  7. Poor government oversight on maritime education & training (MET) institutions
  8. Maritime trainers who pretend to know but are ignorant, who teach but do not enlighten
  9. Corruption in state regulatory agencies and private MET institutions to a point where quality standards are cast aside
  10. Corporate greed, which leads to cutting corners when it comes to safety
  11. Tendency to treat seafarers as commodities and not as humans whose rights and welfare must be safeguarded above all

The last two – corporate greed and the commodification of seafarers – must surely be the most insidious. They not only gnaw away at the branches and leaves of what we call safety culture. They threaten to kill the very roots of the tree. ~Barista Uno