Thursday, July 17, 2008

Documenting versus Falsification of records

The problem of recording such facts is that, if recorded , should the consequence of the action/decision is a failure then questions can be asked about why the action was taken/ action not judged properly/ what mistakes were there in the decision or the action, ab initio; etc.
Take this case only: When the decision to blank (the IG Line for vapour segregation) has caused vacuuming of the cargo tank during temperature fall, question can be raised about how this decision was reached, the problems not foreseen, (and whatever i have mentioned.)
In case of not recording the action, the problem remains that should any problem further break out, say due to vacuuming, then these decisions become a severe matter of investigation causing agonies to the management staff for taking actions without informing the company.
The problem of non-recording can further cause problems related to inter-personal relationships in which crew’s choice of not becoming a party to such decisions is over-ridden. They/he cannot easily report the matter or report any problem caused to him by such decision. The personal problems could be of over-work to execute the action, in this case blanking of IG line, 6 cargo tanks, for which chain blocks had to be used; the IG coming out from the tank was hazardous to health; they were asked to do blanking immediately after completion of loading, in which they were not mentally prepared to do it then/ were tired after the cargo operation/ were not in mood.
The other inter-personal relationship breakdown is, most obviously, who is to be blamed for the failures.
The other more severe problem of recording the observation comes to light in the case of sinking of “Erika” in 1999. The Indian captain of the ship had observed the big crack line on the hull during some inspection. He recorded the same in the books. Consequently when the vessel sank down causing big oil spill at the French coast, he was subjected “to severe torture”( as per some unconfirmed reports) by the French Authorities for opting to sail despite knowing the major defect of the vessel. The authorities maintained that he should have sought assistance from the authorities to have the vessel marked as un-seaworthy, instead.
Such is the dilemma of recording versus non-recording of events. In many cases the non-recording leading to cloud of mystery forming around the event leading to severe probing, investigations, undue public curiosity, etc.
In my good opinion, the masters should not refrain from recording the event so long as they can. One event i have come across more frequently is about the pilferage of LSA/FFA items from ships in Indian ports. Most of the experienced masters decide to have the items locked up in store before the ship calls in the ports. The problem lies in the fact that ship staff has to be put to un-expected duty to take out the items should a survey come around all of a sudden. The bigger problem is what if some fire breaks out actually and everything gets engulfed because the FFA(fire-fighting appliances) were not available ( as they were locked up in the stores!). How will these situations be handled?
I would choose to lock-up the items in any case, because the general and most common understanding for locking the items for saving them is- it is better than not having them altogether (by pilfering). But while doing so, i will like to record the decision in the books and ask the authorities to inspect them in-there during the inspection/survey. Ensuing question is --will the authorities of non-agreeing countries like Ukraine and Russia accept that , and not use the deviant to get us to bribe them!>??
Perhaps, the universally adopted procedure by way of an IMO adoption can help release the last situation too.
The other problem i have commonly seen is that of ship management doing such actions which are not in concurrence with the regulations, and then putting pressure on ship to not to record them. The event i have seen was of not providing duty AB to me during my third mate night hours watch (2000hrs to 2400h) saying that master himself would came if need be, as he remains awake till mid-night. This was one condition in which a flagrant violation was happening; the master was utilising the AB in deck work during the daylight hours in order to prepare the vessel for AMSA survey.
Only bigger problem was that such decision are quite often unicellular. The subordinating staff has a lesser say or no say.
Under the ideal conditions, there are no provisions for these practical problems. What can be done, instead, is that more staff can be put to achieve survey preparations. Trainee staff can be put to accompany the duty officer as the look- out rating at night hours.
This all , invariably , leads to suppression of Free voice on ships, obscurism , higher stress levels, consequential poor inter-personal relations, and many more.
In my own observations, i have seen people opting out from the sea-life in large counts, as a result of poor inter-personal relations. The Indian authorities ought to pay tremendous heed to this factor as well, in the interest of Indians continuing to maintain the grip of manpower supply to the world.
On ships the decisions quite often are unicellular, or discretionary. This is because of lesser information available on-board to reach to a good judgement, less participation from the subordinating staff at the time of decision-making, the habitual practise of letting the top management(master or CEO) to decide and later finding faults in it.
Problems of above nature can be alleviated by opting to officially record the decision, in a good descriptive manner. This reasoning is based on lines that ‘we can try to prove that what we did is what thought to be right, instead of attempting to prove that what we did was right’. ‘We’ is very important in this.
Other way, considering that shipping operations has its history so far deep, we can attempt to find the ‘tested and tried’ decisions for the given condition with help from office staff. And again, the same can be recorded.
Another pending task in the light of numerous arbitrary records would be for the authorities to become generous in handling of such decisions,; endeavour to find more agreeable solution to problems, and then promulgate it to all ships.
The last line can be understood by considering the decision of recording of life-boat lowering being not complied as per the mandatory SOLAS criteria , due to certain unavoidable reason, such as bad weather. The authorities from the west expect that life boats to be lowered even at the cost of halting, off-hiring the ship for this purpose only. The east continues to hold “West is wasteful” in its approach to off-hiring ships for life boat lowering. Thus, the most standard practise by masters or shipowners from the east is to falsify the record, by updating life boats lowering without actually doing it.
This leads to severe practise of seeing this operation personally by the Surveyors from the west in almost all inspections. It turns out that many times the ships are caught on the wrong, receiving severe reprimand from all corners, including their own home state authorities (perhaps for failing to ensure the authenticity of falsified records while copying. They hold “to copy also u need brains”. And, if your falsification has ‘failed’ then it again it is your failure, not management or administrative).
To my thinking, the more feasible solution to this problem can be : beginning to accept the authentic records of self-confessionary nature stating life-boats could not be lowered under the described circumstances. The authorities can agree to such records, further asking the vessel to achieve compliance as early as possible. I guess the problem in this case would be that the tenure( 3 months) mentioned by international authorities is in itself a window period to help the ships achieve compliance for such failing cases!! The easterners assume that the stated period is the ‘run’ time for the exercise.
Honestly at this point I can not resist mentioning that judging by the ‘mandatory’ practises given in international regulations, which are mostly framed by the western nations, they have an imagination that ship staff had got only these kinds of work to do.
In practise we always have many a un-recorded operations to conduct.!