Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Letter to the DPA in regard to style of Management on board ships

Dear Capt Leboffe:

I am writing this mail to express some thoughts I have in my mind after attending the seminar.

I was initially intending to talk to you about my promotion, as to what are the company plans on this. There was a collective meeting organized with all mates, masters, second engineer and chief engineers in a room, which I had also attended. Here is a summary of inferences I could draw up on this meeting and the seminar as a whole .

In the room, the most common question that people sought to know was about the promotion policy and its sincere implementation. Even when already in know of the standard answer of the company, which is ‘three recommendations from three different masters’, I think the more discreet question people wanted to seek was – what?, if the aspirants are finding it hard to obtain the three recommendations.

The appraisal report and system came under scrutiny at this juncture. Some people , particularly old masters, believed that closed appraisal system had more advantage because in the open appraisal system, if there is something critical to be mentioned, the person would plainly refuse to signature them, or in the extreme, may resort to sabotage activity or damaging the master personally, say by dropping his luggage into water when the master is leaving.

As a matter of fact, the aspiring mates like myself had a question to ask: obvious enough, what if the master is not fair in his work, and wants to settle score with the mate for resisting his polices, which the mate would perceive to be unjustified.

I felt for once that the argument had returned to that basic of human nature, where , as a god’s bountiful gift, each human is awarded his own judgment, his own perception. I thought about the evolution of the system of democracy in management over so long years of mankind’s existence, a system most embraced, both in Governance and in Style of leadership, which requires views of all kinds to be accounted in. Was not the closed appraisal system suppression of the views of the Mate, I thought? Was it a still a newer event in the history of sailing, even with case of the famous mutiny on Bounty, to allow master an upper hand before the management? Then why such questions were still not resolved by those old masters, who themselves have been ex-mates? It was resonating in my ears that the ‘seafarer’s worst enemy is an ex-seafarer”.

Incidentally, the master who talked about the closed system of appraisal, (that is, the Confidential Report system) was the same who next day in the seminar inquired about why has Defect Reporting form of the VMCM report put as part of the ISM filing system. His intention to ask the question was clearly that the visiting Surveyors, Vetting Inspectors, could easily find defect with the system using the report which the vessel has itself prepared, and so the defect reporting should be made a confidential form as well.

I wondered at the prevailing ethics and ideologies of the masters on board, quite many of them coming from a less-democratic culture, forget the flawed democracy culture which the general population of people come from. Will it not be natural to have ideological difference with such masters, and they preparing the secret Appraisal Report to play with the promotion possibility of their mate?

Your speech workshop was perhaps also intending to send the same above message, although it ran into vagueness. In the room also you were emphasizing on the people that for a good decision-making, master should take input from everyone, but think for himself before giving his decision.

Last time, during my cross-appraisal by the company, You had given me a piece of advice,—“if you have any issues with the master, do not keep it pending”. Will it be possible to close a pending matter with a master with whom there exist an ideological difference and who would use a confidential report to settle the score, instead of letting the matter of difference be known to mate through an appraisal or a show-cause.

The other concerning talk was about the inaction of the company against the errant crew even when warning letters had been issued. Sir, my belief is that the democratic system which we all humans have arrived at with all consensus, seen in the form of Labour union agreements and so many other Statutory Laws, these all talk of the ‘Show-cause’ and not the ‘Warning Letter’, because the warning letter does not aim to give other an opportunity to present his side of the story.

In short, I feel the Masters and Mate examination courseware had not fully succeeded in achieving its aim of educating harmony to its disciples by practice of the Styles of Leadership, Observance of Ethics, and the laws as a product of natural ethics- the Common Law.

Indeed, the kind of questioning further raised during the course of seminar kept telling of the understanding of Common Law, people and senior masters had.

The use of cadet on board was another very broad example of misunderstanding prevailing among crew due to varied understanding of the common law. On the matter, I would like to point at the company’s circular as well, which un-intentionally, ends up sending a message of what “cannot” be asked of cadet to do. At this point, it reminds me of the critics, who ask of the purposefulness of the legal vocabulary, commonly called the verbose, in making a law. Perhaps, the verbose finds it’s origin in the arguments and misunderstanding we saw in the seminar. The circular , even when very pious in its approach, sends a message that cadet not to used ever for any critical work, which include stations. Maybe the use of ‘verbose’ could have saved the misunderstanding which became the root cause of all the arguments noticeable in the seminar. The STCW Amendment Speaker, Capt Yadav, often talked about the clarifications on various issues to be coming from the IMO, all with the aim of having a unified interpretation. May be, a similar clarification is required for the contentious circular about use of cadets.

Dear sir, in the entire duration, it was noticeable to see people talking of all the good and virtuous things such as Integrity, Honesty, and Transparency. Is it not essential to have staff who personally practiced such a conduct? The test of virtues comes when the harder times arrive. The measure is truly taken in such an hour.

One on-board experience is worth a mention here. Just before a vetting survey, it was found that some engine room checklist were not filled. A retro-dated checklist was prepared and signature by chief mate and chief engineer.

Later, in another event when chief mate refused to prepare a forged paper, the master pressured him by accusing him of having double-standards, and being hypocrite, as he had acceded to the engine room checklist.

The mate however acknowledged that the Engine room checklist was signatured only as a observer to the event, not as an executer. ‘Mate’s concern is mainly with his own department’, thought that mate, and therefore any erroneous act cannot become reason for doing more of other such acts.

The master succumbed to mate’s demand, but secretly bore a grudge. Towards the sign off of mate, he did not prepare the open appraisal, and perhaps sent one secret appraisal after the mate has left. Such is the purpose of secret appraisals.

Sir, until the time a new generation of well-informed cadets comes up to the stage of becoming master, please prevent undoing of the well-found principles of management by ignorance of old style masters; principles which are even though not perfect but still the best to work the most agreeable solution.

Perhaps, this is one good reason why STCW 2010, the Manila Amendments, talks of special and enhanced training in Leadership and management for management level ranks.