Posted on | December 22, 2012 | 2 Comments
I was talking to the second mate of a tanker recently. This was a person of thoughtful demeanour and was a very modern mariner, unlike us old salts who like to reminisce about the days when there were eighty souls aboard a 10,000 ton deep sea ship and a pretty jolly life.
This second mate was between voyages and clearly had not enjoyed the previous haul to the Gulf and back. There might be nothing new about slow steaming (plenty of people dawdled along in the last recession) but what got this person down was the sheer loneliness of the job, aboard a VLCC with twenty of a crew aboard.
It was the composition of this crew, which clearly was largely responsible for this feeling of complete isolation. For a start the officers were from half a dozen different nations and the ratings from another. Language was confined to halting instructions to do with work.
There was no social interaction between any of the crew, who kept their watch or undertook their daywork in the machinery space and retreated into their cabins at the end of the shift.
Meals were taken largely in silence, not least because any common language was put under strain by a simple request to “pass the ketchup, please”.
Off watch, this collection of human islands lurked behind their cabin doors watching DVDs and sleeping. The second mate, because of an earlier, happier existence aboard a ship where there was a social life of sorts tried to generate the same aboard this ship, but all efforts fell on deaf ears.
Nobody was interested in any collective, social activity. They spent weeks at anchor in a state of utter miserable boredom, and the 10 knot laden haul home seemed endless. This officer felt that he needed something different if the sea career was to last any longer.
You could argue that this was just bad luck, but it says something about the lack of leadership ashore and afloat which permits such a life to be lived aboard a ship which was owned by a large international oil company that sends regular messages to the world about its corporate social responsibility.
You probably don’t expect a life at sea to be all wine and roses, but you expect something rather more redolent of civilisation in the 21st century.
Somebody, for goodness sake, should be making an effort, because there are too many ships being operated in such a miserable fashion. Does anyone ever consider the sanity of seafarers, and their right to a bit of fun? Doesn’t anyone, from the fleet managers, to the enormous HR departments, care?