Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Schooner rigged, or what?

Posted on | January 5, 2013 | No Comments

How many people would you estimate as being adequate for the safe manning of a 6000grt ship, a sizeable lump of metal by any standards, although a minnow by comparison with the monsters wandering around the world today?

The Netherlands maritime administration will happily issue a Safe Manning Certificate which will permit this ship to trade with just six souls aboard. Master and Mate, Chief Engineer, cook and two sailors, which seems quite generous – to the owner.

As I write this I have at hand the manning arrangements for a 3194gt general cargo ship commanded in the Indian trades by a relative, 75 years ago. Aboard this busy little ship there were no fewer than 108 crew, which is illustrative perhaps of the leaps in productivity that have taken place in the intervening years. But we can take this progress, perhaps, too far.

Captain J.S.van de Kop, writing on the present day Dutch manning practices in the newsletter of the Confederation of European Shipmasters’ Associations, thinks that the miniscule manning of the 6000 ton ship in question is a step too far and “could greatly endanger maritime safety”.

He asks how an adequate lookout is to be kept, or the ISPS can possibly be complied with? Who is going to do fire rounds? How is any training to be given when all hands and the cook are engaged full time in just keeping their heads above water?

This fits neatly with a tale in the latest edition of the Human Element journal Alert! of a cook, who, while expert in the culinary arts, found that he was expected to step outside his personal expertise and turn to and moor and unmoor the ship, and undertake other deck work.

A pleasing versatility perhaps? Alas, the poor cook, dragooned into helping to unship the gangway and operating well outside his comfort zone, fell into a hold and was seriously injured.

Does anyone really think about the realities of safely operating ships in what we would once describe as a schooner-rigged fashion? And before somebody angrily asks how a ship with a bigger crew can compete in the 6000grt size range, it would be good to have the questions raised by Captain van de Kop answered. Because I can’t answer them.

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