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The Changing Face of Seafaring
Nautical Institute 50th Anniversary Conference
Hong Kong, 24th November 2022
I am delighted to be here in Hong Kong and thank you to the Branch for inviting me to address you today and for making myself and my Wife so very welcome. Today in America is Thanksgiving Day and how appropriate to be here with you on this special day to celebrate The Nautical Institute’s 50th Anniversary.
What a tremendous achievement. I am so thankful for The Nautical Institute founders’ vision back in 1972 that created an Institute that has grown into this global success, and I commend you all on the contributions you have made.
Given the maritime significance of Hong Kong and my over 40 years of seafaring, it is somewhat surprising that this is my very first visit. Better late than never!
The theme of today’s conference has been “The changing face of seafaring” and I would like to take this opportunity to round up on what has been said and to give you a few thoughts to leave you with, not just as the President but as an active seafarer who came off his last ship just a couple of weeks ago.
Now I can see your reaction from here especially the cadets. Here’s the final grey haired Old Man going to lecture me on how it was in the good old days. Wrong! I’m going to talk to you as a seafarer who has one of the most exciting seagoing jobs in the current maritime industry. This is what I do for a living.
Today we have tried to identify future challenges within our industry and for those that man our ships. When I do this, I often contemplate what skills we should be passing on to our younger seafarers so that they are fully prepared to take over from us. Let’s be honest, we have very little idea what the future vessel is going to look like, but then hasn’t every generation of seafarers been the same?
Let me take you back to my very first vessel. A small cargo and passenger ship running between two of the smaller British Channel Islands where I was born and grew up. The vessel was under the command of a strict and principled Irishman who (as a boy) ran away to sea, some time before the second world war.
He taught me basic seamanship, ship handling, meteorology, and many other skills that I still use today. I am far more qualified academically than he ever was. He, along with many other mentors, gave me the (strong) foundation of knowledge that I continue to build on today.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. When I was onboard and maneuvering this vessel. One of the world’s largest DP 2 SuezMax shuttle tankers. 282 meters in length and capable of maneuvering and maintaining position, without any external help to within 1 meter. There is no way that my first Captain of that small cargo ship could ever have envisioned a vessel like that, yet he gave me the strong foundation of knowledge that I was able to build on so that I could.
I have taken basic navigation skills that I learnt at a young age and mixed them with the most modern technology available today. Evidenced by this, I suggest that we need to pass on the skills that we have now to our next generation of seafarers. Just as I have done, they will adapt it and mix it with their latest technology on their bridges, and successfully navigate into their future.
How do we pass our knowledge on? There is no better way than by an informal system of knowledge transfer that I call mentoring. We have talked a lot about mentoring over the last 10 years since The Nautical Institute mentoring project began in earnest. I believe the 10 minute challenge is just as relevant today. That lovely tradition of taking someone aside and taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to teach them something, to show them how to do something, or to let them try something for themselves under your watchful guidance. The challenge goes on and so will the conversation.
As with all the conferences I have attended associated with our 50th celebrations, we have looked at the training of seafarers and how to ensure they develop adequate skills to be leaders in tomorrow’s Merchant Navy. At The Nautical Institute we recognise that high quality leadership and excellent change management is essential in a time of accelerated development. Click x 6 Our leaders of tomorrow are here with us today. On our ships, in our offices, in our schools, in our homes and at our conference! But for them to be successful leaders, we must give them the opportunity to learn to lead by gaining a sufficient foundation of experiential knowledge.
It is important that we recognize that the needs, priorities, and expectations of the next generation are different. What was considered acceptable in the 1980’s when many of us started our careers is totally unacceptable today. It is us, the senior industry members, that must change to accommodate those needs. If we can’t, then perhaps it’s time to move on.
We must support and give every opportunity to these Younger Career Professionals especially the cadets who are trying to get relevant sea time to enable them to become competent watch keeping officers. I believe that this is one of the greatest challenges we face in the maritime industry. Globally we have so many cadets who are trying to find a berth on a vessel but are unable to do so. Or even worse, they are paying agents substantial amounts of money to get them on a ship.
Many cadets from all over the world contact me and other members of The Institute to help them find a berth on a ship having successfully completed their time at university. During my Presidency I want to change this situation. I want to work with you to develop ideas that ensure every cadet that wants to go to sea can sail.
When I brought this up in Karachi, Pakistan recently I was approached by the Owner of a leading shipping agency Global Radiance who have offices in both Singapore and Pakistan. Following our discussions, they agreed to put cadets on their ships and to service their needs throughout their cadetships at cost to the ship owner. Not taking an agency fee for cadets is a huge step forward for the young seafarers and the shipowners and I can only hope that other shipping agencies will follow this lead and do the same. Perhaps there are some here today that will consider this?
I have also been approached by two leading shipping companies who have offered to take cadets onboard when they can, to give them some deep sea time. Both these companies take their own cadets from their own Countries to fulfill their needs, but they are stepping up to take cadets from their regular ports of call where they have their commercial interests.
Will our shipowners and ship managers here today join these companies and help the next generation of seafarers?
We have talked at length about the challenges of a greener future that face us as we move toward 2030 and beyond and I am minded of the words of the UK’s MCA in our recent Seaways supplement, “Climate change is one of the most serious environmental challenges we face”. If anyone is still in any doubt about climate change, I respectfully suggest you ask a seafarer. There is no doubt in this one’s mind!
It is good to see that a significant number of the world’s leading shipping companies, including some here in Hong Kong, have engaged with the need to change and are heading in the right direction with ‘greener’ ships. These are highly sophisticated ships at the cutting edge of technology and require the best onboard operators to sail them and to manage them ashore.
Where are these highly trained career professionals going to come from? Well, if you want the very best, I suggest that you train them yourselves. What better way is there to guarantee the highest quality of staff than by you training them.
You have committed millions of dollars to build these ships and you have committed to help the environment by reducing your carbon footprint. I am asking you to commit a further small amount (in comparison) to the future seafarer by putting at least two cadets onboard every one of these new vessels. These cadets are the future leaders who will be in charge of these vessels within the lifetime of the ship. As Captain, Chief Engineer, or in the office as Superintendent, Manager or CEO.
So I ask you, as we contemplate the exciting future of shipping, reflect on how you have got here and who has helped you on your way. Please take a few minutes to share the vast knowledge you have with one of those that are following you and will soon be taking over. And to our younger career professionals in the room today, speak up and tell us what you need. We are not psychic, you need to tell us as much as we need to listen.
We are a team, and neither can function without the other. I regularly remind my crews prior to berthing a tanker that I cannot do this alone. I need them as much as they need me. None of what I have spoken about can be achieved by one person. We are now over 8,000 members and together we can continue to achieve great things as we have done over the last 50 years. As a wise friend once told me, “Andre, no matter where you are in life or your career, this is our time to make a difference”. I challenge you to join me in using our time constructively to make that important difference for the next generation of maritime career professionals.
Thank you and I hope you enjoyed today’s conference.