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The Quality Mariner

Bahamas Shipowners’ Association Annual General Meeting

November 10, 2010

Bahamas Shipowners’ Association
Annual General Meeting - The Quality Mariner
10 November 2010
IMO Headquarters, London

Minister, High Commissioner, Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Members of the Bahamas Shipowners’ Association, Director, ladies and gentlemen,
 
I am delighted to be able to welcome your Association, once again, to IMO Headquarters for its Annual General Meeting.
 
I always cherish the opportunity to speak directly to shipowners since it is you who, ultimately, have it in your hands to determine whether shipping really is safe, secure, efficient and environmentally friendly. For, while the regulators may create the framework within which such conditions can, and should exist, it is up to you, and your operational staff, to conform with the regulations and implement the best practices.
 
As shipowners, you are, of course, driven primarily by commercial motives. You are in business to make money. But I am convinced that, whereas regulatory compliance was once seen as something of a “necessary evil”, we are increasingly moving into an era in which regulators and industry share similar goals and broadly agree on the best ways to achieve them.
 
I think it is fair to say that, in recent years, there has been a significant and genuine change in the way many companies within the shipping industry approach the environmental and social issues related to their operations. Many are now coming around to the view that good environmental and social stewardship actually makes good business sense.
 
Issues of staff morale and motivation, brand loyalty and reputational risk and environmental sustainability are increasingly widely recognized as key drivers of competitive advantage. Corporate social responsibility has come to mean more than just charity or philanthropy. It has moved from the margins to the mainstream of corporate strategy as the awareness grows that economic, social and environmental objectives can be pursued as common, interlinked objectives.
 
All of which is extremely pertinent to the theme you have selected as the focus for today’s meeting – The Quality Mariner. Given the current emphasis on high standards – environmental, social, health and safety – shipping companies have to re-evaluate how they view their seagoing staff. Those at the quality end of the market will increasingly value the benefits to be gained from employing seafarers who are properly qualified, trained and have the competence they need to manage today’s ships efficiently and safely – even if they may add a little more to the wages bill.
 
The importance of quality human resources in all the industries is high. But in the service sector, which counts shipping among its number, it is surely paramount. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that manning, training and all the other aspects of the human element in shipping are central to many of the issues which now face your industry. Safety, security, shipping's environmental credentials and, indeed, the whole future sustainability of the industry are all dependent to a great extent on the cultivation of a capable and effective manpower resource.  Shipping experts have long been telling anyone prepared to listen that the industry is standing on the edge of a human resources precipice and staring into the abyss of a manpower crisis.
 
There is, today, a huge demand for highly-trained, skilled and knowledgeable personnel to operate and manage shipping, both ashore and at sea; and the need to regulate it, as an industry that is ever-evolving from the technological point of view, has become more acute nowadays than in the past. In this context, the concentration, in former years, of the minds of regulators on ship construction and equipment as the principal means of improving safety at sea and the protection of the marine environment has latterly been supplanted by a focus on the human element, to ensure that the people who work in the industry possess the necessary skills to cope with whatever developments may come their way now and in the future.
 
Nowhere has this been more apparent, nor more appropriate in this internationally-acclaimed “Year of the Seafarer”, than in the adoption in June, by a Diplomatic Conference in Manila, of major revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and its associated Code. Scheduled to enter into force on 1 January 2012, these revisions will ensure that the necessary global standards will be in place to train and certify seafarers to operate technologically advanced ships, for some time to come.
 
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that shipping needs to re-launch itself as a career of choice for today’s young people.  The evidence clearly suggests that not enough of them seem to find seafaring an attractive and appealing career. Maritime labour has, accordingly, become a global commodity and the seagoing workforce is sourced from all over the world.  With the “traditional” maritime countries having largely depleted their own maritime education potential, the shipping world now looks to newer supply streams to provide seafarers in large numbers. And while such welcome developments may fill some gaps, there is general acceptance that the underlying problem has not gone away and that steps must be taken now to address it.
 
It was against this background that IMO launched the “Go to Sea!” campaign in 2008, together with other like-minded organizations. Such campaigns and initiatives can help to prepare the ground but, ultimately, it is you, the shipowners, who must take on the task of ensuring that your industry is sufficiently attractive to secure the human resources it needs to sustain itself into the future.
 
One very valuable tool in your armoury is the fact that, after a seagoing career in a responsible and demanding job, there are many opportunities ashore in related industries that rely on the skills and knowledge of those with seafaring expertise.
 
Seafaring is not only an exciting, rewarding and fulfilling career choice in itself – a career that can take people almost anywhere, both in geographical terms and in terms of the type of work they may finally find themselves doing, it is also a passport to a huge variety of related jobs ashore for which experience at sea will make one eminently qualified. The many dedicated professional seafarers who, having served their early years at sea, now hold positions as managers and superintendents in shipping companies, as maritime pilots, VTS and rescue coordination centre operators, as advisers to Ministers and executives in shipping-related activities such as insurance companies and classification societies, and as professors and teachers at maritime academies and colleges, are shining examples of what can be achieved.
 
I think this is not only a cause for encouragement but also a significant positive factor in the quest to attract more young people into the industry.
 
No doubt the unique hazards confronting seafarers – not only the natural ones but also pirate attacks, unwarranted detention, denial of shore leave and abandonment in foreign ports – serve to exacerbate the difficulties; but they also make it ever more incumbent upon all of us to take immediate and effective action to forestall a situation from developing in which insufficient skilled personnel are available to operate today’s complex and sophisticated fleet of merchant vessels.
 
That is why any initiatives taken to boost the image of the shipping industry and to support cadet recruitment, including the recruitment of female cadets, should be welcomed and encouraged.
 
And, while life for seafarers today may, for some trades and on certain routes, be more pressurized than ever before, in just about every way imaginable, let us concentrate too on the positives: many of the advantages that a career at sea has always offered remain the same. The potential for good wages, early promotion to posts of responsibility, opportunities to travel, good long-term prospects, long holidays and the sense of doing something very different from just working in an office, have a universal and timeless appeal to many young people setting out on a career.
 
I see in shipping an industry with a history and a tradition that is probably unrivalled. And yet, it remains as relevant to the modern world as it ever has been – perhaps even more so, because, without ships to move raw materials, finished products, goods and foodstuffs around the world, today’s global economy simply could not exist.  And because of technological advances, the traditional ethos of shipping remains: of pride in a job well done; of attention to detail; of skills diligently learned and painstakingly applied; of seamanship – all of them being the sort of long held values that IMO is keen to continue promoting throughout the whole of the industry.
 
To conclude: today, more than ever, seafaring is a job that demands highly trained and qualified personnel – people who have the courage, strength and determination to spend long periods of time away from home; and the professional competence and wherewithal to respond to any of the hazards that the sea and the weather might throw at them.
 
Sustaining and developing a high-quality manpower resource is vital for the industry’s future and the STCW amendments I referred to earlier will provide a solid platform for doing so in the years ahead.
 
Moreover, this could certainly be painted as an exciting time for new recruits to join the industry. We live in a global society, which is supported by a global economy and, undoubtedly, one in which shipping plays a vital role in underpinning international commerce. Modern ships are designed and built to the highest technical standards. The emphasis is now, therefore, increasingly on ensuring that standards of manning and operation are equally high, and it falls more and more to shipowners to play a central role. It is a challenge to which I am sure you will rise.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you.