Work or Welfare?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

22 January 2016


In anticipation of the publication of two MAIB reports, ShipInsight’s editor visited the website but the reports are not yet available. However, when re-reading an earlier report of the grounding of another vessel the Lysblink Seaways, some questions were raised in the editor’s mind concerning the link between work and crew welfare that is often overlooked. With MLC 2006 in force and the right of seafarers to enjoy some of the same home comforts that shore-based workers do being a common theme ever since, are some of the special circumstances of living on ships given sufficient weight? In the incident in question the vessel grounded and was subsequently scrapped because the OOW was incapable of performing his duties because of the effects of alcohol. The subsequent investigation found that despite the operator having a dry ship policy, alcohol was frequently consumed on board. There were several other factors that contributed to the incident but the question of alcohol use is at the heart of the matter. STCW sets blood alcohol levels that should not be exceeded by seafarers on duty and many national regulations also exist. In this case the operator’s no alcohol rule should have meant that the limit was zero. The safety issues of alcohol levels cannot be over emphasised but few shore workers would accept sanctions that prevented them enjoying a glass of wine of some other drink when not at work so the seafarer is most definitely not being given equality with workers ashore. The reason given in the report for the OOW being incapable was that when off duty he had made a private phone call which caused him to become anxious and resort to alcohol as a consequence. There is no hint as to what aspect of the phone call caused the officer’s anxiety but several possible causes spring to mind. In this instance the call may even have been made on a cell phone as the vessel was close enough to shore to permit this but while access for seafarers to communication with home is something this being constantly pushed for and demanded as a welfare issue, surely this incident highlights that the effects of such communication can be bad as well as good.