James Wilkes from Gray Page urges the IMO to set up multiple virtual flying squads of advisors and experts to help port states implement crew change protocols.
“Labour isn’t working” was the slogan of a political advertisement devised by adverting agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the UK Conservative Party in 1978.
It showed a snaking line of hundreds of people queuing outside an ‘unemployment office’.
Unemployment was then at a post-war high and the ad was run in anticipation that the Labour prime minister at the time, James Callaghan, would call a general election. He did a year later, after losing a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the wake of the ‘Winter of Discontent’.
The slogan was modified for the Conservative’s general election campaign to say, “Labour still isn’t working”.
The Conservatives won that election and in 1979 Margret Thatcher became the UK’s first female prime minister.
Giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions
The advertising campaign was credited with winning the election for the Conservatives and in 1999 the poster voted the “Best Poster of the Century”, such was its perceived impact.
The irony of the campaign was that an unemployment rate of 5 to 6% wasn’t that high. It has remained at that level or above in the UK since then.
But it does show what a single powerful message can achieve when it gets traction in the public’s mind.
A single powerful message that gets public attention was the objective behind the #blowyourhorn Twitter campaign that I started in anger on June 23, to highlight the crew change crisis that had been building for months and wasn’t getting noticed, never mind resolved.
Despite the campaign, which was subsequently adopted and adapted by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as well as some shipping companies and maritime organisations.
Despite the International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes convened by the UK government on July 9, the situation isn’t getting better.
Crew change still isn’t working.
If the figures released by the ICS are correct, over half a million seafarers are now impacted by the crew change crisis.
250,000 seafarers remain trapped on ships, with little or no prospect of paying-off and going home to their families and loved ones.
250,000 seafarers can’t travel to ships to take up their contracts, sign-on and start working.
It is not just that crew change still isn’t working, it’s getting worse.
Now is the time for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other shipping industry bodies have to make a decision.
Continue lobbying and campaigning in the same vein and, on the current evidence, in vain.
Or adapt and do something.
One idea I’ve had – and floated on Twitter, which is how I’ve ended up writing this – is for the IMO to set up multiple virtual ‘flying squads’ of advisors and experts who will help individual port states get aligned with, and implement, the Recommended Framework of Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel.
You see, giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions.
Whenever I purchase anything that comes with operating instructions, if I read the instructions at all I will only get as far as the “quick start menu”. I’m convinced – as most men are – that if I need to know anything after that, I’ll be able to work it out by trial and error.
However, the crew change crisis is too profound a problem to be trying to solve it by trial and error. If the Recommended Framework is a “quick start menu”, it isn’t starting anything, let alone quickly.
So my suggestion to the IMO is to pick the top 5 or 10 port states by usual volume of crew change, provide a flying squad for each of those port state who will help systematise the process, de-bureaucratise it, identify the barriers to making it happen and remove them.
Then measure success by the actual volume of crew changes taking place, rather than what port states are claiming is possible.
I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but if there is no concerted intervention by the IMO, no different solution to what’s happening now, the crisis will only deepen.
Failing that, another idea is to engage a global advertising agency and have them produce a billboard poster with the slogan “Crew Change Isn’t Working”.
Then buy up all the billboard space around the government offices in each major port state, and run it – until crew change is working.
At the same time, every ship in every port should sound its whistle at noon local time, every day – until crew change is working.
For the sake of all seafarers, it’s time to be controversial.
To demand attention.
To get noticed.
To be effective.
Like all the greatest advertising campaigns have been.