Michael Grey, the world’s most famous shipping journalist, has lashed out at the minimal number of seafarers onboard ships today.
Grey, formerly the editor of both Lloyd’s List and Fairplay, was speaking as conference chairman at today’s Nautical Institute event on safe manning held at the Maritime Museum in Hong Kong.
The former seafarer did not hold back with his views on growing automation and “corporate beancounters” slashing outlays on crewing.
“I cannot remember a time when the number of seafarers required to safely operate a ship was not a matter of argument and controversy,” Grey said in his opening remarks. He said the industry had “overcomplicated things” by focusing on numbers versus qualifications, competence or experience.
Grey went on to question technology manufacturers, saying: “Those who design ships and devise new marine equipment and systems have made it a priority, often the principle selling point, to emphasise the way in which their ship/design/equipment/system or software diminishes the need for the skills of the seafarer and encourages crew economies.”
Grey quipped: “Says the manufacturer of navigational electronics: ‘Our supercalifragilistic integrated navigational system enables an idiot to navigate like Vasco de Gama.’”
Thanks to what he described as “ferocious” cost-cutting, people have become something of a commodity in shipping, Grey argued. He questioned how it had now become acceptable to reduce manning to such a degree.
Grey continued by calling out certain flag states for allowing the manning of small ships with master and mate working watch and watch.
“We shouldn’t be naming names,” Grey said, “but the Danes, Dutch, Norwegians and Germans get very exercised when this proposed demand for an additional mate is raised.”
The safe manning conference is one of nearly 50 events going on at Hong Kong Maritime Week.