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Michael Grey slams ‘beancounters’ and authorities for permitting reduced numbers of crew onboard

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.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Delighted to read Michael Greys Report on crew manning. I operate a short sea shipping Company, and on completion of our new ship 5 years ago our Flag State insisted we carry a Second Mate on board our vessel. The result is the following.
    We have used the opportunity to train young qualified officers of the watch, fresh from Irish /UK nautical colleges. On completion of 12 months on board as watch keepers, the Young second mates would be snapped up by Cruise Ship Companies or Ferry Operators
    The agreement is when these young men are ready for a transfer they have to find a replacement second Mate fresh from College and I allow a week of training on board before handing over the Position. There is a shortage of Companies willing to give young men a start after completing their training and we are loosing some of these Nautical College Graduates to shore based jobs.
    Yours Sincerely,
    Captain Frank Allen

  2. Good article Mr Grey is quite right safety comes first – having served in the Royal Navy 12 years and HM Coastguard for 29 years it saddens me to see the cutbacks and so called measures the bean counters come up with – thanks for the article will pass on to my mate who is a retire Master and pilot.

  3. Well said, Michael Grey.

    I am sure that I recall a cartoon from Fairplay, when Michael was editing it, which was pinned to a pillar in the superintendents’ department of the Hong Kong shipowner whom I worked for in the 1980’s… it showed a ship’s wheelhouse occupied by a seafarer, a dog and a parrot. The parrot was there to quote the regulations, and the dog was there to bite the human if he touched anything.

    At that time MOSK had announced a ship with a seven man crew to operate under Japanese flag between Japan and Australia … the failure of this project got rather less of a fanfare…

    You could run the same cartoon today.

  4. Int’l Shipping crews today = modern day slavery. Owners, Managers, Crewing Agencies could care less. Lowest cost wins, I have seen ships/crews in such a state where prisoners live in better conditions.

  5. Michael,
    I wish I were there…

    I remember part of your article on the Lloyd’s List (c 2001):

    …It is the walk around the deck at the end of the watch that reveals the deck cargo starting to come loose, the frayed guy, the undogged door.
    The keen ears of the experienced engineers that first detect the menacing vibration of an overheating bearing, the senses of the engineer-seafarer who smells the oil mist from the fracturing hydraulic or fuel line before it has become critical…

    In the times of universal deceit, greed and lack of common sense, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
    Keep walking.

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