Shipping needs greater enforcement of current regulations

Glynn Thomas, currently serving as a first engineer, suggests the IMO should focus on nailing down existing rules rather than pursuing new edicts.

Do we seriously need more regulations in shipping? We have SOLAS, it covers construction and safety, MARPOL covering the environment. We have the standing MOUs and the enforcement of MLC2006 and company ISM systems. Yet, shipping companies are still flouting best practice from the statutory regulations. Why?

First, the companies have ultimate responsibility. Yet the days of comprehensive Safety Management Systems (SMSs) have fallen by the way, in lieu of more vague and interpretable guides. This puts the onus squarely on the crews. These crews are multinational with some horrendous language barriers at times. The quality of training is very subjective. STCW2010 has actually done little onboard to improve the quality of training and skill sets. Why? Because the training of crews is expensive and companies don’t want to pay, which leaves it up to the seafarer. So it becomes cost dictated.

Simple examples include how a number of national training facilities consider that the whistle on a breathing apparatus set only has to make noise, there is no underpinning knowledge that the sound must be 90dbA. This is critical safety equipment affecting all onboard. The training delivered on the way up the ranks leaves huge gaping chasms. This promotes fear and embarrassment! As a result people try to cover mistakes sometimes deliberately contravening MARPOL and company SMS. Blame is part of the problem, but coupled with ignorance it is leading to poor judgement.

Ever more complex and diligent monitoring systems are being fitted and they are beyond the understanding of many. From ECDIS systems to ballast water management there is a failure by companies to support their staff. Why then would they have confidence to admit failures back to the company when they occur?

The days of dictatorial management from a master have changed to being by email or sat phone from a faceless superintendent ashore with sometimes laughable amounts of experience. Money is the driving factor, in these days of surplus crew the companies are pushing crews harder to follow the plan that suit the narrative.

Why laden already legislative structures that people don’t understand with more rules that they cannot follow and remain in with the company’s wishes.

Ship visits under the current MOUs are frequent, white list ships pushed and tested to the point of releasing sprinkler systems and removing SOLAS safety shields to prove compliance. Yet in other instances where the managing company is less concerned with image and reputation the level of inspection is less intensive. Why? Possibly due to inducements demanded by some surveyors in some ports, offered distractions? These are known issues and the root of the problem. Companies are sometimes willing to pay local fines to avoid detention or deficiencies. How can I be certain? I’ve personally witnessed the request by some surveyors, port inspectors! The company I work for has a solid no facilitation policy. Which causes problems but is a commendable start?

But if crews are not savvy on the rules and confident enough to challenge these MOU and ROC surveyors, what chance does the regulatory world have of achieving compliance and safety?

The current legislation when followed is sufficient. Promotion of the requirements and stricter obligations on companies’ influence from ashore on the vessel to comply should not evade compliance. Real world fines and controls on companies to comply and promote training and compliance would be a start.


  1. A good contribution from an active seafarer at the thin edge of the wedge.

    A Superintendent ashore USUALLY is a person advising the seagoing Master/Ch Engineer on the tasks that he himself didn’t want to do any longer. And yes, some of them have a laughable LACK of experience.

    The IMO regulations should be written in two versions, the FULL version and the shortened APPLIED version. Seagoing officers need to work with the APPLIED versions. Leave the complicated formulae to the naval architects and the equipment designers.

  2. An excellent article. I must hope that the people that Superintendents report to will find the time to read it – and I endorse Manjit’s comments!

  3. Corncerning greater enforcement , this doesnt just apply to Ships but to Port Authorities and Governments as well . We saw under Marpol Annex V back in 2013 a complete failure by the member states to have arranged the necessary disposal facilities in their ports ,and in the very few cases where ports did have such facilities the Costs were prohibitive.

    All the legislation needs to be far better thought out , so it isn’t just a one way street penalising owners.

    1. The MLC 2006 was readily signed by most Flags of Convenience ( probably without even reading it once) because they really don’t need to worry about following it up. The nations who supply most of the seafarers signed it last. Indonesia ( one of the top 5 nations supplying seafarers) is yet to sign it. This dichotomy and disconnect shows that member states are driven by very strong cultural factors that are very different from the IMO’s pursuit of ‘cleaner and safer seas’.

      There are plenty of seafarers who have had unprintable opinions of the ISM code, the MARPOL and the ISPS. Some of them are now much chastised after a short stint in a US jail or a massive financial penalty after a MARPOL related conviction.

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