Patrik Wheater reports from this week’s Shipping and Offshore CSR Forum in London.
Some interesting sessions at this week’s Shipping and Offshore CSR Forum in London presented the shipping industry with a technological conundrum or two.
While most delegates attending the Capital Link conference agreed that ships have to offer broadband internet if the industry is going to attract a new generation of seafarers, ship-wide wifi capability is still a major challenge for shipowners – and not, as you might think, because of the costs involved.
What concerned a number of delegates was the potential for ship-wide internet use to create an insular environment in which seafarers retreat to their own cabins rather than build relationships with shipmates to establish a more close-knit working community. This was considered a vitally important element to creating an operationally successful, safe and happy working environment.
Although the jury is out on whether shipboard internet is a good thing and actually helps increase staff retention rates, Columbia Shipmanagement’s crewing director Norman Schmiedl said although its vessels do have internet capacity, it is limited to mess decks and public areas and not available in individual cabins.
Questions from the floor raised another point: the management of risks associated with unrestricted internet use. There is of course the increased potential for a cyber-attack, but it is the disclosure of confidential or sensitive company information that could be preventing the greater take-up of shipboard wifi.
The potential risk here was alluded to during an earlier session on regulatory compliance, in which Dee Taylor, a partner at law firm Liskow and Lewis, highlighted an increasing trend in the US to prosecute both individuals and companies for flouting pollution laws.
In answer to a question from one shipowner asking if the shipping industry is being targeted by the US, Taylor revealed that the current legal framework allows whistleblowers to claim half the fine imposed on a guilty company.
“This is a real problem,” she said, “caused by the fact that the regulations allow for a financial incentive. [Prosecutors] must be diligent in asking why something has been reported.”
In a session on human resources, Tidewater Corporate Services’ Mark Handin delivered a rousing presentation emphasising the importance of “education, education, education” and a need to “inspire the next generation” of seafarers, but warned of the emergence of a reliance on technology that could result in crews losing knowledge of the vessel.
Referring to an increasing trend in the aerospace industry in which a level of automation is being introduced that pilots are unable to over-ride, Handin said: “You can’t disregard the human factor. “You cannot deprive the master of the ability to take control. We have to give back control of the ship to the crew.”