Pier Pressure Can Increase When Security Officials, Ship Employees Meet

The oil company tanker master was quite emphatic. 'If anyone thinks that all this inspecting, surveying and vetting is making me better

The oil company tanker master was quite emphatic. 'If anyone thinks that all this inspecting, surveying and vetting is making me better at my job, or will improve the quality of my ship,' he said, 'they are quite mistaken.'

One is tempted to suggest that there could be in his attitude a certain level of professional arrogance, which resembles that of schoolteachers who resent the visits of the inspectorates with their propensity for fault-finding.

But it is worth persisting in this line of inquiry. The master, it transpires, has no objections to judgment from someone who has something of an inkling of what it takes to run a modern merchant ship.

Brought up when the only inspections were by the highly qualified and experienced professional surveyors of the flag state and those of the classification society, he now operates under a regime when any barely literate person armed with a uniform, authority and a clipboard can come aboard in foreign ports without appointment and demand his time, attention, and evidence of total compliance with either local by-law, regulation or that authority's interpretation of an international convention. It is an awful way to live.

Other masters speak about unpleasant meetings with interrogators, often peremptory in their manner and driven by their mission to find fault. These were rarely mariners themselves. They could not be described as professional, but were people with the mentality of parking attendants.

They did not understand ships and shipping, or even what it was like to operate a complex item of floating machinery in a 24 hours a day, seven days a week regime.

They were incapable of reason, saw everything in a monochrome black or white, pass or fail context, and those forced to deal with these robots were left completely exasperated.

In some parts of the world the ignorance and arrogance of these officials is supplemented by an astonishing level of blatant corruption, the official, often backed up by the agent, making it quite clear that unless the requisite fee for facilitation, whether in cash or kind, is paid 'bad things' would happen.

And anyone who doubts that this is not widespread needs to visit the back pages of any BIMCO Bulletin, where the shipping organisation likes to set out chapter and verse and, usefully, the locations of this primitive behaviour.

There is nothing at all new about this, but it is worth noting that such a regime is being made a good deal more demanding by the arrival on the scene of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.

It means more officials, more officialdom, now acting under the premise that where security is concerned no demand made of a ship and those aboard her can be deemed unreasonable.

These are early days with ISPS and in the maritime world in general it takes time to come to terms with the insecure world of today.

The arrival on the scene of the international terrorist, and the paranoia which our inability to prescribe solutions to terrorism sometimes induces, produce a strained relationship between mariners trying to do their jobs, with the unasked for addition of ISPS compliance, and security forces who are solely focused upon the protection of the realm.

Let us face it, it just needs one successful terrorist attack upon a big tanker, laden gas carrier, passenger- ship, or perhaps a ship seized to act as a weapon and the proverbial has hit the fan.

Security people have had this drummed into their skulls until their brains reverberate and they wake up having nightmares about that 'worst-case' maritime scenario which leaves Osama triumphant.

'Not on my watch!', they pray fervently. Shipping people need to understand just what these unsmiling, humourless folk with their clipboards have as priorities, just as the authorities could gain a great deal from a wider understanding of the merchant mariner's life.

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