Is there an Urgent Need of a New Rank onboard Ships?

In the past few years, seafarers have noticed a phenomenal change with respect to shipping company’s administration and the accountability of senior officers on ships. Those working on ships must have observed that ship offices are now mounting in proportions and sizes, with growing number of shelves for files and documents. Needless to say, the “paper work” on board ships is continuously rising.

With mandatory ISMs and ISPSs booming, additional errands are getting created each day which is generating further work load for the senior shipboard staff. Moreover, since the communication structure has changed a lot during past few years, ships have started receiving countless emails every day, thanks to the grateful satellites assisting in marine communication.

Let it be any corner of the globe, including the remotest harbor locations, emails received by ships are still high in number.  Though they all are important, each one’s subject has an “ASAP” tag towards the end (Ask a maritime professional working on ship and he would be able to help you understand what exactly that means).

deck officers
Representation Image – Photograph by Jose Jacob


Moreover, the crew of each vessel arriving into a port knows that they won’t be spared by half a dozen of waiting surveyors, including the quarantine ones, apart from the vessel’s very own superintendents, diligent agents, ever doubtful immigration and customs, proud owners and cargo representatives, ship chandlers etc. All of them want to see the Captain or one of the Chiefs, even if the senior officers have been engaged throughout the night with the navigation of the ship for safe berthing.

Moreover, it doesn’t matter if there is a change of crew during the day which requires paper-work to be done or the vessel is planned for a change in command, the only things that matter are that the official papers must be put in place with respect to their importance in the towering shelves in the right order, all the “ASAP” emails must be replied to with precise details, and every single visitor, survey, or the vessel’s representative is welcomed and served as soon as they arrive on board.

Also, these days all the radio communications are being carried out by the senior officers, besides the paperwork and other general communications. They also have to be host for every single guest as well as manage the daily chores on board.

Considering all the above mentioned problems, the question arise where exactly is the “radio officer” these days?

We all know that computers have made our lives easier and that other officers are expected to merge their duties to do the work previously delegated to the now nearly extinct ranks. Considering the present problems, the day is not far when ships would get their first set of IT officers, administration officers, or office clerks on board.

There are certain seafarers, who have in the past complained that they felt like clerks sitting in office and were not exactly doing what they were supposed to. The fact is that this is a general description of the feelings of many other officers responsible for such jobs.

Performing extra duties and catching up with all other work on a priority basis is how the ships are run these days. All these come in the era wherein, time in port for ships has been reduced, related paperwork has increased, cargo and other workload are taking a toll on the ship’s staff, and the number of crew on board is being reduced each year.

If sources are to be believed, there is going to be a humungous shortage of ship’s officers in the coming years and “Seafaring” is soon to become one of the least sought-after professions in the world.

Considering the fact that most of the transportation of goods is carried out over water, the increasing number of ships only adds to the congestion in the already surplus sea freighters.

Having said all this, the seafarers really hope that the owners and the operators consider providing an administration or an IT officer on board their fleet to reduce “paper work” related stress. Such a change in the crew-list with an additional staff would be most highly appreciated and warmly welcomed on board ships.

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About Author

Bikram Pal Singh – is a professional mariner and blogger. He has sailed extensively serving on various Oil tankers and Offshore Vessels. Currently a Chief Officer, he enjoys reading and compiling notes about critical shipboard operations and crew psychology. When not sailing, he loves backpacking, is an ardent adventurer and a certified diver.

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  1. This article makes my head explode. I have worked thirty years as a skilled building mechanical / electrical service trade mechanic, a well paid in demand talent that I became overqualified for after a short 3 year maritime engineering officer training program, with the most important part being a 1 year hands on apprenticeship year. The reason why I learned the trade so fast is because at sea there was almost no paperwork or “overhead” activity. The fact that shipping companies are transferring the paper work to the point where a dedicated bean counter/ process controller has to actually be riding a ship full time indicates that the efficiency and rapid advance of competency shipboard workers have always produced is waning.

  2. The above mentioned personnels other the crew members, are all pain in the neck of the ship’s crew.They are all additional burden to existing loads on crew.

  3. A very well written article. Now with covid outbreak the port prearrival paper work has increased so much that most ports have individual health status declarations and temperature logs in addition to the x number of declarations and pre arrival paper work. Oil majors like Chevron, AET, Wallem etc have done their advance planning and carries the rank of admin assistant onboard ship’s for more than two decades. Needless to say this is a boon for senior officers and navigating officers as they dont have to stress over port and other paper work. Sadly some personnel sitting in the office thinks its nothing and dont want to have this additional rank in most companies.

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