Today is the "Day of the Mariner." According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), today is the day to recognize the dedication and hard work of seafarers in the shipping industry.
Most of the focus of this blog over the years has been on the frequent abuse of the lower rank crew members, like the cruise ship cleaners, cabin attendants, and waiters. However, it's just not the crew who are being abused. There has been an increasing trend in the cruise industry to overwork and mistreat the professional mariners / deck officers who work aboard the major cruise lines.
Every single cruise ship relies on highly trained, professional and knowledgeable marine officers to safely run the ship's operations. The safety of the passengers & and the security of the ship depend on the officers' flawless execution of navigation duties 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the cruise industry, safety can be achieved only by highly skilled officers who are well rested and physically and psychologically fit for duty.
But there has been a trend in the last few years to increase the work load of the ship's officers while substantially decreasing their pay. Some officers face a 50% reduction in their pay. If they complain, the cruise lines are quick to terminate their employment and replace them with less qualified or experienced mariners.
One cruise line for example, Royal Caribbean, has progressively deteriorated the working conditions, physical and mental fitness and morale of its marine officers in the last 5 years. The work load of the officers has risen to the point where officers work well in excess of the hour limitations recommended by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The officers are required to work up to and in excess of 14 hours per day every day, which is the standard 8 hours of watch that is expected for watch keepers and 6 hours of "overtime" work for "secondary" duties.
Would you fly in an airplane knowing that the pilots responsible for the flight had been working 14 hours or more a day for the past 8 weeks?
Royal Caribbean has progressively downsized its marine / deck departments over the years. The secondary work loads (deck maintenance, lifesaving, navigation) used to be spread out between multiple officers and a dedicated chief officer for maintenance and a dedicated safety officer for safety training. These roles have now been combined into fewer and fewer officers while the cruise ships get bigger and bigger.
Royal Caribbean has now increased contract lengths by an extra 4 weeks for these over-tired, over-worked, under-paid officers. The cruise line seems to consider the officers "disposable" if they try and bring up the topic of excessive work loads. The company can fire highly experienced and loyal officers with impunity.
There are also rumblings in the ranks of Royal Caribbean that the cruise line has steadily focused on hiring officers of less professional competency. The replacements are increasingly coming from countries where you can buy a license. Some officers from these countries cannot speak English, and they do not fully understand and were never really trained on the proper operations of the complex bridge systems on today's modern ships,
There is no question that the cruise lines are pushing their crew and their ships harder and harder.
The cruise industry is placing unreasonable demands on professional seafarers as well. At the same time, the cruise lines are inserting one-sided arbitration clauses in the seafarer's employment contracts which strip the officers of their rights under U.S. law and permit the cruise lines to get away with dangerous conditions and work practices. It is no coincidence that there are more and more cruise mishaps reported in the news.
If its really the "Day of the Seafarer," it's important for the world to understand that the cruise lines are raking in the cash at the expense of crew members and officers alike. Cruise executives are getting richer and richer while the seafarers we salute today are working increasingly longer hours for less pay with fewer rights.
Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.