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By the standards of the working world ashore, any officer position on any ship is a job with unusual duties, responsibilities and obligations. Many people are attracted by the thought of making a living at sea, but few have the character, skill or determination to actually do so. In the course of their duties, tanker officers will be solely responsible for the safety of ships valued at up to $100 million and cargoes valued up to $50 million. There are few industries where a $150 million investment is in the care of individuals who have not seen their thirtieth year and it is not surprising that there is so much interest in the performance of these special people.

1.1.0 Duties, responsibilities and obligations of a tanker officer
The minimum conduct of a tanker officer is guided by a multitude of requirements established by the vessel's master, owners, technical operators, charterers, international authorities, flag state and local officials. Each officer must be aware of these requirements in detail.

1.1.1 Duties: company policies
Every shipping company sets forth the duties of the master, officers and crew in their vessel organization manual. These include the duties that apply to keeping a navigation or engine room watch, duties in port, emergency duties and collateral duties. While there are as many variations of the list of duties as there are shipping companies, each contains a common core of hard professional necessity, a common denominator of tasks performed on any well-run ship. The following basic principles, if carefully implemented, would provide all the guidance necessary for a well run tanker:

  1. Safety shall be the foremost consideration in the conduct of all operations, with priority order of: crew, vessel, cargo and the marine environment. Savings of time or distance and other 'economies' are only genuine savings when achieved within the required standards of safety.
  2. The master has supreme command of the vessel at all times and has full legal authority over all phases of vessel operations, including all persons on board his ship. He represents the owners, and is responsible to them for the efficient use of their assets and personnel.
  3. A well-planned preventive maintenance schedule shall be followed, including maintenance of cargo loading and discharge equipment, navigation aids and deck and engine machinery.
  4. The vessel shall be maintained according to standards of good housekeeping and cleanliness. All work, living and store spaces shall be clean, orderly and well secured. Protective coatings will be maintained.
  5. The ship will be run with an atmosphere of good will and cooperation. Personnel development and self respect will be encouraged while retaining authority and discipline. Good personal habits and hygiene shall be a matter of course.
  6. Owners must recognise that a competent and motivated crew is their most valuable asset in securing and keeping business. The owner's long term success depends on the creation of trust and confidence between their shore and shipboard organisations.
  7. The vessel will always be operated in compliance with applicable international, national and local law and regulation. These take precedence over company regulations.

1.1.2 Duties: IMO requirements
In 1978 the IMO (then IMCO), International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers codified the 'minimum requirements' for masters, officers, engineers and ratings assigned to tankers. For deck officers the applicable parts of this important convention are:

  • Regulation 11/1
    Basic principles to be observed in keeping a navigational watch.

  • Resolution 1
    Operational guidance for officers in charge of a navigational watch.

  • Resolution 3
    Principles and operational guidance for deck officers in charge of a watch in port.

  • These recommendations constitute less than 12 pages in total. It would not be too much to suggest that every officer should be required to memorise them (just as they memorise many of the Collision Rules), during their period of training, nor would it seem a bad idea for every master to require his officers, (as one American admiral did with the 'rules of the road'), to read them before beginning a voyage. The requirements are simple and plainly written. Every officer can understand them. If every officer complied with these recommendations shipping casualties would be significantly reduced. The recommendations of Resolution 1 are included in section 4.1.2 of this handbook.

    1.1.3 Duties: flag state and port state
    IMO treaties and conventions have no force until enacted. Enaction is usually in the form of laws promulgated by the legislative bodies of the nations which have ratified the treaty. The laws are implemented in the form of regulations issued by the ministry for maritime affairs. These rules may impose many duties additional to the IMO requirements.
    The national regulations determine how mariners are to be qualified for the documents and licenses required by each ship, how the ships will be inspected, and the ways in which they must be operated. When a shipping casualty occurs it is the investigation and enforcement branch of the national authority which examines the causes of the incident and determines the punitive action to be taken against the owners, officers or crew members of the vessel found negligent. Flag states are responsible for issuing certificates of compliance with international conventions, but they may appoint other agencies to do so on their behalf.
    Port state authorities may board a tanker whenever it is within their waters to verify compliance with SOLAS, MARPOL, and other IMO and ILO conventions. Local regulations (harbour rules), may also apply and are enforceable by local authorities. A tanker officer must be aware of all of the duties required of him by port state and local rules. The owner must make the necessary information available to his crew.

    1.1.4 Master's orders and instructions
    The Master is responsible for ensuring that clear lines of communication exist within the shipboard organization, and that all personnel understand their duties and responsibilities. He must see that full written instructions for all routine operations, or any operation representing a potential risk, are provided to the chief officer and to the officer in charge of the operation. The master assigns emergency duties, issues standing orders as required and personally instructs crew members in the proper performance of their duties. He is responsible for verifying that the duties of each crew member have been and are being properly executed and for taking disciplinary action wherever an omission occurs.
    The master is responsible for implementing and enforcing appropriate safety regulations and operating procedures as directed by the vessel owners and applicable regulations.
    Recent reductions in vessel crew numbers requires that the master be even more diligent in developing crew members to the limit of their competence or in removing those who prove incompetent. Since he will be held culpable for any default or omission by any member of his crew, it is in his own best interests to give his closest attention to improving crew competence.

    1.1.5 Responsibilities
    An officer can strictly perform all of the duties enumerated for him by the IMO, flag state regulations, and company policies without attaining a level of true professionalism. The various lists of duties constitute the minimum performance expected of any officer. True achievement as a seafaring professional is shown by the degree to which an officer exceeds the minimum requirements. A professional officer develops habits and practices which minimise errors in his own work and maximises the cooperation he gives and receives in working with the other officers and crew of his ship. He becomes aware of the limitations of his shipmates, but uses this knowledge to find ways to support them rather than criticise. He becomes familiar with the various bridge watch modes and strives to achieve proficiency in his role as a watch team member.
    A professional officer ensures that the personnel on his watch are vigilant and attentive to their duties. He involves them in the planning and execution of the voyage or cargo plan. Above all he checks and re-checks the safety of those situations which expose the crew or the ship to danger. A navigation fix determined by two lines of position is not good enough for his watch, nor is an hourly tour of the deck sufficient during his cargo watch on a non-automated tanker.
    The watch officer is always aware that while in charge, the safety of the vessel is entirely in his hands.

    1.1.6 Obligations
    Along with the trust of being a ship's officer come certain obligations. Many of these are 'moral obligations', not found on any list of standing orders. In fact, these responsibilities belong more in the category of 'ethics' than duties.
    An officer has an obligation to see that his shipmates are fairly treated. This may include dealing forcefully with incompetence by one crew member in order to protect others from harm. It means treating the crew like fellow professionals, insuring that they are properly trained and informed regarding their duties. It means cooperating with other officers and the master. A true professional is able to work with almost any man he sails with because his professionalism places getting the job done ahead of any personal feelings he has about his shipmates.
    An officer has an obligation to the company employing him to see that their resources are used as efficiently as possible. While the master is principally responsible for protecting the interests of the owners, every officer should feel obliged to insure that the ship is operated with minimum waste, loss and exposure to the owners.
    Protection of the environment is rapidly gaining as a primary duty and responsibility of the ship's crew. But even when operating within the letter of environmental regulation there are opportunities (for the chief officer in particular), to minimise the environmental impact the ship's operations have on the seas. It is a crew obligation to take advantage of those opportunities. Major oil spill incidents gather most publicity, but they contribute the minor part of marine pollution. The major part is due to operational pollution - where conscientious effort can make the greatest effect.
    It is the obligation of the seaman to bring a professional attitude to his job. It is likewise the obligation of management to treat their crew as valued professionals. Such an attitude of mutual respect may go against the residue of years of union/management acrimony. The convincing evidence for such a change is the success of the shipping companies who have pursued a policy of mutual respect between ship and office. No matter how good the technology, in the end it all comes down to people.
    If more evidence were needed of the importance of tanker crews, it could be found in such studies as the Norwegian Cause relationships of collisions and groundings, which found that only 6.8% of the 3000 incidents examined were due to technical failures. 93.2% were due to crew error.
    Quoting from a book which was long the standard of this industry: "It may be that men will pose greater problems in the next decade than will machines and it is well to remember that a tanker fleet - or any fleet - no matter how good its ships, operates only as efficiently as the men who man it."(1)

    (1) King, GAB, Tanker Practice, Fifth Edition, The Maritime Press Limited, 1968.
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