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At one time the term 'motley crew' was a disparaging comment used to describe a ship's company composed from a variety of races and cultures. Today the term is not widely used, but the fact of such crews is more common than ever. In one case a tanker crew was noted to contain eleven nationalities. Such a situation is not a problem if most of the crew share a common first language. But with eleven nationalities on board, it would be surprising if all shared a first, second or third language! Whatever the cost savings represented by a mixed crew, the increased risk of accident due to ineffective communications must be recognised.
Unfortunately, owners who accept mixed manning are unlikely to do much to improve the situation by language training. With a mixed crew, language differences may not be the only problem. When a crew is gathered from a number of nationalities there may be historic or cultural prejudices or animosities between individuals. This will add to the difficulties of effective leadership. An intelligent master will allocate the men to watches so as to minimise possible friction. Officers should insure that they show no favouritism or discrimination in dealing with the personnel they supervise. Prejudice based on ethnic origin is as welcome on a ship as a plague of Spanish influenza.

1.12.1 Human relations and language training
In accordance with Resolution 22 of the International convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers, 1978:

  • All governments are invited 'to establish or encourage the establishment of training programmes aimed at safeguarding good human relationships and social responsibility.'

  • At a minimum, all ship's officers should be trained in the use of English as the primary means of communication with shore terminal personnel during cargo transfer operations.
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