Confusing messages

Today, the IMO celebrates the seafarer with a Day of the Seafarer. Seafarers are a crucial part of shipping, which is a crucial part of world trade. Unfortunately, decades of abusing and neglecting seafarers has cast a shadow on the profession, making it a tough career sell. So the IMO is aiming to increase the image of the job. All of which is good really, but from my perspective, would seem to ring hollow, to the people whose feet are firmly on deck(s).

The Canadian federal minister responsible for Transportation released the statement below...

Denis Lebel, Canada Transport Minister
from internet
OTTAWA — The Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, is encouraging Canadians to mark the Day of the Seafarer, which takes place every year on June 25 by showing their appreciation for all those who work on ships in Canada and abroad.

“Today we pay tribute to seafarers and the important work they do,” said Minister Lebel. “As a result of this demanding work, people and goods can move safely and efficiently around the world. It is important to recognize these valuable contributions to world trade, supporting Canada’s prosperity.”

The campaign is organized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The theme for this year is Faces of the Sea. People are invited to demonstrate their support for the world’s 1.5 million seafarers by sharing their favourite image of a seafarer on the IMO’s social media channel.

“Canada, as the first official member state of the International Maritime Organization, is proud to support seafarers on this special day,” added Minister Lebel. “I encourage Canadians to join the campaign and express their appreciation for seafarers.”

The Day of the Seafarer, which was first celebrated in 2011, is now included in the annual list of United Nations Observances. The IMO is the United Nations specialized agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping, and for preventing marine pollution by ships.

To participate in the IMO’s Day of the Seafarer 2013 campaign, go to
As a professional seafarer, it is nice to hear the recognition, after all, it is so rare to get. But, I would not be surprised if some of us seafarers felt a little confused from recent messages, like the one above, and the one below.

Karl Lilgert, BC Ferries Navigator
Source - The Province
Yesterday, splashed across the national media, news out of a British Columbia court, sentencing a BC Ferries Navigator, 4th officer Karl Lilgert, to four years in jail for criminal negligence. Karl Lilgert was the Officer of the Watch on the Queen of the North which sank in the early hours of March 22, 2006. He failed to make a course correction shortly after watch change for whatever reason, the ship struck Gil Island, sank, and two people are presumed to have perished as a result.

A BC Ferries internal probe, a TSB investigation, and now a criminal trial, failed to explain exactly why he failed his duty to safely navigate the ferry. He additionally seem to lack remorse or empathy for the incident, which stacked the deck against him in my opinion.

But, is that really reasonable, to expect that just this one person should bear the entire weight of this sad event? A seafarer, an officer granted, but the lowest rank aboard. One person, who has had seven years of massive negative publicity following him, and now four years prison.

Nobody else hold any responsibility? If we are going to assigned such defined blame and consequence on a seafarer, then we should explore who trained him, or did not train him properly, and should have? Who assign him the watch? What role did the licensing system play, or the unions mentality? Isn't the company's Safety Management System designed to prevent such occurrences? The age of the vessel and its many modifications? Training budgets? Lax procedures, etc. What the hell happen to watch change procedure?

I have been a sailor long enough to know that those shipmates must of known what the state of his mental well being was at the time, why were they not able to express their concern - they must of had some. Why was he left by himself on the bridge in the first place - there were four navigation officers on board.. 

Like many unpleasant occurrences, we sweep these complex series of failures onto shoulders of "one bad apple" - a seafarer. I am not an apologist for Karl Lilgert, but I think its overly simplistic to throw the book at him for negligence, when I see so little consequences for so many other's negligence.

I can't think of, or find any other Canadian case of negligence in which an actual transportation firm or person has gone to jail - jail time for negligence in general, where else have you seen it?

But really this in nothing new, seafarers have been increasingly criminalized because, as a society, we see them as criminals - ultimately its fear of the unknown - and it draws away from the systemic societal failures that, in my view, are truly to blame. Unfortunately, criminal trials have become the norm for seafarers after accidents, all around the world.

Happy Day of the Seafarer.

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