Day of the Seafarer: Message from Wallem CEO Frank Coles

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(HONG KONG) — If global trade is the engine of economic growth, shipping is the cylinder oil that keeps the engine running. However, the people who make this – our – industry work are almost invisible, as they labor unseen beyond the horizon and out of mind. For this reason, the Day of the Seafarer should be applauded for encouraging us to pause and reflect on the importance of deck officers, engineers and everyone else on whom the industry relies to ensure cargoes are delivered safely and on time.

Empowering seafarers and their colleagues who support them from shore is critical to upholding Wallem’s reputation as a provider of world-class services. To that end, we will continue to invest in the appropriate training and correct technological tools that will enable them to succeed.

We do this in support of the "human element" that is celebrated on this special day, yet so often becomes the scapegoat when something goes wrong at sea. We also do so at a time when the fervor surrounding digitalization and automation sometimes appears to suggest that crews represent an obstacle to efficient fleet operations that would be better eradicated. Undervaluing crews in this way is hugely demoralizing; it is also based on a misconception.

Don’t get me wrong. New technology has an important role to play in the onward march of modernizing ship operations. But attempting to supplant people with machines is misguided; it’s time to drop simplistic suggestions that a diligent watch-officer can be replaced with a CCTV camera, or notions that an algorithm can respond in ways comparable to an experienced superintendent. Instead, let’s focus on deploying technology in ways that help crew perform better. Technology must support and empower, not subtract and hinder.

But technology alone cannot address broader issues affecting the lives of our people working at sea. This year’s Day of the Seafarer also shines a light on opportunities for women and the contribution they are already making in a variety of roles as it attempts to spark a conversation about gender inequality. It is estimated only 2 percent of seafarers are female. Tackling this under-representation demands the breaking down of old-fashioned perceptions and intrinsic biases. It is yet another area of our industry calling for radical change.

I am pleased to report that Wallem remains one of the biggest employers of women seafarers. They are spread evenly across the ranks, but are particularly well represented among second and third officers and engineers. Wallem is committed to promoting gender diversity and creating supportive and respectful environments onshore and onboard Wallem-managed ships to allow everyone to flourish.

As crew shortages become more acute, it is ridiculous to disregard half the pool of possible candidates on the basis of gender. Our experience is that women seafarers want to be treated no differently from their male colleagues and to be judged solely for the work they do.

At Wallem, we cherish the technical expertise, the ingenuity, and, above all, the dedication of the skilled men and women who are pivotal in our success today and tomorrow. The Day of the Seafarer highlights their efforts once a year. In truth, we should acknowledge and give thanks to seafarers every day. At Wallem we do this.

By Professional Mariner Staff