An examination of the key benefits of assigning stable or fluid crews within the Merchant Shipping Industry: The Effective Crew Project

Kate Pike, Nickie Butt, Emma Broadhurst, Karen Passman, Chris Wincott

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    The Effective Crew Project showed that stable manning strategies can be cost effective and demonstrated clear benefits:
    • for safety outcomes – with improved accountability and responsibility, leading to better vessel maintenance and familiarity with vessel and equipment;
    • for the well-being and competency of the crew – with higher retention rates, a greater sense of ownership, familiarity, trust and loyalty, and increased capacity for on the job learning and mentoring;
    • for longer term financial savings – with improved inspection results, reduced training and recruitment, and improved operational costs.
    However, the research also identified various factors that influence the success of stable crewing, including:
    • the effectiveness of the leadership and management skills on board or ashore – which need to be current and sensitive to continuous crew development and efficient vessel operations;
    • the expansion or reduction in fleet size – which means crew stability can be difficult to maintain;
    • the ability to accurately measure the financial implications of different crewing strategies – for precise evaluation of a crewing strategy.
    Shipping is the instrument of globalisation and the international community depends upon safe, efficient, sustainable and reliable transportation of commodities and goods to promote social well-being and economic health. Where the industry fails in one or more of these respects it can have a profound impact on communities, the environment and the economy. Given the demands on the industry and the consequences of failure it is important to understand the factors impacting the performance of those employed at sea in order to permit the creation of an optimum working environment where negative outcomes are less likely.
    The merchant shipping industry in common with others maintains a constant focus on its cost base. As crewing is the largest controllable part of a vessel’s operating budget it often receives a great deal of scrutiny in terms of salaries and associated costs such as travel. This narrow focus on cost, if taken in isolation, risks missing the contribution of crewing strategies to other value-added aspects of vessel performance, however little research has been conducted in this respect.
    The Effective Crew Research Project, sponsored by the Lloyds Register Foundation and the TK Foundation, was a two-year study which examined the benefits and challenges of implementing stable and fluid crews within the merchant shipping industry. The focus was on vessels types with more than 20 crew including: tankers, car carriers, containers, bulk carriers and chemical carriers, although some additional data was collected. The research incorporated a review of literature and collected data from an industry wide survey and 29 interviews with experienced maritime stakeholders and experts from other industries, including healthcare and aviation.
    The research has shown that the fluid nature of crewing within the sea-going area of the industry negatively impacts on crew welfare, crew and vessel safety, and does not encourage employment retention. Stable crewing, however, is shown to develop a greater sense of ownership and responsibility which promotes better safety outcomes including improved vessel maintenance and knowledge of specific equipment on board.
    Team familiarity generated by stable crewing was also found to promote trust and good working relations, which can increase productivity and provide better mental health outcomes for the crew. Other benefits from stable teams included improved vessel maintenance and reduced maintenance costs as well as shorter handover times and recruitment costs. These outcomes have longer term financial benefits for vessel operations and the shipping company. However, those implementing stable teams, particularly for the top 4 senior officers, should be aware that this can mean fewer promotional opportunities and, over time, an increased risk of complacency. Although there are some clear benefits to stable crewing, the uniqueness of individual shipping companies means that one size does not fit every situation. It is therefore vital that crewing strategies are continuously and consistently evaluated and adjusted where necessary. Changes to a different crewing strategy, or combination of strategies within a fleet, should be considered if evaluation highlights this as the best option for maximising cost efficiency, safety and crew well-being.
    Regardless of the manning strategy adopted, it is important to recognise the influence that leadership and management can have on on-board culture. Poor leadership, despite the crewing strategy implemented, can have a detrimental effect on crew wellbeing and safety and ultimately on the budget. Recommendations from this project therefore include greater support for the senior officers both from shore side personnel, and on-going leadership training and development.
    It is paramount for the ethical and sustainable advancement within shipping, that the highest levels of on-board team working are understood and achieved. This in turn will promote efficient, safe and sustainable working practices that support the best outcomes for the crew.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherSolent University
    Number of pages55
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2019


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