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Confusion between rate of turn and rudder indicators, cultural insensitivity, the master’s insufficient English, a non-functioning AIS and VTS operators that did not react to the developing situation were key factors in the 12 July 2009 grounding of the Italian-registered chemical tanker Maria M says the Swedish Transport Agency report on the incident.
It was not a good start to the master’s first day in command of the vessel.
In a well-run bridge team subordinates have the confidence to bring a superior officer’s attention to errors, or pro-actively clarify a situation. In this case the master’s abrasive manner discouraged those on the bridge from giving him information necessary for safe navigation or from telling him what was going on.
Predisposing conditions included the Italian master’s lack of familiarity with bridge instrumentation and, says the report ‘insufficient English’, although English was the ship’s working language. That made it difficult for him to communicate clearly with the Filipino officers on the bridge who spoke and understood English and for them to communicate with him and may have increased the master’s impatience and frustration as events unfolded.
After coming onto the bridge while the third officer was on watch the master took the con without specifically saying that he was doing so. The master gave a number of rudder and engine orders. He appears to have confused the rudder angle indicator and rate of turn indicator. Because of that confusion he came to believe that his orders were not being followed and at one stage the helmsman was ‘taken by force off his position’.
By now the others on the bridge, were almost certainly confused – they were carrying out the master’s orders but were called ‘idiots’ on at least two occasions for doing so.
At one point the master reduced engine speed and order hard port but the ship continued to turn to starboard. Given the heightened stresses on the bridge it is possible that the master had forgotten that he had reduced speed, which reduced the vessel’s responsiveness to the rudder.
With the toxic atmosphere on the bridge the third officer, on his first contract as such and now evidentially nervous, gave only the course and distance information that the master demanded but no supplementary information such as when they entered a no-go area that had been marked by the crew on the chart.
Says the Swedish Transport Agency report: “The sound recording on the VDR indicates that the master was a man with authority and a commanding presence who, on at least two occasions, called someone on the bridge an idiot. The suspicion about these characteristics was increased at the visit on board by the investigator while
the ship was still aground.
“One also gets an impression of an unobtrusive third officer, who indeed
was familiar with the function of the instruments, but who probably due to
difference in age and out of respect, was not willing to question or rebuke
his master. Also this impression from the VDR was increased at the
investigator’s visit on board.
”Consciously or unconsciously, the Italian master with his authority did
obviously not take in the information and knowledge from his Filipino
officers about the equipment on the bridge.”