Capt. Rajesh Unni: Our current generation has numerous concerns when considering shipping as a potential career. The industry’s inability to provide suitable financial rewards and career longevity remains one of the top concerns. Also, the recent negative publicity the industry has generated related to safety, environmental protection, crew abandonment and criminalization of seafarers before they stand trial, are all serious deterrents to a career at sea. The romanticism of youth towards seafaring has diminished to a great extent, as there are more ways to ‘see the world,’ which incidentally was the tagline which drew me to this career. Seafaring is a respectable and lucrative profession, and we need to continue to promote it that way.
The sophisticated technology on board vessels as well as operational innovations, is creating new demands on skills in IT, communications, and engineering. The excitement of working in often unpredictable operational environments on board diverse ship types which are on varying trades is something which needs to be conveyed to the next generation for them to consider seafaring as a career option.
S4S: Is the industry doing enough to raise awareness about seafarers’ health? What is your feedback so far?
Capt.R.U.: I think the industry has been giving this burning issue the importance it deserves. I also feel that public attitude towards mental illness is moving in the right direction. The stigma attached mental illness is slowly eroding, and those suffering are more likely than ever before to speak out and seek help. Raising awareness is one part and getting to the root cause and addressing it is the other.
Towards the end of 2019, we shall publish a report, which amongst other things would provide us insights in to the age group of the callers, the five most common stressors/ primary issues which seafarers discuss, duration of calls, calls vs. emails break up thematic break-up, linguistic break-up, genuine vs. irrelevant calls amongst a host of other parameters. I am really keen on using those insights to help bring about a tangible change. I sincerely believe we are trying to address a problem in a systemic manner. And, we will continue to look forward to receiving feedback on how to improve so that a larger section of our community may benefit from this endeavor.
S4S What should be industry’s key priorities for crew members onboard with respect to wellness at sea?
Capt.R.U.: The industry has strict regulations to comply regarding seafarers’ work and rest hours. But I feel we should have systems in place to ensure that the regulations are always adhered by, without any operational or commercial pressures. This I believe, would help improve both physical and mental fatigue, which is the key to wellness!
S4S: How is digital technology changing the seafarers’ role? What changes can we expect up to 2030?
Capt.R.U.: I must emphasize that a cyber-enabled ship, doesn’t necessarily mean an unmanned ship. Synergy, in fact, took delivery of the first ship to be classed with Lloyd’s Register’s Cyber AL-SAFE notation certifying the autonomous systems onboard as safe. Simply put, the difference is that seafarers’ will also need to be digitally native. I believe that soon the boundary between a man, machine and computer network will only get blurred.
How does 2030 look to me? The core skills of seafarers – those of good seamanship and (independent) problem solving and resilience will continue to remain the same. The only difference would be the use of more technology that will augment operations on board a vessel from analog, disjointed systems into smart digital enterprises to aid rather than to replace the seafarer’s knowledge.
Read the full interview with Capt. Rajesh Unni here