Crew Problems- Reactive vs Proactive

In this thread CNN Names Mariner Accused of Raping Midshipman-X there was some good discussion about cases of harassment, assault etc. being handled poorly. Like fire fighting / prevention managing a crew should not just handling problems after they occur.

Just as mariners take steps to prevent fires steps that can be taken that can increase the odds of avoiding an issue in the first place or increase the odds of a better outcome if an incident does occur.


The key concept: don’t make a rule you don’t intend to enforce, and once it’s broken enforce the rule.

I have to admit at being surprised that alcohol was involved in one of these incidents. Not the alcohol, but the fact that the company had a rule against alcohol and yet a senior officer was breaking the rule. A senior officer doesn’t get junior officers drunk in his cabin unless he thinks he can get away with it.

If you think you can violate one strict rule then all the rest are fair game also. The incident was just waiting to happen.

The first step in preventing cases such as harassment and assault is enforcing the rules on the books, ruthlessly.

Example: Where I work we have an anti-alcohol policy. One drink under contract and you are fired. If a captain conceals a crew member’s drinking, the captain is also fired. Years ago when the rule came out there were a lot of firings. Then everyone got the idea. Now drinking on the job is rare. When it happens it is reported promptly.

All sorts of disfunction and injury have been reduced by eliminating alcohol. But to the point, crew members know all the rules will be enforced.

When cases of harassment etc do occur, the simile with shipboard fires is apt: act quickly.

Captains need to immediately conduct their investigation of an incident of harassment. In my experience with a crew of 9, the captain’s investigation takes about a day. Separate the persons involved as much as practical. Written statements from everyone, including the people who “know nothing”. Then the statements and captain’s assessment are passed on to the port captain.

The port captain has the time to conduct a more thorough investigation, allowing the captain to focus on the ship. Also, the port captain will be less likely to be accused of bias.

I’m saying port captain here, because that is the chain of command where I work . May be different at your company. Also , where I work HR makes no decisions having to do with employment in this regard.

The port captain’s investigation is also best done quickly: a couple of days, usually. No more than a couple of weeks. All parties have to know a decision will be made quickly.

The port captain can talk to the crew via phone, and to call other possible witnesses, often at home, and to consult lawyers.

Lawyers are the experts in these cases. They are the ones who know what harassment is and isn’t. If you’re trying to decide the issue yourself, remember: the man who has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client.

But remember too the purpose for consulting the lawyer isn’t to determine if a crime has been committed. It’s to establish if the company’s own rules have been violated. The company isn’t a court of law. The port captain is just making a business decision, with the ultimate sanction being the possible firing the the offending individual, or of the aggrieved party, it that person lied. Other decisions are left to the real legal system.

While this is going on consider getting the aggrieved party off the vessel. Consider paying their lost wages while the port captain investigates the case. (This is for a serious case, mind you. Harassment cases vary in degree).

Once a decision is made by the port captain it should be carried out quickly.

(One thing to consider here too: when a person comes to me complaining of an issue such as harassment I explain to them before they go on that I thoroughly investigate all such cases, and if I find rules have been violated I will take action. But if I find that the aggrieved party has lied—that they have defamed someone’s reputation—they themselves will be fired. This may be controversial, but over the years it is a custom that has saved a lot of bullshit.)

After the investigation/decision are over it is very important for the port captain to convene a zoom meeting of the other captains in the company and explain the incident in detail, the investigation, and all the measures ultimately taken. This controls rumors, and serves as the best training those captains will ever receive in dealing with like situations.

Bury the incident and it will just grow into another.


Yeah, the procedure to follow after a report of harassment is laid out very well.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to avoid both reported and unreported crew incidents.

From the start the company was highly motivated to avoid financial losses from SASH (Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment) and lawsuits. That was the tenor of the early training, that the problem was not the assault and harassment but the risk of lawsuits.

The later training and materials supplied were much better with more focus on training the crew and steps to aimed at recognizing and reducing the harassment. In particular, in addition to the binders with legal advice there was a movie that was shown to all joining crewmembers that explained what constituted SASH and also, importantly, what did not.

In the rough and tumble of a 90-day voyage with 20 crewmembers there may be occasional friction and sometimes short tempers which might be misconstrued as harassment. Reports of incidents short of harassment should be not be discouraged, crewmember should get a valid explanation as to why the incident doesn’t rise to the level of harassment. If the explanation closely matches crew training (ie the movie) it will be credible.

It’s important for the captain to be engaged enough to be able to stay aware of crew dynamics and that minor issues and complaints are handled competently least “weak signals of failure” are missed.


This is from the CNN article:

She said her boss, Sison, who did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment, went farther than the rest – making it clear he wanted to have sex with her. He would comment about her body and appearance, she said, made sexual jokes and told her how attracted he was to her. He insisted on showing her photos of barely dressed women he said he had dated in the past and would scroll through selfies of himself in the mirror. Hicks said he even referred to her as his “wife.”

Assuming that’s correct why would the Chief Engineer and Captain allow this unprofessional behavior aboard ship? Did they both not know or did they both think it was OK?

Same with the drinking, did the captain not realize the risk involved? What’s that say about the culture aboard the Alliance Fairfax?

There’s more to being a professional mariner than just technical skills. If the Alliance Fairfax was being run as poorly as it seems than there’s a far deeper issue than just one First Assistant Engineer.