Full responsibility: the Master is always to blame

Hi all,

A topic I would really like to hear some different views and opinions on: It is stated that the Master of a merchant vessel retains full responsibility. Even in the event that s/he was not present at a time of incident/accident/casualty/fault, it still falls upon the Master to ensure all possible is done to avoid aforementioned scenarios. He will also receive the final blame for such cases.

Do you guys agree with this? What about in a situation that should only entail the Chief Engineer as the highest authority on a subject?

Keen to hear from you guys.

an old captain of mine always used to say 'if lightening strikes the boat its still my fault.'
it is the ultimate burden of responsibility being captain, however its not expected that the captain should have the same expertise as the chief engineer…so if the chief is negligent unbeknownst to the captain and that can be proven, that should protect him/her a bit.

While the Master is always fully responsible, the Master is not always to blame. The two are not always the same thing.

From some place on the world-wide interlink web thing:

Before we go further, we need to get some definitions straight. What is [I]blame[/I], what is [I]fault[/I], and what is [I]responsibility[/I]?

[ul]
[li]To be [B]responsible[/B] is to be answerable or accountable. It means that we will be measured.[/li][li]To be at [B]fault[/B] is to be responsible for a failure or worse, a wrongful act.[/li][li]Finally, to [B]blame[/B] is not just to hold responsible but to find fault with.[/li][/ul]

The Master gets the blame for everything, even if he didn’t do it.

If you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat the cake.

(If you don’t want the responsibility/liability don’t accept the job.)

[QUOTE=AHTS Master;187850]The Master gets the blame for everything, even if he didn’t do it.[/QUOTE]

Not necessarily. The Chief gets hammered for IOPP violations.

It is extremely rare for a master to be prosecuted for pumping oil overboard or bypassing the OWS. Chief engineers are about the only ones ever prosecuted for this offense and it happens fairly often. I have heard a few lower level USA masters say they are responsible because they sign the oil record book but it doesn’t work that way. Before it gets to the prosecution stage turns out the master is only signing to indicate he/she looked at the ORB and assumed his minions down below were recording facts, not fairy tales. The chief takes the hit.

From gcaptain

Trying to prove in court that the Chief Engineer is the Master is not a sure bet.

On March 14, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction against Matthaios Fafalios, the chief engineer of the Trident Navigator, who was wrongfully charged and convicted in December 2014 of “failing to maintain an oil record book aboard a foreign-flagged merchant sea vessel, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a) and 33 C.F.R. § 151.25.”

At the close of the government’s evidence at trial, Fafalios, a Greek seafarer, moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 on the grounds that [B]the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the “master or other person in charge” of the vessel and therefore he was not legally required under the Coast Guard’s regulations to maintain the oil record book.[/B]

The District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana denied the motion for judgment of acquittal, and Fafalios sought appellate review of the conviction by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

[B]The Fifth Circuit reviewed the language contained in the applicable statutes and regulations, confirming that where the language is unambiguous, the Court should not look beyond the plain language of the statute or regulation. The Court stated unequivocally that “under the plain language of the regulations, only the ‘master or other person having charge of the ship’ is responsible for maintenance of the oil record book.”[/B]

The Fifth Circuit rejected the government’s reasons for why the conviction should be upheld. First, the government challenged the applicability of Rule 29, arguing that Fafalios should have moved to dismiss the indictment before trial allowing the government an opportunity to correct any insufficiency. The Court disagreed.

In addition, the Fifth Circuit rejected the prosecutor’s argument that the chief engineer’s responsibility to sign and record bilge water operations in the oil record book was a “continuing obligation.” The Court held that any failure by Fafalios to make a required entry occurred while he (and the vessel) were still in international waters and therefore the United States did not have jurisdiction over such an offense, as the “failure to sign an oil record book while in international waters, standing alone, is not a violation of either APPS or its attendant regulations.”

The Court concluded that the regulation’s requirement for the record book to be signed “without delay” implied that the offense was committed as soon as the book was not signed, and that different language would have been used by the drafters if a continuing obligation was intended.

Further, the Court rejected the government’s alternative argument that Fafalios was obligated, as the vessel’s chief engineer, to comply with the regulations’ requirement for the ship, itself, to “maintain” an oil record book, finding that such argument was “foreclosed by traditional rules of statutory construction, not to mention common sense.”

The Fifth Circuit criticized the government’s “strained reasoning” as to why this duty should extend to chief engineers, finding that there was “no convincing explanation” as to why the ship’s duty should be delegated to a chief engineer, especially when the applicable statutes permit an in rem cause of action against the ship.

Recognizing the lack of merit to the case, the government’s argument that the Coast Guard had a well-known practice of enforcing regulations against chief engineers which was rejected out of hand by the Fifth Circuit as “being without merit.”

The Court of Appeals highlighted that the Coast Guard’s past practices did not provide a reason to deviate from the regulation’s plain language.

Finally, in rejecting what it referred to as an “unusual” policy argument, the Fifth Circuit stated that it was unpersuaded by the government’s concerns that reading the regulation to impose the duty to maintain the record book only on the vessel’s master would cause chief engineers to falsify records and conceal their falsification from the master.

In addition, the Fifth Circuit found the government’s argument to be nothing more than a “contrived hypothetical.”

George M. Chalos, George A. Gaitas, and Briton P. Sparkman represented Mr. Fafalios during his criminal trial in the Eastern District of Louisiana. George M. Chalos presented the oral argument to the panel for the Fifth Circuit on December 4, 2015.

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;187884]From gcaptain

Trying to prove in court that the Chief Engineer is the Master is not a sure bet.[/QUOTE]

That’s good news ! Maybe the EPA will now take all those chief engineers off their “most wanted” list and put the masters on it, as they should be.

I’m going into the engine room then. If the master is in charge of everything, why even have engineers? If the engineers no longer are responsible for what goes in the ORB, but the master is, then the master should be in charge of the ER. No more “this is my ER” crap, if it is, take responsibility for it!

[QUOTE=KrustySalt;187887]I’m going into the engine room then. If the master is in charge of everything, why even have engineers? If the engineers no longer are responsible for what goes in the ORB, but the master is, then the master should be in charge of the ER. No more “this is my ER” crap, if it is, take responsibility for it![/QUOTE]

Yes, I make sure to go to the E/R periodically including when major maintenance/repairs are going on. Who is responsible for what should be spelled out in the SMS, in my experience Chief answers directly to the office regarding the condition of the vessel’s machinery (not just the E/R).

Obviously the captain must rely upon the engineer’s expertise in some areas, to varying degrees, depending on the issue at hand.

Basically the ship is a big, complicated machine, operated in an often hostile environment. To run it safely and efficiently requires cooperation between crew with different areas of expertise.

[QUOTE=KrustySalt;187887]I’m going into the engine room then. If the master is in charge of everything, why even have engineers? If the engineers no longer are responsible for what goes in the ORB, but the master is, then the master should be in charge of the ER. No more “this is my ER” crap, if it is, take responsibility for it![/QUOTE]

Can’t have it both ways. You either are the master of the vessel or not. The entire Master thing came about when there were sails on ships and never evolved from that. As time passed and sails went away it was obvious the master could not be expected to be expert and attend to two areas of responsibility. The chief engineer was born. Training evolved and eventually maritime academies offered two schools of study, deck and engineering whether steam, gas turbine or motor. The master does not care what form of propulsion gets him from point A to B but until the law and underwriters change things the master is responsible for all matters aboard ship even though he has neither the training nor expetise to handle details of engineering though most are conversant, the better ones are very knowledgeable but cannot be expected to know the details. Just as the chief’s expertise is not navigating he may be familiar with getting from A to B he may well be knowledgeable and done it many times but it is not his area of expertise. The chief and master are a team but the master is responsible. It is a tradition not built on practicality but it won’t change in your life time.

Next time an engineer says “it’s my engine room” I’ll go ahead and direct him to this page.

[QUOTE=KrustySalt;187895]Next time an engineer says “it’s my engine room” I’ll go ahead and direct him to this page.[/QUOTE]

Depends upon if it’s routine or non-routine. I don’t interfere with either the C/M or the C/E for routine deck/eng business unless they request advice/assistance. Non-routine situations get disscussed as they are likely effect the whole ship.

Worked on a supply boat, the master and I were on our break, loading 16 pound mud in the aft tanks, boat was down to the freeing ports on the stern, the pictures made it to the owner and upper management, the relief master was terminated even though he was off watch and sleeping, the on watch mate and engineer were wrote up, the mate was cut loose after his trip because he didn’t adjust for stability

So many good replies, appreciate it! Wow.I think one that bothers a lot of people is obvious fault or negligence on a deck officers part. What comes to mind is 2 cases: 1) The officer didn’t do his maintenance correctly and led to incident. (2) The officer screwed up on watch, and led to an incident.1) Third officer fails to maintain a certain portable fire extinguisher. A fire breaks out and a crewmember tries to extinguish with said extinguisher and fails. Fire grows and causes serious damage. The 3rd neglected his responsibility, no question, but arguably the Captain failed to ensure the officer was doing his job (as ISM would point the finger that the Master is responsible for the safety of the entire vessel etc). Apply this to other scenarios also, comes down to the same thing. Second mate plans a passage over a patch of shallow rocks, ship grounds, but the Captain failed to appraise the plan correctly.2) Chief officer causes a collision by altering to port for a head-on situation. Chief Officer made a wrong decision, but the Captain allowed an incapable navigator go unnoticed. What about the company, they promoted an incompetent person in the first place.These are just hypotheticals, not pointing fingers to any ranks or stereotypes. At what point does the Captain get absolved of blame? Shipboard management systems are written to cover the companies backside so well, that it almost gives the company immunity from such scenarios.

[QUOTE=KrustySalt;187895]Next time an engineer says “it’s my engine room” I’ll go ahead and direct him to this page.[/QUOTE]An interesting fact many who have only been exposed to small vessel operation may not know is the chief used to and in many cases still do the budgeting and buying for the ship. Reason is the most expensive items are usually engineering related and the chief can better argue their need with shoreside than the master. So, eventually budgeting and buying was turned over to them. The chief then argues with the office to justify everything from cylinder liners to a new rice cooker for the Filipino crew. [rice cooker may at times be more important than a spare liner] Never known a master to complain of giving up the budgeting/buying responsibility. Of course the master is well aware of what’s going on but happily doesn’t need to delve into the details of rice cooker vs. cylinder liner.

[QUOTE=knik_knax;187949]So many good replies, appreciate it! Wow.I think one that bothers a lot of people is obvious fault or negligence on a deck officers part. What comes to mind is 2 cases: 1) The officer didn’t do his maintenance correctly and led to incident. (2) The officer screwed up on watch, and led to an incident.1) Third officer fails to maintain a certain portable fire extinguisher. A fire breaks out and a crewmember tries to extinguish with said extinguisher and fails. Fire grows and causes serious damage. The 3rd neglected his responsibility, no question, but arguably the Captain failed to ensure the officer was doing his job (as ISM would point the finger that the Master is responsible for the safety of the entire vessel etc). Apply this to other scenarios also, comes down to the same thing. Second mate plans a passage over a patch of shallow rocks, ship grounds, but the Captain failed to appraise the plan correctly.2) Chief officer causes a collision by altering to port for a head-on situation. Chief Officer made a wrong decision, but the Captain allowed an incapable navigator go unnoticed. What about the company, they promoted an incompetent person in the first place.These are just hypotheticals, not pointing fingers to any ranks or stereotypes. At what point does the Captain get absolved of blame? Shipboard management systems are written to cover the companies backside so well, that it almost gives the company immunity from such scenarios.[/QUOTE]

You’re just talking about the normal functioning of the ship.

  1. The C/M monitors the third mate’s performance as safety officer by observing, spot checking etc.

  2. Captain evaluates the skills and abilities of the officers and takes action accordingly. Things like the planned track are critical, time has to be made to check it even if it means not jumping when the port engineer assigns the captain tasks.

The real issue is the captain’s lack of authority to control workload, the powers that be have decided that the C/M can be a watchstander and still keep an eye on things. In many cases it’s not possible.

The other factor is limited ability to control crew assignments / promotions.

You’re right that the management systems are often largely CYA documents, that’s a problem in that they are not useful for running the ship, this is an on-going battle. I don’t think it’s a huge legal problem in the case of a transparently CYA written procedure. I maintain license insurance so hopefully my lawyer will be able to tear into that BS.

It’s important to document problems, make sure your complaints about under performing crew or CYA procedures etc are in writing. But, as an old port engineer used to say, “Ya gotta be smart”.