Work/rest culture clash

Adjustment of seafarers’ records is a widespread problem that urgently needs to be addressed

By Carly Fields

New research from a project team at the World Maritime University (WMU) has uncovered a ‘culture of adjustment’ when it comes to recording seafarers’ hours of work and rest.

Anecdotal reports of under-reporting of work hours or adjustment of work/ rest hour records prompted the WMU to undertake research into the implementation of the current regulatory and administrative framework on work and rest hours to evaluate the level of compliance with the current regulatory regime, assess the barriers to effective implementation onboard ships, and investigate stakeholder perceptions of the current systems.

Undertaking interviews, focus group discussions and case studies, the WMU authors looked to gain an in-depth appreciation of seafarers’ recording practices, alongside a clear understanding of how different stakeholders deal with implementation, compliance monitoring and enforcement of the relevant provisions of the instruments of the International Labour Organization and International Maritime Organization (IMO).

A clear outcome of the research was that recording malpractices are widespread.

To monitor compliance, work/rest hour records are required by flag State Administration legislation implementing the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended.

However, the safe minimum manning levels set by the IMO are not being adhered to in most instances, the research found.

The report was particularly scathing of flag State Administrations that do not always fulfil their responsibilities, nor do they necessarily ensure that shipowners carry out theirs with regards to efficient and sufficient manning of ships. The research revealed that “this results in an imbalance between workload and the number of personnel available to complete the diversity of onboard tasks. The analysis made indicates that insufficient safe manning levels are the root cause of violations and recording malpractices the research.” In addition, “the situation is exacerbated during peak workload conditions such as those experienced in relation to special operations and port-related activities. The effectiveness of recording practices to demonstrate compliance with regulations was widely questioned by research participants and viewed as purely a paper exercise for compliance purposes.”

Worryingly, the research revealed that many of the recording software programmes in current use are ‘gamed for success’ to ensure compliance with the regulations and ‘incentivise’ crew to adjust their records.

Wider problem

The ‘culture of adjustment’ stretched beyond falsifying work/rest hour records, according to the report. “Participants were of the opinion that any record has the potential to be adjusted, pointing out a number of records that are susceptible to adjustment practices. They include records of planned maintenance, drills, oil record book entries, checklists and risk assessments, and even official logbook entries,” the WMU said.

Reasons given for adjusting work/rest hour records included insufficient manning levels – particularly during activities in ports – quick succession of ports (in particular for short-sea shipping), fear of sanctions from shore management, and the consequences of failing third-party inspections. Financial incentives such as bonuses or overtime, meeting key performance indicators, and the nature of recording software were also mentioned as contributing factors resulting in recording malpractices.

Sadly, the report found that most companies neglect seafarers’ feedback about work/rest hours. Seafarers consequently find themselves torn: “On the one hand, they have to complete multiple records to ascertain compliance. On the other hand, the adjustment of records is necessary to avoid disruption to operations. In such a context, the accuracy of records is secondary at best, and at worst, completely pointless. All forms of accurate record-keeping with respect to rest hours is thereby discredited.”

The report’s authors recommend three significant areas requiring urgent attention. First is the need for collaboration on a research-based model for determining safe manning for all operational conditions; second is a review of the effectiveness of the ISM code and the third is to consider the chronic mistrust between shore and ship personnel combined with the job insecurity characteristic of numerous seafarers’ working contracts.

The full report, ‘A culture of adjustment, evaluating the implementation of the current maritime regulatory framework on rest and work hours’, by Dr. Raphael Baumler, Ms. Yvette de Klerk, Dr. Michael Ekow Manuel and Dr. Laura Carballo Piñeiro, is freely available at