Interview with Commodore Jim Scorer, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations (IFSMA)

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June 16, 2017

A container ship arrives at a loading terminal at the Port of Hamburg, Germany, February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

By Gibraltar Shipping

Commodore Jim Scorer is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations (IFSMA). Established in 1974 to uphold International Standards of Professional Competence for Seafarers, IFSMA is a federation with a policy to ensure safe operational practices, preservation from human injury, protection of the marine environment and safety of life and property at sea. Jim’s experience in the Royal Navy and at Trinity House has played an important role in shaping his current success at the forefront of IFSMA, where his main objective is to defend the interests of serving Shipmasters worldwide.

What are your main functions as Secretary-General of IFSMA?

Commodore Jim Scorer

To represent in one professional body the shipmasters of the world, to safeguard professional standards and interests in all maritime matters to enable shipmasters to carry out their responsible duties in an acceptable and competent manner. I provide members with information on all activities conducted on their behalf with regular updating on developments and seek the views of members and to encourage the sharing of information. I participate to the fullest extent in all relevant international fora where issues affecting Shipmasters are discussed and cooperate with other like-minded organisations with a view to forging strategic links to expand the influence and support for IFSMA.

How has your experience helped you in your current role?

My time in the Royal Navy working with NATO provided good experience of working in an international arena and striving to gain consensus amongst different Nations, qualities which are much-needed for IFSMA’s role representing the interests of Shipmasters at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). I think that I bring a degree of strategic vision to IFSMA that I developed during my time in the Royal Navy and Trinity House and will help me take the organisation “to the next level” and improve IFSMA’s ability to represent the views and professional interests of masters on the international stage.

What has been your most challenging moment?

My most challenging moment was when I was asked to go to Macedonia during the Balkans conflict to represent the Secretary-General of NATO as his Military Adviser to the Chief of the General Staff of the Macedonian Army and provide advice immediately prior to the implementation of Task Force Harvest which brought about the cessation of conflict on the borders between Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania.

The Federation is formed of around 11,000 Shipmasters from sixty countries. How do they benefit from their membership?

They benefit by sharing best practice and highlighting problems that they have conducting their business around the world so that their knowledge is harnessed by me, other members and IFSMA in an increasingly rapidly-changing environment. This will allow me and my staff to better represent them on the international stage at the IMO and ILO and other forums so that we can bring issues effecting shipmasters to the attention of the maritime world and influence change in international regulations and codes to their benefit. IFSMA Newsletter keeps them up to date on key maritime issues around the world and they get a full brief and debrief on the various committees I attend on their behalf at the IMO and ILO. They also have the opportunity to attend these international meetings with the Secretariat and represent IFSMA views and policies as subject matter experts on behalf of shipmasters. IFSMA is the only organisation dedicated to solely representing shipmasters on the international stage. I am currently in discussion with the insurance industry trying to develop an effective and affordable Shipmaster Protection Worldwide Policy for our members.

Please talk to us about the new IFSMA Strategic Plan “A Wind of Change” 2017 – 2022:

Criminalisation, mountains of paperwork and admin, stress and fatigue – the pressures facing modern shipmasters are many and complex. I needed to develop a new Strategic Plan centred on the key issues facing our shipmasters of today. The IFSMA Executive Council and I came up with five key challenges which we believe to be valid both today and enduring into the future and these are:

– Skills and competence of ships’ crews
– Criminalisation of the Shipmaster
– Operation of ships of the future
– Safety management
– Public relations and communications

Skills and competence are critical and our shipmasters can help to identify the shortfalls they see day to day so that IFSMA can seek improvements to the STCW Convention. I am passionate about bringing change to regulations so that the shipmaster is not allowed to a routine part of watchkeeping rosters so that they are more available to undertake their mandated responsibilities and particularly in training and mentoring.

Criminalization is an increasing issue in the maritime environment and I want to stop shipmasters from being used as scapegoats after accidents, and to develop an affordable and effective Shipmaster Legal Protection Scheme. There are thousands of shipmasters around the world who have no protection whatsoever often being employed on a voyage by voyage basis with no loyalty from shipowners and certainly not being covered by the shipowner’s insurance. The shipmaster is the one person in the firing line and the “who is to blame culture”.

The operation of ships of the future is something IFSMA is getting actively involved in and influencing the shipmaster’s enduring role in their operation. I don’t accept the argument that automation will destroy jobs in shipping, on the contrary, it may create new and better jobs. However, IFSMA needs to be leading the debate on the role of the shipmaster in future – both onboard and ashore – and the way in which smart ships are regulated and those who operate them are trained.

Safety management, used properly, can help shipmasters, raising awareness within the industry of the responsibilities required by the ISM Code. Shipowners will say that they meet their objectives, but it is a faint understanding and there are some who blatantly don’t do it or will find ways to get around it. The principles of safety management could also drive the removal of shipmasters from watchkeeping rosters, along with improved deck officer manning levels. What irritates me most is that if you look at the roles and responsibilities of the master, it is not even faintly possible for them to be able to do all that is required in the time allocated and within the hours of work and rest rules. There are so many instances of masters, on six-on/six-off in particular, where they infringe the regulations as a result of being called up to deal with emergencies or administrative tasks. Shipmasters are extremely hard-pressed as a result of the paperwork burden and it is an extraordinary situation as these demands have also adversely affected the traditional role of the shipmaster in overseeing the training and mentoring of crews. This has been particularly damaging at a time when the industry has cut crewing levels, moved to mixed-nationality crewing models and introduced continuously evolving and complex shipboard systems which vary even within the same fleet.

Public relations and communications are also pivotal to the future. IFSMA has got to be seen as the international voice for shipmasters, but for too long it has been under-resourced and we have never had the time to do the work that we need to do to be more proactive. I want to not only raise the profile of IFSMA but also to highlight the professionalism, skills and expertise of shipmasters. I also need to improve dialogue and information sharing between IFSMA and the shipmasters, and between shipmasters themselves, so that best practice is shared and knowledge harnessed in an increasingly rapidly-changing environment.

I hope I have managed to get this across in this new Strategic Plan. It is a short and punchy document which I hope is easily readable by the professional and uninitiated alike and gives a real road map for the future of IFSMA. 

Technology plays an important role in today’s shipping industry however, do you foresee autonomous unmanned ships becoming a success?

I really do see this as an area which is exciting and of real interest to the young technology savvy mariner of the future. In most cases I see them being used in niche areas, like surveying and working closer inshore, but particularly in military applications. In the future, when the industry has managed to provide a compelling enough business case to interest the shipowner we will start to see a wider use, but this is many years away and there is an awful lot of work to be done at the IMO to get the regulations and codes changed so that these vessels are not only recognised, but also regulated properly so that they are able to operate in a mixed maritime environment with both manned and unmanned vessels. IFSMA is actively working in various working groups around the world influencing the proper and effective formulation of the necessary regulations and codes and will represent the best interests of shipmasters and other mariners as the debate commences this week at the IMO Maritime Safety Committee. This will filter down into all of the Committees and Sub Committees at the IMO and I will ensure that the shipmaster is represented robustly and effectively on all the relevant working groups.

In your view, what are the current and future challenges for international shipping?

The shipping industry is as volatile now as it ever has been and will continue to be into the future. With over 90% of the world’s trade being moved by sea there will continue to be enormous demand for this efficient way of moving stuff around the world and shipowners will constantly strive to make efficiencies, in their eyes, or do it in the cheapest way they can bending the rules to what they can get away with. Over capacity in the market will only exacerbate this and I suspect that we have not yet seen the last of consolidation in the container market with subsequent shipowner casualties. This has been a real issue for the decline in the North Sea gas resulting in a real crisis in the laying off of thousands of Norwegian mariners. Unless international regulations and codes are amended to properly look after the mariner, they will continue to be exploited as can be seen by the increase in criminalisation of the shipmaster and the real issue they have to endure with fatigue generated by the administrative burden and being forced into being part of bridge watchkeeping rosta, particularly the master/mate six-on/six-off system. It will become more difficult for the more educated and better trained mariners from the more developed nations to get jobs that will pay an effective wage as shipowners ply the world for the cheapest mariners they can find to man their vessels and this clearly has an impact on safety at sea where there are a plethora of incidents and casualties on an annual basis, many of which pass with us by and are not reported. The reduction of emissions and trying to improve the marine environment will be a long and arduous battle which the IMO are taking seriously but there is the ongoing battle of “cost” to the industry and technically difficult being another word for cost.

Please talk to us about the importance of training and development:

This is one of the reasons I want to try and get the shipmaster out of the watchkeeping rosta so that he or she can concentrate on doing mandated internationally legislated responsibilities and this includes the very important role of training and mentoring. This is becoming lost as shipmasters are working many hours in excess of those stipulated by the Marine Labour Convention and the lack of robust inspection by administrations around the world.

There is currently a buoyant black market in false documentation for mariner training certificates and until we get the administrations to be more demanding in their inspections required by international legislation, these dangerous practices will continue and increase the risks to mariners. Too often the emphasis to achieve the necessary training is put on the mariner to provide pay for their own as there is little loyalty to a stable and happy workforce by many shipowners.

What is your favourite ship and your most memorable shipping experience?

I think it is when I had command of the surface warships ships based in Plymouth. I then had responsibility for 15 warships and 3,500 men and women. Whilst very demanding keeping me away from home for approximately 45 weeks of the year, it was extremely rewarding.

Gibraltar Shipping is Gibraltar’s premier maritime portal, featuring key interviews, updates and news. This story is republished with permission. 

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