Is a paperman a profession of the future?

In the century of high technologies, seafarers have to deal with more and more paperwork on board. New electronic reference forms appeared to be fill out by seafarers which also needed to be duplicated in the printed hard copy. Every word or a figure must be correct, every document have to be signed. One mistake or even misprint is penalized by a remark and/or pecuniary penalty to the seaman and shipowner.

To facilitate seafarers’ work, Yuriy Matyushkin, the Second Engineer, proposed to introduce a new position in the fleet – paperman. His responsibilities will include all paperwork, such as filling out work permits, tool box meetings, risk assessment, check list etc. Then the senior officers would have only to verify the filled document and sign it. As the result, it would have a positive impact on the quality of work at sea, as well as the psychological stresses of crewmembers.

“A paperman position could be occupied not only by a man, but also by a woman,” said Yurii Matiushkin. – I used to work with women in one team. In my opinion they cope with paperwork better than men. Everything is filled out correctly, neatly and clearly. I think, it is time to introduce the position of paperman / paperlady. ”

Nowadays you can even meet cadets, future officers, who perform only paper work in some companies. Instead of learning his responsibilities, he turns into a clerk. Having been promoted, such a cadet does not become a skilled seafarer. Holding a new position, he absolutely does not understand, how to fulfill his direct duties.

So what do you think about paperman / paperlady on board of the vessel?

Hemraj Shetty, Director, Fleet Personnel Seaspan Ship Management Ltd.

Hemraj Shetty, Director, Fleet Personnel Seaspan Ship Management Ltd.

Many years back Seaspan had considered kick starting a project to place an Administration Officer onboard to assist ship staff to ensure records and documentation are properly maintained. After considered deliberation we decided not to consider such a position for several reasons.

We believe that record keeping and Administration functionalities are one of the key skills for a leader as these capabilities are an important competence that every seafarer would need to have and develop in their respective careers (onboard, as well as ashore in future). Not only are these important to meet regulatory requirements, but also provides seafarers an opportunity to enhance their critical attention to detail and further enhance their scope of potentially moving to management roles ashore

These skills are important as you progress to Command/Chief Engineer ranks onboard vessels where your experience and knowledge in correctly reporting matters is paramount to yours and the Company’s success. This not only pertains to entries made in Log Books, Oil Record Books, work orders, port papers, guarantee claims reporting, vendor feedback, but also in keeping Ship Managers/Owners updated on various on goings onboard the vessel.

Being able to minute effectively Toolbox meetings, Risk Assessments, and Safety meetings not only allows the seafarer to enhance their communication skills, but also ensures that they are well aware of the important points discussed during these meetings for follow up/closures.

Delegating these tasks to another resource may not only reduces the opportunity for a seafarer to enhance his skills as such, but may lead to inefficiency. Seafarers would then need to spend significant time not only briefing and training the “paperman or paperlady” to correctly minute the meetings but also to verify whether said minutes are accurate. These not only lead to potential delays in completion of these important reports, but is also inefficient as an additional resource has been engaged to perform these tasks that do not occur too frequently.

In addition, with advancement in technology recently, with availability of electronic systems, it allows seafarers to efficiently complete reports. We believe that as technology on ships to continue to improve, that in time most requirements will be managed electronically.

With that, we believe that in the near future, the position of paperman/paperlady will be deemed redundant due to technology and as such is not required on vessels.

Dimitrios Karamaunas, Director – Owners’ Representative, Goldenport Odessa

Dimitrios Karamaunas, Director – Owners’ Representative, Goldenport Odessa

The idea of having a paperman/secretary onboard the vessel is rather interesting.

Nowadays with modern Shipping Industry a lot of paperwork is required onboard a vessel. After the implementation of ISM introduced in 90’s, higher officers onboard each vessel have included in their duties the filling out of various monthly reports and forms. The volume keeps growing as management shipping companies are doing their best to run their vessels in the best possible and efficient way. That means that year after year volume keeps increasing. Additionally PSC in ports are getting more strict regarding inspections and as a conclusion to all these factors presently the higher officers and especially the Master and the Chief Engineer must also apart of their traditional duties to be like managers of their departments.

No doubt this adds extra psychological stress as officers are trying to keep up with all those developments. As this new position onboard the vessel would be more than helpful, on the other hand it would be essential this person to be English and PC literature on a very high level. Not to mention experienced with software used currently in Shipping as well as up to date to all regulations, laws etc which is mainly part of the job of a higher officer. This would require experience at sea, extra training, studies and above all the willingness to follow the profession of a mariner, while being ashore he could become a very good employee or executive ashore with all those qualifications.

Consequently despite the paperman onboard a vessel seems to be a good idea, it would take a lot to make it a reality.

Capt. Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General, InterManager

Capt. Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General, InterManager

First of all some, very few I admit companies have already employed a “Writer” a person who assists ships officers in preparing all sort of documents.

Writers’ job descriptions vary widely. In some this person is just an administrator preparing port and cargo papers and in some he or she is responsible for maintaining many other records – such as Planned Maintenance, Victualling, Payroll etc.

My personal view is that ABSOLUTELY we, shipping industry need to realise that presently we are not doing ourselves any favour by asking most expensive people on board – Master and Chief Engineers to spend 80+% of their time on tasks which take them away from what they should really be doing.

Becuase we have so many “creep ins” – tasks which are not mentioned in any job descriptions and became “vacant” after departure of Chief Stewards and Radio officers + decrease of number of people on board that are now performed by those who have no other option but to do them.

Let’s do a little “stock check” of duties Ship Master has acquired and has never been actually trained to do:

– Payroll for the whole crew.

– ISM Administrator (a lot of work with maintaining ISM code related documentation – full blown quality assurance job, which ashore is usually shared by whole department.

– Communicator – someone has to prepare, send and receive messages. We are talking about 100 + messages a day from all stake holders. Imagine just ensuring that all messages are timely attended to, not to mention “home works” received, and on tope ensuring GMDSS compliance.

– Victualling – making stock check of provisions at the end of the month, tallying purchases with food issues, bonded stores etc.

– Document Control (ship’s and crew) – huge task on its own. Especially now with advent of MLC requirements (crew contracts for example being a serious matter, especially if not properly completed, stored and available for inspection).

– Port Documents – despite the fact EU issued Directive 65 – Single Window every port is asking for their specific documentation – very often in local language.

– Inspection documentation – Port State Control, Sanitary, Customs, Immigration, Vetting (on top of old fashion Class and Flag state).

– Ship Security administration – with whole raft of documents and manuals – schedules and records for inspections.

I could carry on with the list ending on very small but nevertheless time consuming Network Administrator. With today’s Cyber Security issues this is probably the latest Creep In ship’s staff has to deal with without anyone ashore appreciating how much time this “little” task has to take in order to make sure that another manual is fully adhered to.

Therefore having a fully appreciated position of Ship’s Administrator would have a serious Health and Safety implications. I would suggest we do bring dignity for this role and not call him / her paperman, but Ship’s Administrator.

Alexander Tsitsonis, Crew Director at Starbulk SA, Product Shipping & Trading SA and Oceanbulk Containers Management SA

Alexander Tsitsonis, Crew Director at Starbulk SA, Product Shipping & Trading SA and Oceanbulk Containers Management SA

“Indeed there has been a significant increase of paperwork requirements onboard vessels especially since the introduction of the ISM code and the gradual application of regulations which requires evidence of compliance. The Officers and especially the Masters and Chief Engineers have been burdened a lot from those administrative requirements which take significant part of their daily working time. It has also been noted that sometimes Masters and Chief Engineers prioritize administrative tasks, leaving other more important duties not properly attended. The successful Senior Officer nowadays is the one that has found the balance between the traditional marine duties and the various administrative tasks.

The introduction of a dedicated paperman or paperlady could seemingly assist in the administrative burden allowing the Senior Officers to focus better on their duties. However one should take note that the administrative tasks are not separate from the marine practice onboard and the ultimate authority as well as responsibility would remain on the same persons. For example, the proper conduct of a risk assessment requires deep knowledge of the intended task in order to be able to assess its inherent risks. Same with work permits, check lists. Otherwise it is highly probable that we will end up with a form filling mechanism which will deviate from its original purpose making it just a paper exercise with potential consequences on personnel, environment and ship safety.

For that particular reason my view is that the administrative duties should not be separated from the personnel having direct responsibility over the related tasks for retaining their control over the process. Simultaneously companies should exert their efforts in reducing the administrative tasks to the minimum possible extent and review their management systems frequently in order not to overburden their crews with unnecessary tasks that may distract them from their essential duties.“

Henrik Jensen, Founder of the Danica Group and Managing Director (Danica Maritime Services, Germany)

Henrik Jensen, Founder of the Danica Group and Managing Director (Danica Maritime Services, Germany)

“I know that many seamen feels that the paperwork is a burden. Instead of putting extra persons onboard we should get better administrative systems including quality and management procedures which are streamlined to the needs onboard including work instructions and checklist supporting safety and efficient vessel operations. We could also have checklists in electronic format (on a tablet) and all filling done automatically etc. like they have in the airplanes. Today too much paper work is done for the only reason to show compliance at a future audit. I cannot follow the idea that the safety meetings, tool box meetings and risk assessments should be done by a female crewmember to create documentation to show compliance and then the senior officer can go and do as they want. It is the most important task of a senior officer to coordinate and ensure safe operations and that is actual done through meetings and speaking with people including talking about risks and explaining work procedures. By the way a survey made by one of the big ship owners a few years ago showed that a captain is actually using 30% of his time on administrative matters, I think that is surprisingly low.

I will like to see more females making a career at sea but I completely disagree that this should be a secretarial function.

At the end money decides and with many sectors of the shipping being financially under water I think the budget constrains will prevent sending a secretary onboard”.

Henrik Bisbo, General Manager, Crewing Operations, Safety & Training, The China Navigation Co. Pte. Ltd.

Henrik Bisbo, General Manager, Crewing Operations, Safety & Training, The China Navigation Co. Pte. Ltd.

This is not a new suggestion, but has been brought up frequently ever since the old position of radio officer was abolished back in the 1990’s. It is also somewhat of a myth that it would provide any real benefit, since an officer would anyway have to proofread whatever has been filled in by a “paper man”, so why not just do it him or herself in the first instance.

Finally, there is a huge push globally to reduce the amount of paperwork carried out on board and to automate the paperwork that cannot be avoided.