Calls for seafarer training to recognise trauma symptoms in crew

A report into the 2012 Costa Concordia found that Captain Schettino was suffering traumatic shock, prompting calls for crew training on this issue. Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

As signs of an increasing emphasis on ‘soft skills’, maritime safety campaigner Michael Lloyd has called for officers and managers in the shipping industry to be trained in recognising shock caused by traumatic incidents on board and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Lloyd, a retired master mariner with some 30 years command experience and the author of several instructional books including on the role of the master and the duties of a chief officer, made his call after preparing a comprehensive 148-page report into the 2012 Costa Concordia disaster.

Speaking about the findings from his report at a seminar onboard HQS Wellington, London, in March, Lloyd stated, “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that captain Schettino was suffering from traumatic shock syndrome and was in a mental state of denial and therefore obviously incapable of taking any decisive action. This was supported by video evidence of the chaos on the bridge. As this was recognised by two officers on the bridge, then this should also have been recognised by the staff captain who was also present. It was therefore his duty to assume command while the captain was in this state. The question must be then; why didn’t he?”

Lloyd’s answer to his own question was that subordinate officers are not trained to respond to such a situation. He argued that training was needed in recognising signs of traumatic shock and how to act appropriately. Several of his audience, comprised mainly of senior mariners, said that a return to more robust leadership training for cadets was required.

The Costa Concordia disaster exposed many failings in crew behaviour and in recent years there has been an increasing interest in ‘soft skills’, the term now frequently used to describe the ability to work effectively with colleagues.

The Nautical Institute’s (NI) CEO John Lloyd was at the presentation and agreed with the call for more specialised training. He told SAS, “The work of the NI has certainly contributed to the understanding of human behaviour in the professional environment, but the time has come to consider whether greater emphasis needs to be placed on preparing our senior mariners for the management of emergency scenarios. Recent incidents in the cruise sector have once again highlighted the importance of high levels of professionalism in our mariners.”

He added: “If we can demonstrate that better training can save lives then the maritime community has an obligation to introduce this training for all our senior seafarers.”

The NI is already active in the soft skills area and has launched a two-day, instructor-led programme intended to provide best practice guidance for those engaged in the assessment of seafarers’ behavioural competency. It is aimed at senior shipboard officers, designated persons ashore, operational ship managers, consultants, and superintendents.

The NI’s training and accreditation development manager Maneesh Varma said that the new course had been well received, to the extent that it was being rolled out in various locations around the world.

A pilot of the course was trialled in November in London over two and a half days. However, Varma said that it had been decided that this was too long and the course is now being delivered in two days. He added that although the initial attendees were self-funded, shipping companies were now sending personnel on the course. One course, to be delivered in Singapore, will be entirely funded by a shipping company.