Mariners: Criminalising the Captain

Senior Vice President of the Nautical Institute Duke Snider raises awareness of the blame game that’s all too often misdirected at the Captain on board.


All Eyes on the Captain


‘You are the ultimate decision-maker. When all those little things fail that connect you to the shore side, it’s you and nobody else. In the middle of the ocean, it’s you. It can start with a simple breakdown: you lose power, the engine room is trying to do what they can, the weather gets bad so the rest of the crew are becoming affected. It can be as simple as seasickness hitting where it normally wouldn’t or the ship starts to roll; it’s drifting towards shore. The whole crew will look to you with great big wide eyes saying, “Cap, what do we do now?” You’re expected to have an answer: your company expects it, the public expects it. And like any professional, you’re only as good as your experience and professional development has been.’

Duke Snider is a Master Mariner who currently operates his own company providing expertise in polar navigation. He has been a member of the Nautical Institute since the early ’80s and is now Senior Vice President of its International Council.


Mariners: Blamed for External Pressures


According to Duke, ‘the saddest part of the 21st century is the apparent criminalisation of the mariner. If there’s an accident at sea it’s easy for a coastal state to simply charge the master of the vessel with criminal offences, but commanding a ship is not simply one person in control; there are many things to deal with. The shore side structure puts pressure on masses of ships to meet deadlines and cut corners.

‘The Prestige off the coast of Spain and Portugal is an excellent example of criminalisation.  The master was very quickly charged with criminal offences for pollution which, as in many cases, was taken out of his hands when the ship was denied permission to come into sheltered waters to effect repairs. Left out off the coast it eventually broke and massive pollution was the result.

‘We can’t accept that there are 10 or 20 different factors that went into that. We also can’t accept the simple fact that less than 5% of the oil pollution in the sea come from ships, regardless of these major big events that are happening far less regularly than in the past.

‘We have to blame someone, so we blame the captain.’


Does your profession face the same reputational risks? Let us know in the comments!


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