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31 Aug 2020

Maritime Leadership – Beyond Designated Person Ashore (DPA)

It appears the maritime leadership is limited to the DPA/DP (Designated Person Ashore). The worst is when senior leadership of a company, washes its hands off, of the leadership role, by assuming a DP will do all that needs to be done! The ISM (International Safety Management) Code, in clause 4 defines the role of the DP (designated person).  It is to be remembered that the DP is indeed the link between the company and those on board, to the extent decided by the leadership/ ownership of the maritime company. The DP with clause 4 of the ISM Code has his/ her role defined as the link. However, there is much more to it. There is a kind of upstream and downstream relationship between the safe operations of a vessel, and the leadership exercised by the shipping company. The DP can represent and do his best in meeting objectives if he/she is resourced and supported by the leaders. Maritime leadership is strengthened by the contribution of the DP. This is particularly true when a tragedy occurs, and the crisis management team is called to minimize the aftermath of the tragedy and hands-on dealing with the tragedy. The DP as part of the crisis management team and must play a lead role in providing his/ her experience, expertise to ensure the situation does not worsen. DP should be competent, involved and participate in designing the safe operations of the vessel as also to predict the risks and trends from the available company and industry data and make timely recommendations, to ensure tragedies do not occur. But once they occur the same detailed knowledge has to be used to meticulously plan the response actions.

The leadership of the company, particularly when not from the marine background, should orient itself to matters maritime during good times. It is in normal good times that the relationship of confidence has to build with the DP. Regular access to the TM (top management) of the company by the Designated Person Ashore, makes teamwork smooth in a crisis situation. The leadership working together with DP and the team is able to ensure the company’s safety objectives, environmental policy implementation and functional requirements are met. Regular drills and exercises and analysis of situations ensure that the lessons learnt thereof, are used as input for further planning and resourcing.  Clause 4 of ISM Code is not just a job description basis for the DP, but also an input to the leadership to see where they fit in so that the support when required can be provided in a crisis without delays in a crisis. Building trust is a responsibility both the DP and the organization must build. There is much more to this dynamic leadership role. Meeting the safety, prevention of human injury or loss of life, and avoidance of damage to the environmental objectives of the company given in clause 1.2 of the ISM Code are the DP’s responsibilities. He/ she is the implementer of safety and environmental policy as given in clause 2 of the ISM Code. This however cannot be achieved without resources and support from the company top leadership.

Emergency preparedness is a requirement of the ISM Code. Clause 8 of the ISM Code requires implementation on board, with office support lead by the Designated Person Ashore and resourcing provided by the top management of the company. The DP with his/her team brings the considered opinion as input to the organizational decision-making body. Making preparations for being able to respond to emergency situations at sea needs forethought in appreciating the risks, and preparations in advance. It starts with recognizing the hazardous situations, creating the procedures, conducting drills and exercises, and learning lessons from exercises conducted, other industry inputs, similar occurrences anywhere. Data drives risk appreciation and trend recognition. Managements have to look ahead at possible crisis and be prepared with timely quick response.

Crisis if handling well, requires and brings out clearly that not just competence, but motivation and leadership are all of the utmost importance. As primary consultants in the field of maritime work,  QMII ( ) has worked on crisis management, handling media, and building teams for over 30 plus years now. Our experience shows clearly that a leadership team working with not just the Designated Person Ashore, but all departments in a participatory manner determines the success of addressing a crisis.

Safe operation of ships and prevention of pollution requires dynamic leadership at the company level with the involvement of the DP using the expertise in the ISM Code and SOLAS as also other relevant IMO conventions, as also Flag State advises to formulate robust, well thought out plans for crisis management.  A process-based management system approach is most important. “If an organization can do not describe what they do as a process, then they do not know what they are doing,” it is to be remembered that behind every casualty at sea are many detentions, and behind them indicators like Major NCs (non-conformities) and near misses. The maritime leadership with Designated Person Ashore included must lead to prevent a crisis.