Lessons learned: Adequate knowledge of maritime English is essential

CHIRP Maritime presents a reported case where the pilot struggled to communicate with the master due to poor knowledge of maritime English, in order to draw lessons learned from the situation.

Initial Report

A pilot encountered major communication problems when speaking to the master, who had a poor knowledge of maritime English. Other than simple orders such as ‘starboard 10’ or ‘dead slow ahead’, the pilot struggled to communicate with the master. The pilot found it difficult to integrate with the bridge team, who all spoke in their language and not maritime English.

Probable cause 

Proficiency in maritime English is an essential safety enabler. It is the official language within the shipping industry and is the foundation of effective communication.

Recruitment Placement and Service Licences (RPSL) play a critical role in ensuring that officers and crew members have adequate language skills in maritime English, which is essential to meet the requirements of the International Safety Management (ISM) code. This includes emergency preparedness and response, which requires quick and efficient communication to prevent dangerous situations.

Once certificated, all seafarers should be provided with ongoing training and development in maritime English to ensure their communication skills remain current and effective. This can be achieved through various means, including language courses, on-board training programs, and continuous language proficiency assessments.

Lessons learned 

Communication – Like any skill, competency in maritime English will quickly fade if it is not constantly practised, significantly increasing the likelihood of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Companies should invest in ongoing language training throughout a seafarer’s career. Port State Control could remove the master if they consider that their inadequate proficiency in maritime English does not meet the requirements for safely operating the vessel with 3rd parties/contractors and emergency responders.

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