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Intercultural

communication is also an important tool


in establishing social harmony onboard.
Erik Hemming is a senior lecturer at the
Åland Polytechnic and has educated seafar-

communication
ers in languages and culture for more than
15 years. The Åland Polytechnic is in itself
a cross-cultural institution with its mixed

improves safety
influences from Finland, Sweden and the
island of Åland itself.

S
Seafarers have a long tradition of everal studies have examined
working in a global environment. the problems and potential solu-
It is estimated that 80 per cent of tions when facing an intercul- – Intercultural communication is what
the world‘s merchant ships have a tural environment at work, but makes the teamwork function on a ship,
multilingual and multiethnic crew on a ship an additional dimen- says Erik Hemming. It gives you a positive
composition that interacts on an sion is added. Not only do the seafarers social environment, fewer problems and
international scene with other parts have to ensure good communication dur- most certainly fewer accidents.
of the shipping community. Onboard ing working hours. The ship is also a learn- Our culture can be called our mental
as well as onshore, they meet with ing environment and a social environment, programming. It is the personality of the
pilots, agents and surveyors, to where people eat and live together, often group and “the way we do things here”.
mention but a few. for long periods on end. For this reason We constantly try to decode our sur-

 SCANDINAVIAN SHIPPING GAZETTE • OCTOBER 26, 2007


easy for the lower rank AB to knock on especially to an authority such as a pilot.

tove svensson
the chief mate’s cabin door and propose a Since the pilot was not able to understand
mutual cup of coffee, as it would be the the communication in Chinese between
other way around. the engine room and the bridge, he was
– By spending time together you learn left unaware of the engine problems and
to decode each other’s signals in a correct could take no preventive action to miti-
way. It is a matter of give and take. Any- gate the accident.
way, it must be boring to spend a long time It is no doubt difficult for seafarers that
together on a ship and not communicate, communicate in their native languages
says Erik Hemming. and perhaps simplified English in their
day-to-day commu-
A door opener nication to suddenly
Another good example is learning at least muster a good com-
a few phrases in the other language or lan- mand of a standard
guages spoken onboard. Just a few words marine vocabulary
can be a door opener and a source of many according to the
laughs. STCW convention,
Poor communication between crew when an emergency
members from the same culture and situation occurs.
speaking the same language can be a safety Erik Hemming.
threat through misunderstandings and
mistakes. It is only natural that the odds
on miscommunication are increased when What you can do is decide,
crew members are further hampered by
cultural differences and speak English as
if you want to be limiting
a second language. According to a paper or non-limiting in your
written by Robyn Pyne at the University
of Plymouth and Thomas Koester at Force communication, listening
Technology in Denmark, failures in effec- or non-listening.
tive crew communication have played a
central role in a number of maritime acci-
dents.
On the Sally Maersk a Polish repairman Pyne and Koester believe improved crew
died from pneumonia when he was unable communication through training and edu-
to communicate with the officer who was cation can reduce the risk of accidents as
roundings from our own assumptions trying to treat him. His shipmates thought long as it is based on fundamental knowl-
and points of references from religion, he was suffering from back pain after an edge of the dynamics of crew interaction
history, climate and so on. The decoded earlier injury. and communication.
message is then transferred to our way of Leadership onboard necessitates cross-
being with regard to working methods, Extreme example cultural competency to revoke cultural
conflict solving, gender roles, games and The bulk carrier Bright Field, which ran differences in order to get the best out of
food. into a shopping complex in New Orle- a multicultural team. Less than ten per
– A culture clash is often the result of a ans in 1996, leaving 66 people injured, cent of our communication is verbal, the
misinterpreted decoding of the signal. And illustrates an extreme situation with a rest is non-verbal like in the quality of our
unfortunately, we often decode the signals crew and a pilot from different cultures: voice, gestures, facial expressions and body
as being negative, or perhaps neutral. Only American and Chinese. The word “no” language. It is the non-verbal communica-
rarely do we decode them in a positive way, is a very impolite word to the Chinese, tion that reflects a person’s thoughts and
says Erik Hemming. wishes.
a.p. Møller-Mærsk

The difference in socio-material condi- – We are mentally unaware of a large


tions for the crew, for instance working part of our communication and control
hours, cabin standard and other hygiene may be two per cent. The rest is done with-
factors can sometimes act as a barrier to out us thinking of it, says Erik Hemming
good communication. and continues:
To avoid the sense of “us and them” – But what you can do is decide, if you
onboard, Erik Hemming says it is impor- want to be limiting or non-limiting in
tant to do things together and communi- your communication, listening or non-
cate beyond the work-related order giving. A crewmember of the Sally Maersk died listening. You have the choice to open up
In his opinion, this should come from tragically due to problems of communication professional communication.
higher ranks and down, since it is not as onboard. cecilia österman

SCANDINAVIAN SHIPPING GAZETTE • OCTOBER 26, 2007