An Open Letter to American Mariners

There is an Alternative to Whistleblowing

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file photo

Published Feb 16, 2017 5:09 PM by John Rose

We have read media accounts of the investigation into the loss of the con/ro El Faro, and much has been written about the “acclaimed whistleblower.” It appears he had to risk his career and great mental anguish to bring his concerns to the attention of the authorities. 

Without doubt this must restrict the number of reports from seafarers relating to unsafe acts and hazardous occurrences in the U.S. maritime industry. This response is an attempt to suggest a way for American mariners to articulate their safety concerns without being labelled as whistleblowers. 

CHIRP Maritime offers a less stressful and damaging way for all mariners to resolve safety issues.

CHIRP Maritime is the international seafaring section of the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme, a Charitable Trust that provides an independent confidential reporting system to enable seafarers to report hazardous incidents and safety concerns, being assured that such reports will be treated in absolute confidence. An advisory board of volunteer maritime professionals, with a combined total of over 700 years’ experience, provides advice to help resolve any associated safety issues.

As an example of how CHIRP Maritime works, let us consider the ship described by Captain John Loftus with missing hatch cover dogs. If such a case was reported to us we would open a new case file and contact the reporter to discuss the way forward. Making sure the identity of the reporter was completely concealed, we would suggest that we contact the owner or manager of the ship to ask for a response, and also inform the relevant regulatory authorities. Once their replies were received we would publish a report in our quarterly publication Maritime FEEDBACK describing the case and the corrective actions taken (or not taken) by the owners and the regulators.

Once our report was complete, the file and all traces of the identity of the reporter would be deleted. No more than two people would ever know the identity of the reporter and to date, 13 years on, none of our sources has ever been identified or suffered any consequences as a result of sharing their report with us.

This is a powerful tool for the seafarer, not least because ship operators and regulators do not like to be shown publicly to be failing in their duties or responsibilities. In most cases, issues of concern are rapidly and positively resolved. Reporters have the peace of mind of knowing they will not be identified and will not face the cost and stress of litigation or be labelled as whistleblowers. They also know they have contributed to the safety of their shipmates and the wider maritime community.

CHIRP Maritime reports are now seen by an estimated 200,000 readers in 45 countries, and the numbers are growing. In addition to reports from seafarers, we also have shipowners and managers who control more than 1,500 ships sending us their own safety reports and the lessons learned, so we can share them with the international maritime community. 

Despite what we see as the many advantages of CHIRP Maritime, it is a sad fact that we have never received a report from the U.S. People often tell us this is because of a fear of lawsuits, whereas we believe that reporting to us is a way of avoiding them.

The U.S. is a major maritime nation with a fine seafaring tradition, and it is disturbing to discover there may be problems of the kind described in maritime publications. We believe CHIRP Maritime can help, and we urge all American mariners to consider reporting their concerns to us. 

Whether it is an accident or a near miss, or a breach of safe practices, we can attempt to do something about it. And perhaps most importantly, we can publicize the incident so other seafarers can learn the lessons in case they find themselves in a similar situation.  

Earlier this week a copy of our annual safety digest was sent to all American maritime academies and to over 100 academies around the world, in the belief the information on safety lessons learned from reports can be used as part of the training of all seafarers.

Reporting is easy and completely confidential, and full details can be found on our website at http://www.chirpmaritime.org

Captain John Rose MNM is Director (Maritime) at CHIRP.

Email: [email protected]

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.