Learning best from our Filipino Master

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The general alarm, consists of seven short blasts plus one long blast, was raised followed by a distressing announcement on the ship’s public address system.

“Attention all crew, attention all crew, this is the Captain speaking. Prepare for abandonship.”

As a standard operating procedure, crew members reported to muster station with lifejacket and immersion suit on hands.

Chief Officer, the emergency site-leader, started to account all people and had established stable communication with the bridge through the UHF radio, reporting immediately the state of mustering.

I looked up on the sky and my eyes were met by some scattered puffy clouds. The sun was shining brightly and the birds were flying freely. Generally, the weather’s fine and M/T SKS Tiete’s in good shape. But why we are ordered to abandon her?  Yes, we shall abandon the vessel just as real as it should be though!

The International Convention for Safety of Life (SOLAS) requires tanker vessels to conduct abandonship drills every month. When I heard we will do it again, my mind narrowly concluded that it’s so conventional; sounds even monotonous due to its frequent occurrence onboard. However, one man changed my appetite to learn that day. When I saw him, I held all my ears to listen and so are my colleagues onboard.

To explain the importance and procedures applicable on life saving appliances, particularly lifejackets, immersion suits and the lifeboat is no other than Captain Angelex Panes, the Master himself.

Capt. Angelex chose to step off the castle to join the crowd. With unique enthusiasm and confidence, he then started to preach in front of his subordinates. These classic actions, I believe, are considered best practices in effective coaching and mentoring at sea.

Metaphorically, his presence indicates a dynamic school principal teaching the students, face-to-face, inside the four corners of a classroom.

Testing life savers

According to the Life Saving Appliances (LSA) Code, an adult lifejacket should be constructed of quality that it can correctly be donned by the wearer within a period of one minute without assistance, guidance or prior demonstration. If a demonstration was provided however, the person could correctly don it within a period of one minute without assistance. Moreover, it shall be comfortable to wear and allows the wearer to jump from a height of at least 4.5 meters into the water without injury and without dislodging or damaging the lifejacket.

On the other hand, an immersion suit shall be made of waterproof materials which can be unpacked and donned without assistance within 2 minutes, taking into account any associated clothing, and a lifejacket. Basically, it shall permit the wearer to perform the following actions:

–  climb up and down a vertical ladder at least 5 meters in length

– perform normal duties associated with abandonment

– jump from a height of not less than 4.5 m into the water without damaging or dislodging the immersion suit, or being injured and  to swim a short distance through the water and board a survival craft.

Tests of lifejackets and immersion suits are usually carried out every month by the third mate, the delegated safety officer onboard.

Moreover, drills provide actual opportunity to test the suitability of the said equipments to its wearer. Attached devices such as lights and whistles could be verified if functioning well at the same time.

On his request, everyone put on his lifejacket and after which, the immersion suit. The former was actually easier to wear compared to the latter due to the difference on design, size and function.

Prior to the next activity, the Captain stressed out that before finally tying the waist straps, they should pass through the holes mounted on both sides of the lifejacket. The reason is to prohibit the lifejacket to press your chin or unfortunate enough, your airway when you’ll already afloat on the water.

Prime means of evacuation

The lifeboat is the primary lifesaving appliance of the ship. Ours is a freefall type which has the capacity to accommodate up to 34 persons without interfering its means of propulsion or the operation of any necessary equipment.

Before crewmembers boarded the totally enclosed lifeboat, the securing shackle and pin was attached to the vessel’s body to prevent accidental release. Then everyone took a seat according to respective muster station number. Safety belts were fitly fastened and lifejackets, as agreed earlier, to be placed between crews legs.

Then he asked; “Is there anyone who is not secured?”

Though the question isn’t new to my ears, it’s quite better than asking if everyone was secured. He told me the reason once and this is to definitely avoid suppression of one’s voice if he speaks against the majority of the group whom tend to be not in trouble and in control of the situation.

As usual part of the lifeboat drill, procedures like how to start the engine, release the lifeboat, start air and sprinkler, among others were also clearly discussed.

Providing feedbacks

In order to ensure that the drill was conducted not only to comply with SOLAS or company policy but also to meet crewmembers expectations, the Captain gathered the multi-national crew altogether again, not on the main deck but on the ship’s gymnasium this time. He then started to open the forum by asking everyone for any comments, observations or suggestions about the recently accomplished activity. Some spoke their side while others shared their experiences on previous ships. For all observations and suggestions raised, he gave his words to rectify and consider them respectively.

The big cheese of M/T SKS Tiete has the ability, not only to accomplish a successful lifeboat drill but also to encourage crewmembers to learn and speak their minds. The clouds of doubt were blown by the strong winds of confidence for he personally provided crewmembers the needed knowledge and skills to be world-class seafarers. Indeed, if you want to master the procedure, you may learn from the Master!

To end, I would like to quote his wise words shared while waiting for the lifeboat to be secured; “During drills it’s really nice, in one way or another, that your people see you on the battlefield with them. On real emergency situation of abandonship, my duty doesn’t end on just giving commands. I should move as well and my actions should coincide, when necessary and practicable, with the rest of the group. So this is me being a conscientious teacher and an interested student today.”

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