Engagement is key to our approach at Wallem; it is about breaking down the barriers between the office staff and crew members onboard, so that they can work together as one team, making sure that the ships are operated safely and efficiently. Seafarers are a top priority for Wallem. In general, seafarers are the key to success for the industry. If we can get the crew working efficiently and safely, we believe we could get 75 - 80% of the problems solved. When we are looking for ways to improve things onboard, we know for sure that the answer is not just adding more procedures or instructions. Rather it is to engage more with the seafarers, bring them onboard, and make sure that we understand the challenges they face on a day to day basis, work with them rather than against them.

When we started looking at engagement, we decided to define the following three areas:

1.    Safety Strategy

2.    Focus Areas

3.    Measuring Success

Our goal was simple: ‘Zero injuries – zero spills – zero accidents’. I think it is a tough goal but a necessary one. If we set anything less than this as a goal, we set our standards too low. Second to personal safety is commitment to the environment; thus we want to make sure that we have no spills. As part of the overall safety strategy, we decided to look at three key elements to achieve safety and operational excellence: engagement, empowerment and wellness.

For engagement, we decided that the important focus areas are: communication (ship & shore), retention, training, shipboard working & living conditions, recognition & rewards.

Communication: this is about sending information to and from the ships, making sure they understand what is required and actually engaging more with the sea staff. We encourage the staff in the office to telephone the ships at least once a week and talk to the captain and chief engineers, not about the ships, but about themselves. We stress the importance of asking them about their families, wishing them happy birthday, inquiring after the health of their children, so that the feel they are part of the team. We want to get away from the perception that if the superintendent phones the ship, then there must be something wrong and they’re in trouble. We really want to open up these lines of communication, so that the people onboard the ships see their superintendent as their ally and someone that they can talk to when they’ve got problems. We’ve all been in the industry long enough to know that problems are inevitable on ships, that’s the nature of our industry.

Retention: it is very difficult to achieve our aspirations if we have a constant turnover of officers and crew, and still today there’s a shortage of good people in the industry. So our aspirations are to keep our retention as high as possible, overall in the fleet we’re at 95%, but we really want to continue to improve that.

Training: I think everyone recognises the importance of training and it’s something that we are focused on. Training at our 8 global training centres takes a blended learning approach with classroom-based learning combined with e-learning. Training is also designed to help our seafarers build up management and leadership skills, in addition to technical skills.

Shipboard working/Living conditions: Seafarers spend a lot of time on the ships; they are their home. Sadly, nowadays, there are ships that are not in good shape, but we do not allow our crews to live in poor conditions on board. Even if we do take ships to our management beyond our standards, we ask for investment from the owners, to make sure that they bring them to an acceptable level.

Recognition and reward: I think that a ‘thank you’ for a job well done is almost as important as the monetary reward.

We align with the principals of engagement in many different ways, such as by publishing “True North” Magazine, offering a ‘Seavoice’ portal, sending ‘Crew Connect’ individual email, supporting pride and motivation, helping in career planning and holding fleet meetings. One of the most successful things is the ‘Women of Wallem’ campaign, a voluntary organisation, founded by the company with the aim to make sure there is a support network for our seafarer’s wives and partners, when they’re away at sea. It removes one less burden for them to worry about when they’re in the middle of the ocean. Regarding the wellness of our crew, we take into account many things. Life at sea is isolated and it does not stop with ensuring that seafarers have a valid medical certificate. We are committed to look after their overall health and wellbeing, something which is demonstrated by our [email protected] programme.

We’ve also opened up a number of lines of communication in our Seavoice system. This allows the seafarers to communicate with us enormously and share their concerns about shipboard conditions. Every concern is treated as valuable and investigated. Through this, we have succeeded in eliminating various problems before they escalate.

On the empowerment element, most companies have a ‘Stop Work Authority’ and a safety management system but, at Wallem, we’ve actually gone one step further: we have produced ‘Stop Cards’ in hard plastic and everyone onboard is required to carry them all the time. We have superintendents checking on this and we encourage that any seafarer uses the Stop Work Authority.

What we want to do is produce the “Wallem Professional Seafarer”, therefore, the following are necessary for consideration towards that end: training, safety mindset, right attitude, engaged & motivated, physical and mental health, business acumen, ownership and pride, right experience, quality assurance, leadership and management skills.

Safety is a choice that the seafarers make themselves. At Wallem, we can support them and give them the tools they need, but at the end of the day, we can’t be on board 24/7. So safety is a conscious decision.

We try to get this across, that there is no pressure from the office to take shortcuts, to operate the ships in a less than safe manner. This is something that we are continuously stressing the importance of.

At Wallem, we also stress PRIDE – Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence. We all want to do a good job. We want people to be proud doing a good job. Safety is not anything more than doing our jobs properly, so we take personal responsibility in delivering excellence and we praise our crews when they achieve it. We also help our seafarers feel at home on their vessels - If seafarers treat ships like their home then the ships will look good and will be operated safely.

By implementing engagement programme, we’ve seen an increase in retention, quality and profitability. But best of all, we’ve seen an actual decrease in accidents. Also, we’ve seen an increase in the use of Stop Card, that’s up by 30% over 12 months, which is really viewed as a great indicator. We are also seeing better teamwork and cooperation between ship and shore staff.

Above text is an edited article of David Price’s presentation during the 2017 SAFETY4SEA Conference

You may view his video presentation by clicking here

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.


David Price, Managing Director, Wallem Ship Management

David Price is a Master Mariner with comprehensive experience in all facets of ship management with an ability to lead and motivate teams under challenging circumstances. David began his maritime career at sea, coming up through the ranks of 2nd Officer to Chief Officer and Master Mariner before coming ashore to a role focused on safety in 1994. He then worked in various roles before heading up another major international ship management company. David’s expertise extends across ship management of a wide range of vessel types, Technical & Crew Management, Offshore DP2 / DP3 vessel operations, Oil Major Requirements, Setting of Operational Standards, Vetting & Safety Audits & Quality and Environmental Management. In his current role, David looks after Wallem’s Ship Management hubs in Hong Kong, Europe, India and Singapore, ensuring that his teams are focused on safety, quality and operational efficiency.  David is a member of various shipping committees and regularly participates in various other industry committees and panels.