Ship management association aims to bring seafarers and ship owners closer together

InterManager, the trade association for in-house and third party ship managers, has stepped up as a leading industry voice in the pursuit for better working conditions at sea. On January 31st 2017, InterManager presented the findings of Project MARTHA, a report on the growing levels of fatigue at sea, to the IMO.  Capt Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General for InterManager, spoke to Daniel Barnes about a number of industry matters, including tackling the issue of fatigue for seafarers, his personal history in the shipping industry and the increasing role he believes InterManager will play in the future.  


Kuba Szymanski

Capt Kuba Szymanski

Capt Szymanski, thank you for talking to Inside Marine.  Please can you tell us more about your personal shipping background and the history of InterManager?  

Founded in 1991 in Cyprus, InterManager was originally named ISMA – International Ship Managers’ Association. It was a small group of ship managers that decided to get together in order to have their interests better represented. Today we also have a representative office in the Isle of Man which opened in 2010.

InterManager currently has 36 full members and 42 associate members, who collectively are involved in the management of some 5,000 ships and almost 250,000 seafarers. We are able to influence change and bring seafarers’ views and concerns closer to the minds of regulators and administrators.

On a personal level, I joined InterManager in January 2010 after a 20 year career in both third party and in-house ship management. My early days were with Dorchester Maritime Ltd (DML) in the Isle of Man; an extremely good company which I can now really appreciate was years ahead of its competitors. Seafarers were looked after, ships were looked after and there was very good atmosphere and relationship between office and ship staff. We had our issues but we were focused on solving them.

I started my career on regular product tankers and LPG carriers, moving on to chemical carriers and LNG. I was lucky to serve as senior officer on chemical, product and gas carriers. In 2001, I went ashore and started working as a Marine Superintendent for DML with the prospect of taking over the role of Marine Manager from my mentor and dear friend, Capt Hugh Davis.

When in 2007 DML went through structural changes and became Bernhard Schulte, I decided to leave for pastures new and joined MOL Tankship Management Europe in London as a General Manager. This gave me a great insight into in-house ship management and additionally into how a Japanese-run company ticks. But as a ‘country boy’ I did not like London so in 2010, when the opportunity to return to the Isle of Man came along, I decided to join InterManager as a Secretary General.

At the end of January, Project MARTHA – a report on fatigue at sea – was presented to the IMO. Please can you tell us more about its findings and InterManager’s role in the study? 

Project MARTHA was conducted by an international partnership of researchers and industry. The $3 million project was sponsored by the TK Foundation over a three year period from 2013 to 2016.

In addition to myself and Capt Paddy McKnight at InterManager, other leading organisations who contributed to this study were The Centre for Maritime Health and Society, University of Southern Denmark; Dalian Maritime University; Stress Research Institute, University of Stockholm; University of Southampton; and Warsash Maritime Academy, Southampton Solent University.

The report highlights the growing levels of fatigue, particularly among Masters and Watch Keepers, and noted that motivation was a major factor in fatigue experienced by seafarers. 

I sincerely hope the results of our research will be read and acted upon by ship managers and shipowners who will go on to revise their attitudes and procedures. There are a number of ‘low hanging fruits’ which, with a little adjustment, could make a big difference. These are not necessarily costly changes; most suggest empowering seafarers to take care of their lives better than they do today.

After all, our people are our assets and we need to develop a strategy whereby shipping is once again seen as a career of choice for tomorrow’s young talented people.

There is no avoiding the fact that the global fleet is increasing and more manpower is needed. However, we are demanding more from current seafarers rather than recruiting even more cadets into the market. Attracting new seafarers and retaining them will test the industry, but we cannot ignore these findings in making the industry an attractive place for aspiring seafarers.


FatigueThis project seems to link with another ongoing area for InterManager – paperless ships – which attempts to cut the amount of paperwork offices and crew onboard currently have to fit into their already intensive work days. 

That’s right. Our executive members are keen to seek ways to reduce this burden and improve the flow of form filling between the ship and shore. Industry surveys have indicated that the volume of red tape is one of the factor’s adversely affecting recruitment. InterManager aims to improve this situation not just for today’s seafarers but also for tomorrow’s.

In 2015, InterManager achieved its pre-set aim of delivering a comparable set of operational KPIs to the shipping industry as a whole by passing over ownership of the scheme to BIMCO. Working on behalf of the entire shipping industry since 2003, InterManager along with its members and project partners – including the Norwegian Research Council, Marintek and SOFTimpact – have worked tirelessly to produce a unique and comprehensive monitoring system which has the potential to produce huge benefits for ship operators.

The KPI system was born out of a need for an international system to define, measure and report on operational performance in an effort to respond to society’s increasing demands. Our members spent 13 years developing and perfecting this system and we are deeply grateful to them for their tireless efforts. It is a credit to them and to the KP System that an organisation like BIMCO took up the reins and rolled out this invaluable system to the benefit of the entire shipping industry.

Looking at your membership statistics, the highest percentage (over 50%) of InterManager’s members own under 15 vessels. How do you ensure your organisation can meet the demands of these owners as well as those on your members list with 200-plus vessels? 

By hard work! It is challenging indeed, but surprisingly ship managers - regardless of size - have the same interesting and challenging issues. These include understanding the needs and demands of ship owners and meeting them; employing, training, retaining and motivating sea and shore staff with very demanding budgets;  complying with extremely demanding regulatory regimes; and finally, dealing with constant change

Shipping and seafaring was once regarded as a glamorous, dare I say romantic, profession to be in. But in the modern era, it does seem to have lost its appeal somewhat. Do you agree with this sentiment and what is InterManager doing to inspire the next generation of potential deck hands or Captains?  

I might be the wrong person to ask as I still love going to sea and use every opportunity to be there! That said, there are many organisations and bodies who seem to be trying very hard to make seafarers lives rather miserable.

The idea that some of the latest regulations will improve the life of seafarers is extremely interesting, as we don’t seem to have any instruments which could prove that point. More and more new regulations are actually diluting their efficiency, so reports like Project MARTHA are a vital tool to highlight and improve seafarer welfare; likewise paperless ships and the issues of bureaucracy. 

Funnily enough, we don’t seem to be lacking young generation interest. Colleges are full of young people who would love to go to sea, and that is both in West and East Europe. Seafaring is still a very ‘sexy’ proposition for many people. However we do have a problem - we are lacking in the number of sea berths needed for the practical phase of the training.

I don’t support myth that we don’t have enough people but I agree that we are not doing enough to train them.

seaferer computerIn your opinion, how has seafarer welfare changed (for better or worse?) in recent years? 

Please remember than less than 10% of seafarers have access to bank cards and therefore also bank loans - such as mortgages - because they are not paid when at home. This is changing for the better but it takes time.

A very low percentage of seafarers suffer substandard working conditions - this is the area which has improved drastically over the last decade. The majority of seafarers travel in better conditions and are being paid in time but more work still needs to be done. We would love to see ports cooperating with us better, allowing for shore visits, welfare facilities, and improved transport and connectivity facilities amongst other areas too. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the organisation its members? 

The lack of shipping industry knowledge among the general public is a huge challenge. The shipping industry as a whole suffers from a very poor public image; this is an area InterManager is hoping to change through education. 

Are you optimistic about the outlook for your members’ market(s) and the global shipping economy?

Absolutely. The number of ships that owners are currently buying boosts my confidence. These owners will be looking for professional ship managers and InterManager’s members are of a breed the owners are turning to.