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Multinational Crew: Embracing Cultural Boundaries

Updated on February 8, 2013

Camaraderie on board ship

Most sailors experience having multinational crews on board a particular merchant vessel, be it a tanker, cargo or passenger ships. According to the recent assessment, “almost two-thirds of ships operate with more than two nationalities and as many as one in ten ships operate with more than five different nationalities on board.”

The sailor encountered having three nationalities during his second assignment on board a container vessel in 2002-2003. High-ranking officers from captain, chief mate and chief engineer consisted of Greek descent. Junior officers were Filipinos and the rest of the crew also include Romanians.

Seafarers International Research Center (SIRC) in Cardiff found out that multi-national crews can function effectively as both social groups and working groups.

Well, the personal accounts of the sailor can oppose with these findings. Although it can be true, most Filipinos tend to cling more to the crew saloon, including its officers while the Greeks often stay inside the officer’s saloon during the regular days. Romanians also join Filipinos when watching movies. Only during barbecue (ihaw-ihaw) parties during Saturdays while on voyage at sea can these multinational crews enjoy camaraderie and friendship. Yet, the drinks are still different. Europeans often drink wines while the crew, mostly Asians, go for drinking beer.

Suspicions between groups

Embarkation of different crew can happen at the most convenient port or if the contract ends. Although, most ships have Filipino crew, there are ships that have full crew of other nationalities.

It is required for every crew to have a general level of fluency in English in order to operate well in both social groups and work groups.

But even in a single large groups, for example Filipinos, the sailor observed that they didn’t speak English most of the times. Even the command over the VHF (Very High Frequency) radios are often transmitted in Tagalog (National language of Filipinos). In a simple conversation, seafarers from Visayan regions tend to speak in their dialect than speak Tagalog. Other Filipino crew who didn’t understand the dialect will automatically feel excluded. This is a clear indication of division even there’s only one nationality on board a particular vessel.

What if there are five or six nationalities on board ship?

If there are more five or six nationalities on board a merchant vessel, the researchers found out that “the whole ship was a much more cohesive unit” because they are bound to use English as a common language.

The sailor personally attest that “well-qualified and experienced seafarers respect other well-qualified, experienced seafarers’ ability regardless of nationality.”

More often than not, work and social life on board ship overlap so much. If the nationality becomes an issue, cliques or groupies develop and minorities are isolated. It will lead to the deterioration of work management and operational effectiveness.

Solving multicultural issues

Engaging in many recreational activities can solve issue arising on board ship. Ship managers should know what kind of recreation is effective to a particular culture.

In many interviews, many western seafarers or coming from Europe dislike karaoke evenings while Filipinos love them (because it originated from us). Most European seafarers feel good when they are able to drink alcohol; but most companies don’t allow alcohol, only beer if taken in a daily basis.

Seafarers should be treated as regular people, although the risks in their working environment are more heavier than those who are working land based.

Life at Sea On Board LNG Tanker by therealfatjimi

Crewing: How to Survive the Rigours of Seafaring

Delegating tasks to the multi-racial crew

My first taste of being involved in a multinational crew was on my first voyage as a sailor in 2001.

Filipinos outnumbered the Greeks, but most of the latter were high-ranking officers of the ship, including my master or captain and chief engineer.

Other minor officers and crew were Rumanian, Croatian and Indian.

Each of us have a special task to perform in order to avoid overlapping of duties.

Overtime jobs will always be identified if it conforms to the safety policies of the company and the maritime world as a whole.


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    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 7 years ago from Seven Seas

      That's what the seafarers are wanting whenever they are on board.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Respect to one's culture should be the goal of every seafarer. Every one should be treated equal on board ship.