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Mutiny in Washington D.C.

December 31, 2012

I have been trying of late to avoid politically charged topics, but find that the current situation with the “fiscal cliff,” Congress and President Obama offers some lessons for merchant mariners as well.  Like many things, you can learn something from everyone – sometimes it’s the way you want to do things, sometimes it’s the way you don’t want to do things.  In the case of Washington politics, it’s definitely the latter.

If the command structure onboard a ship is considered with the captain/master as president and the deck and engine departments compared to the Democratic and Republican parties, the ship could easily be viewed as the United States.  The goal onboard the ship, as the country,  is to keep it moving forward on an even keel, in good condition and remaining fiscally sound.

The rivalry between the deck and engine departments on ships is legendary and dates back, oh…….to the invention of the steam engine, I would suspect.  The snide comments about “snipes, “deck apes” or “grease monkeys” have been heard time and time again and the stories, oh, the stories.  One captain was quoted (through the grapevine, of course) as telling the chief engineer, “The ship is mine – you just rent the basement.”  Not a situation that promotes a good working environment and cooperation.

The best ships – both from a personal working environment and and from key performance indicators (KPI) – I have worked on have deck and engine departments that work well together, with a captain that allows the departments to perform their jobs within the parameters that he has defined.  The President of the United States has less authority over the direction the country moves in than the captain has over the ship, but he is still the guy at which the buck stops.  Ultimately, both the captain and the President must provide guidance on how the ship/country will run, but woe the captain who doesn’t have a good working relationship with the chief engineer…..

Whether it is loading stores, steaming in open ocean or working cargo on whatever type of ship it is – container, bulker, tanker – it is normally the deck department operating (and breaking – because it’ll never break if it isn’t run) the machinery and gear, while the engine department maintains and repairs the same gear.  If the machinery isn’t kept in top condition or is operated recklessly, the ship won’t get  from point A to point B and the cargo won’t get loaded or discharged.  Unfortunately, this is much like Congress, where both the Democrats and Republicans and Senate and House of Representatives, must cooperate and work together to have the country operating efficiently.

If the United States were truly a ship, I suspect it would be adrift in mid-ocean with the deck and engine departments pointing at each other and saying, “It’s their fault!”  The captain, meanwhile, has locked himself in his cabin while calling the shipping company telling them that he has tried everything he can to get the crew to work together.  In the end, it would be towed to port and the crew fired.  You see, it doesn’t matter in which department or party you are, the fact remains that a job has to be done – both aboard a ship and in Washington, DC.  And, also like a ship, if you don’t want to work together and do the job, you ought to walk down the gangway and go home.

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