The Decision to Evacuate a Passenger Ship - An Assessment of the Normative View of the Shipmaster

University essay from Lunds universitet/Avdelningen för Riskhantering och Samhällssäkerhet

Abstract: The shipmaster is the centralised focal point of power on a passenger ship, and upon him/her rests the decision to evacuate the ship if it is deemed to be in a situation that is non-survivable. This thesis set out to explore a societal normative view of the shipmaster in this decision space; a view that can be observed in accident reports and maritime legislation. A case study, of a government accident report about the foundering of a large passenger ship and data collected by interviews with active passenger ship shipmasters, has shed light on the validity of that societal view. It was found that the owner’s mercantile interests and control of risk, and the society’s demand for safety for the citizens, which is exerted through the SMS and legislation, necessitates a view of the shipmaster as a rational autonomous agent with legitimized power to secure positive outcomes. In contrast, it was also found that different applications of power co-exist and are not excluding each other, but are on the contrary supplementary and co-dependent for constituting the shipmaster’s position of power, while at the same time subverting the shipmaster hierarchal position of power. In a reluctance to dissolve his power the shipmaster is not facing a go or no-go situation. Instead, the shipmaster is applying a decision strategy of gradually collecting enough information to make an informed decision, while seeking alternative solutions to the emergency situation, which challenges his ableness to secure a positive outcome. These findings supported a hypothesis that assumed that the shipmaster’s place in an authoritarian hierarchy brings about a view of the shipmaster as person with rational decision-making capability and power to secure certain outcomes. Furthermore, the findings indicate that the validity of the normative view of the shipmaster can be brought into question.

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