For many seafarers, Nautilus International is an important ally during their maritime careers, while for many in the yachting industry it remains a bit of a mystery. There's also the view in some corners that superyacht employment and unions don't mix.
Nautilus wants to change this so we spoke to Danny McGowan to learn about the many benefits to individual members of all ranks, and its role in shaping maritime employment legislation at the highest level.
How did you get involved with the yachting industry?
I’m new to the whole maritime industry, having never worked at sea. I started working for Nautilus International, the maritime trade union, thanks in part to the experience I gained as a volunteer representative for PCS, the UK Civil Service union. Part of my new role was to work on expanding the Union’s presence within the yachting sector, and I’m delighted that it was – it’s a fascinating industry!
When did you join Nautilus and how did it come about?
I joined Nautilus in January 2015. I saw the position advertised on a website used by a lot of unions and similar organisations. It had been an ambition of mine to be employed by a union, as opposed to volunteering for one while in full time employment in the Civil Service. I had taken my voluntary role as far as I could within PCS so the time had come for me to make the leap. The opportunity to work for a professional association and trade union that works globally really interested me.
What is the main role and vision for Nautilus?
Our mission is to be an independent, influential, global trade union and professional organisation, committed to delivering high quality, cost effective services to members, and welfare to necessitous seafarers and their dependants and other maritime professionals.
For the yacht industry this means we are here to provide practical support in every aspect of members’ employment, for the lifetime of their careers and genuinely represent their interests on the global stage. We want all those operating in the yachting sector to make this a successful industry and this is best achieved by working with seafarers of all ranks and not at their expense.
Who are your members?
We have members in all of the waterborne transport sectors, from deepsea oil tankers to river cruises – and of course large yachts. Some members are transporting freight, others passengers. We also have members on specialist vessels or ashore, but all join together as one Union for maritime professionals.
Many of the biggest maritime employers in the world formally recognise Nautilus as the organisation that represents their employees, including Maersk, Carnival UK, Stena Line and Windstar Cruise, to name just a few.
How do you attract members and what are the benefits of joining the union?
Lots of our members join us through word-of-mouth. Others in the yacht industry hear about us through our partnerships around the world: D&B Services (Antibes), Dovaston Crew (Palma), Hemisphere Crew Solutions (Monaco), International Crew Training (Fort Lauderdale), UKSA (Isle of Wight) and West Nautical (Newcastle).
We offer a wide range of benefits. Many members working onboard yachts join us for our industry-leading Service Record Book which helps them to record and calculate qualifying sea service for the purpose of certification. The MCA recognise this as an official document, and prefer using this to trawling through individual testimonials.
All of our members also benefit from the workplace support we offer, covering problems such as contracts, redundancy, bullying or discrimination and non-payment of wages. We also offer a range of free legal services, with a network of lawyers around the world providing them with help wherever they need it.
On top of this, our members can access Nautilus 24/7, a freephone emergency helpline (including Skype, email, SMS and live chat options) providing them with round-the-clock support.
For certificated officers membership also includes free financial protection in the event of their certificate being cancelled, suspended or downgraded following a formal inquiry – this benefit alone is worth up to £119,900 (as of 1 January 2016).
However, the important thing for everyone to remember is that in order to benefit from our services, they must be a Nautilus member before an incident occurs.
Nautilus has unrivalled access to a wide range of national and international bodies including the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Federation of Ship Masters’ Associations (IFSMA). We work at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on key global regulations covering working conditions, health and safety and training. This genuinely ensures that yachting members’ views are heard at the highest arenas defining legislation.
What are the biggest issues facing seafarers today?
Bullying and harassment remain a major issue affecting seafarers. For too long people have had to put up with behaviour that would rarely be accepted in shore-based employment. It’s only through reporting ill-treatment to their Union that our members will help us to eradicate this.
Criminalisation is a huge topic too. When maritime accidents occur there is often an implication that seafarers somehow deliberately set out to cause a collision, injury or spillage. Nautilus campaigns to ensure that our members can work without fear of being criminally prosecuted for incidents and accidents outside of their control.
More generally, what are the challenges facing the maritime industry today?
A massive challenge has been the slump in oil prices. A number of Nautilus members working in the North Sea have been affected, with many even losing their jobs. The maritime industry as a whole needs to ensure that seafarers can transfer their skills from one sector to another as and when they need to.
Another challenge is recruiting, training and retaining high quality officers across the maritime industry. The International Chamber of Shipping and BIMCO – the world’s largest international shipping association - estimate the current shortfall in officer numbers as 16,500 and warns that it could rise to 92,000 by 2020.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career so far?
Maybe not the most important, but certainly a useful tip, was to learn to use the word ‘vessel’. It was difficult at the beginning not to offend people by saying ‘boat’ when I should have said ‘ship’, or vice versa. Of course it’s easy now, but the word ‘vessel’ has stuck with me!
Who do you most admire in the world of business/maritime, who has inspired or influenced you?
A lot of people probably don’t know her, but a woman called Corine Archambaud inspires me. Corine is a friend of Nautilus, and has been assisting us as we help our members involved with the Ocean Victory incident. She is also an Inspector for the International Transport Worker’s Federation. She used to be a seafarer, and spent much of her life working onboard a superyacht. She really knows the yachting industry, and since Nautilus is an affiliate of the ITF this really helps our members. Corine’s determination to improve the rights of seafarers, and look after their welfare is an inspiration.
What would you change if you could?
It upsets me to see a seafarer – or any worker – mistreated in their employment. I would remove the opportunities for seafarers to be scammed when finding new employment, and eradicate precarious contracts too.
Which is your favourite vessel and why?
It’s difficult to pick. I get to visit a lot of vessels in my job. There’s one I haven’t been on that I’d like to – The World. There’s something about the thought of living there that excites me.
Which is your favourite port or maritime destination?
Aside from St Katharine Docks and the River Thames in London, it has to be Barcelona. It’s easy to get to from the rest of the world, there are excellent connections between the city, port and airport, good weather, good food, and if I happen to be there when I’m not working, good beaches too.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
It would depend on the facilities offered by the desert island(!). As much as I enjoy being able to escape modern life, I do love having internet/email access so my phone would be a must. Then I would have to say something sensible like a box of matches to start a fire easily, and something that would make building a shelter easier too.
What is your motto?
‘Everything happens for a reason’. If you encounter a setback in your ‘plan’, it’s rarely something that can’t be overcome, and will often serve to show you a better path.