I edited this quite a bit today after posting an earlier version.
The US Coast Guard recently released their findings after an administrative law judge suspended a container ship captain's license after a complaint was issued on his ship regarding hazing and assault of deck cadets.
You can read a good synopsis here:
read the synopsis. I am writing on the issue, but don't take my word for it- my point is ancillary to the events that happened, and I wasn't there.
As my partner B noted: This shit is just unprofessional, period. It gets worse.
Now, I read about the work environment on that trip before, months ago. The officer sailing as 2nd mate also complained to everyone he could think of that he was being harassed by the chief mate. At the time, on first reading, to be honest I saw his point but I also tended to be sympathetic to the chief mate.
As information got released, it became obvious that the 2m had been a source of discord on several ships, which, again, I wasn't there, but also suggests a pattern. The manner in which the 2nd mate conducted himself afterwards alienated pretty much everyone, to the point that any sense of legitimacy to his complaints were dismissed from what I could see. Guy was his own worst enemy, and after, he doubled down, behaved erratically and in my opinion, being an asshole to everyone around him (he was later accused of harassment against women he was claiming to be white knighting for), and finally shooting himself so thoroughly in the foot that it looks as though nobody in industry or in the Coast Guard wants to deal with the man. True to form, he inserted himself into a discussion on the events (under a pseudonym) on an industry website's forum listed above. Aside from being a major distraction from the central issue, which is a legal matter of seeing cadets (not licensed officers) get safely trained aboard ship, the man in question just keeps trying to make the damn thing about himself and not the cadets.
This is an interesting challenge when dealing with advocacy. What happens when a self-appointed advocate is not welcome and whose presence becomes a harm to those they claim to wish to help?
|We know exactly what happens|
I'm treading on unfamiliar ground here, but there was an anecdote that someone was chewing on pens in the ship's chart room, and after the chief mate complained of having wet hands covered in saliva a few times and asked the junior mates to stop, the chief mate walked around the bridge with one pen clenched between his butt cheeks, then put it back in the pen cup and left a note about what he had done, in a variation of Russian Roulette to encourage the offending mate to stop sticking communal items in his mouth.
It's not my place to render judgement, but I found that hilarious, and in keeping with the sort of light hazing that I have encountered in male-dominated workplaces over the years. Is it profession, though? No, of course not. But still, the response to something so juvenile and gross in a remote working environment is not to go catatonic and reach for the phone to call famed Spanish workplace psychiatrist Dr. Takea De Summeroff for PTSD.
|It's hard to tell the difference between|
burning bridge and burnt credibility
The second mate appears to suffer from aggrievement on a perpetual basis, and decided to monetize his feels as a source of income (again calling to mind Al Sharpton) by forming a non-profit (to keep pens out of butts, I guess) and, given what fell out over the years, I discount much of his input, except for noting that the cadets accounts of things that happened partially corroborate the 2m's account. I don't think the issue people had was ever about the events, but his conduct after the fact.
Oh, dammit, here I go again. I'm going to stop now, this isn't about the 2nd mate, which I'm sure disappoints him. Much as in the real world, I'm getting distracted by the damn drama llama 2m and away from what is important... the cadets.
Unfortunately, the deck cadets on that ship didn't find other events nearly as funny, if you read the summary and initial comments, and it was the deck cadets' experience that was the problem that got a court involved.
Look, adult me is not a deeply sensitive person in the workplace. I have been hazed at work, and I found it to be a pathway to acceptance, taking mild abuse with good humor and returning it proportionally. Men have done such a fair bit, but my experience was subjective and it's risky AF to act out when there's a YMMV variable in the reception of hazing.
Younger college-aged me was considerably less worldly and far more quiet and sensitive, and hazing in almost any form would have been hurtful at that point and time. I was fortunate not to experience it until I was mentally and emotionally prepared for it.
So that's my perspective. I am sympathetic to both sides, to one degree or another. One one hand, I would probably get along great with the chief mate in question, but I'm a giant child in a man's somewhat lumpy body, and spending time as a commercial fisherman in my college years and beyond made me insensitive to, shall we say asymmetric power and labor management styles.
Then again, I wasn't hazed while I was in the process of coming out of my shell. The cadets in question didn't have that luxury, and weren't just deckhands, they were deck cadets- their career to a fair degree will be defined by their experiences and interactions with management-level officers during their cadet shipping times. Having said that, the testimony regarding movie night on the ship made me want to vomit. Any goodwill I might have towards considering some of the actions here, like drawing a dick on the cadet's hard hat, or making the cadets use the mate's callsign 'daddy' over the radio, however humorous, casts everything in a far more dark and sinister light.
Proportionality and no skills in Reading The Room were two concepts that I thought of here initially. Taking things too far. But such a subjective value assignment is far too slippery a slope. While I'd laugh my ass off on hearing that a cadet was walking around with a cartoon dong on his hard hat for weeks, and would have taken such a thing in stride, even as a point of pride in not letting others see me ashamed, I never got hazed in that critical period where I was finding my feet. Were I as unsure as, say, 19 year old me, trying not to whine at being worked too hard while hauling lobster pots, I might have been poisoned against working on boats forever. Who knows? By the time I was the butt of practical jokes, I was already accepted and liked by the people involved. Imagine the impact that getting harassed by someone could have if you are unhappy, uncomfortable, inexperienced and unsure.
Anyone who says 'toughen up' is something of an asshole, IMO, when there is an issue of proportionality involved. A heretofore protected kid who hasn't built up emotional callus isn't being served by being harassed when he's incapable of responding without risking punitive and career-limiting results... I'm as inclined as anyone else to game out an 'if I were there' scenario in my head, but that's again a subjective thing. Am I fostering a positive work environment? That's an extremely easy metric to stand on. Hazing should never have evolved past the point of mild teasing to test the cadets reception of edged humor... there is plenty of room for officers who are sensitive and slow to engage in conflict just as much as anything else, provided they can lead by example.
I have witnessed proper good-natured hazing aboard, it's true. Cadets were built up with experience and support, confidence instilled in the learning environment on deck. Good natured sarcasm, establishing friendly boundaries without being egalitarian, allowing the cadet time to establish friendly relations with unlicensed and licensed crew alike, and then gradually increasing expectations while taking the kid gloves off, allowing the cadet to find his/her feet. I think it says a lot about the chief mates and captains I worked with that so many of our cadets worked to get themselves their first job as on officer with us, specifically, on our ship. That by all appearances did not happen here. It's also a real hot potato of a subject. How can I accept the concept of hazing just because I personally enjoyed it? I can't advocate for hazing because the potential for harm is too damn high.
I find myself truly in a strange country here. I, a man who takes opportunities to appear unprofessional superficially as a means to disarm and entertain (when not actually working), believe that the only way to fairly and optimally deal with shipboard behavioral problems is to maintain a professional environment. Deviating from that as a teaching tool requires trust, tact and enormous risk, but can be done... but can you codify that without risking exactly what happened?
Every mariner can see where the Shellback line-crossing ceremony can be a meaningful and fun bonding experience, or can be taken too far. As such, it is not something that shows up in a company ops manual. For good reason. That doesn't mean that it should be a taboo subject, though I am unequal to a reasoned discussion, partly because I don't care too much (being honest here) courtesy of it not being something in my purview, but also partly because I'm writing extemporaneously here, and that should be obvious in how disorganized my writing normally is. Maybe there's a pearl or two in all the pigshit I shovel but I'm not going to swear on it.
From what I can see, the punishment handed down by all appearances seems equitable. Armchair quarterback opinions seem to range from 'cadets need to toughen up' all the way to banning the then-mate for life from the maritime trade. Obviously the judge advocate, a position not known for being kind or lenient in judgement, felt that the issue could be used as a teaching tool without torpedoing a senior officer's career.