Does being a modern sailor also mean being cultural intelligent?

Being at sea have always been a job where you will meet many cultures and new people. In today’s world, many of the crewmembers will be from other countries with other traditions, languages, religion etc.

It is a gift to learn that many cultures to know, but it is also hard work for all and a responsibility for me as a Captain to handle this.

In general, most crewmembers are aware of this and are good at adopting and accepting others culture. I firmly believe that having been at sea for many years on vessels sailing with international crews, will give the sailor a very good education in how to behave in all cultures, and most use that education daily in a positive way.

Mainly we try to make sure that we do not offend anyone’s culture, and we also try to inform what and why we are doing various things which might not be that understandable for all. The cook makes sure that he is preparing food all can eat, so chicken is quite a common meal on board, which all can eat. We also try to respect the local ways of doing things, but in some cases we also want other cultures to accept our cultures in order to take the best from all.

This can be difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, but good communication and leading the way by being a good example hardly never fails to help you.

In Brazil, where I was for about 6 years, I spend a lot of time explaining the crew that my approach to leadership was to be direct and straight to the point. That was the opposite of what the Brazilians normally do - they prefer to be polite, even if this means you never actually discuss the more difficult issues where people disagree. This approach only worked because it was informed constantly and the Brazilian crew realised that we could still respect each other even though we used a direct, but still polite language.

In the beginning, I found it difficult to make these Brazilian crewmembers engaged. After a while we started to give responsibility areas to all crewmembers on board, some could be responsible for taking care of garbage, some for paint stores, some for workshops etc, and then praising and commenting on the areas they each took care of.

That made a big change to the crew, and suddenly they started to take pride in the job, they commented each other’s and learned when they could observe that someone found a new way to do things. We talked about respect and cultural differences and in the end, we had a vessel with a very fine crew and a place where we all liked to be.

When the vessel was sent from Brazil to Africa we had to send all the Brazilians ashore since they only worked in Brazil, but they came to me and asked if I could suggest to the company that the Brazilian part of the crew could stay together as a team on the next vessel.

That made me proud that we have built up a team that strong and committed.

I also had a very nice Filipino AB as a watchman and we spend many nights having watch duties discussing our different life. His main problems were civil war and terrorism, extreme weather, expensive healthcare, corrupt politicians and police officers etc.I could inform that my biggest concern was that the milk system in the kid’s school failed again, and that the local train was 10 minutes late again.

In his view that must have been a very small thing to deal with, but in my life, it was still some issues I need to deal with.

But even though our life’s are very different, I think being a sailor teach us to be able to work many cultures together, and respect and accepting others differences.

We can see that many countries are requiring local crewmembers on board when working in their area, so we will need to continue being open minded and willing to understand and work with other cultures in the future.

Cpt. Bent Rasmussen
Maersk Achiever