By Crispin Tucker
Managing Director, Professional Language Solutions
In emergency situations even communicating in one’s own
language can be difficult. Add in the complexity of a
multinational crew and an inability to speak a language
they can all understand and there is a recipe for disaster.
Ships nowadays have increasingly multinational crews on board.
They need to be able to communicate efficiently in order to ensure
their safety and that of the passengers and cargo. Establishing a
mutual language is therefore essential.
Although the International Maritime Organisation has three official
languages, English, Spanish and French, English is the most
practical and widespread language of the three.
Language issues mentioned in disaster reports
Language barrier issues have been mentioned in several maritime
disaster reports including the Scandinavian Star, the Estonia and,
more recently, the Costa Concordia. The inability to speak sufficient
English can of course contribute to accidents happening but it has
also been shown to hamper rescue operations.
In the case of the Scandinavian Star, the Filipino and Norwegian
crew were unable to communicate with each other. The Filipino
crew were also unable to communicate with the passengers;
150 lives were lost in this tragedy.
There is also a social element to being able to communicate with
one another. Crew members who speak a common language are
able to socialise with each another, feel less isolated and,
consequently, perform better in a team.