Fellow mariner blogging at Deep Water Writing asks
"Why can't the very regulators who mandate safe manning levels for vessel operators increase the amount of crew to share the workload on board?"
The manning/workload equation has two sides. Along with manning the workload side should be looked at as well.
Take cargo operations aboard container ships for example. Why does a crew member, the chief mate have to be responsible to see that the containers are properly stowed, or the refers are plugged in? Why can't this responsibility be shifted shore side? In the aviation side you don't see the co-pilot supervising the stowage of baggage or any of the air-crew fueling the aircraft.
Or consider a ship approaching port, the captain is at the conn, the mate on watch has his hands full navigating, monitoring traffic and handling communications. Port control calls on VHF and requests the ETA, ship's name, position, length, beam, gross tonnage, net tonnage, IMO number, last port, next port, amount of cargo on board and so on.
Responding to this request requires the full attention of the mate for several moments while at the same time the bridge team is experiencing its highest workload. Is this the best use of time and attention of the bridge team as the ship approaches the coast?
The ship would be safer if the mate's time and attention was being used to monitor the vessels position and traffic. An additional mate could be called out but why? Why is it necessary to relay this information by voice radio? Couldn't this information be exchanged in some other way? Can you imagine this taking place in an aircraft cockpit as the plane was descending towards the runway? Of course not, passengers expect air-crews to focus exclusively on flying the aircraft.
The time and attention of the ship's crew is a limited resource. While a close look should be made of crew size we should also ask what work can be shifted ashore and how demands placed on ship's crew can be minimized.