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Insurance and The Engineer

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The world is no longer right when the two words, Engineer and Insurance are used together, side by side in a conversation. Individually they are words that justify their use, with their own explanations and own meanings as those that compile dictionaries see fit! They each serve their own purpose until such a time as when they are used in the same sentence or even on the same page. Engineer and Insurance cannot be used together anymore, yes there was a time when this topic had no base but here and today it can be seen that the words are not in any sense synonymous with each other.

The dictionary tells us that, insurance is "a thing providing protection against a possible event" or "money paid to insure against something or by an insurance company in the event of damage, injury, etc". Well, that tells us something although it is a bit confusing.

The dictionary tells us that an Engineer is "a person qualified in Engineering" and also it says that an Engineer is "a person who controls an Engine or a Machine". And there we have it. It is sad that one cannot now look up "Insurance Engineer" or Engineering Insurance" to gain some valuable insight into what is involved and to shed some light on this matter.

What sadly and inadvertently sparked this subject was by what an Engineering Superintendent once said to a Ships Engineer whilst they supped beer in a bar one night. The Engineer was naturally complaining about the lack of spares that are made available to the ships he was on. NB: This is a frequent grumble of Engineers and probably does have value and meaning the world over, no company liking to part with expensive spares if they can help it. Anyway, the Superintendent, true to form agreed with the ships Engineer and blamed everything on the paper pushing bosses upstairs, current ships budgets and the economy, thus he followed all the usual avenues that Superintendents typically use in this regard. The superintendent unfortunately took one too many sips of his beer and forgetting that he had long since crossed the fence from Ships' staff to Office staff, let slip a snippet of conversation that he had either been party to or that his big ears had accidentally sounded out.

The statement was relayed like this: "It is not our policy to purchase spares for our vessels, we would rather wait until the equipment fails and then claim it back on Insurance".

Stunned is the word that comes to mind. Shock, disbelief and outrage could follow close second. The Engineer and the Superintendent naturally turned to other topics like discussing fellow Engineers and their faults before finally retiring to their respective beds and forgetting all about what had been discussed. Except for the Engineer who for some reason or other could never quite rid the Superintendents "slip" from his mind. And can anyone blame him?

Engineers struggle to perform their duties within parameters given and in often harsh and unforgiving environments but given the essential shore back up they invariably perform their duties well and to a high degree of end performance and safety standards. The dictionary states quite clearly that Engineers are qualified persons looking after machinery. Machinery needs both adequate spares and Engineers to provide a safe working environment and to keep the machinery and equipment in satisfactory working order. A machine that is awaiting a future Insurance Claim is not a safe working machine and the Engineer has failed in his duty to keep the Machine or Engine functioning. From an Insurance point of view an Engineer and required spares are the "things" that provide protection against a possible event.

Due to modern systems of communication and the fact that spares are readily available in most ports of the world it is not common practice to build up large stocks of spares on vessels. It is largely entrusted and accepted by Engineers and Office staff alike that when the Engineer orders spares he does so because he needs them. He orders spares through the company whilst retaining the knowledge that they should arrive at the next port of call or at the latest within one month or so. The Engineer furthermore orders them because he predicts a use for them. By placing such an order he is, without his being fully aware of doing so, enacting Insurance on the Machinery that he has ordered spares for. He is providing protection against a probable event, which in this case is his Insurance to keep the machine or engine in a functional and safe working condition - as prescribed by the duties of an Engineer.

To recap in simplified form: The Engineer insures his machinery by replacing worn or used parts as he sees necessary to maintain a certain piece of equipment in a satisfactory working and safe condition.

The Company in this regard have failed in their duty to the Engineer, by not supplying the necessary spares as the Engineer deems necessary to fulfill his duties.

Insurance contributions or money paid to an Insurer is a costly business when considering the size and scale of what is involved. To wait for failure and thus save money on spares and to have the cost attributed to failure, with the subsequent repair of the equipment paid for by the Insurance Company, must seem "great" to the Ship Owner/Manager. There he is having his money returned to him by those who take most out of his budget and into the bargain the Insurance Company pay for all damages invoked by the failure, stoppage times and subsequent replacement of the failed equipment.

An Engineer who is working on a vessel where spares will not be sent out upon request becomes a useless Engineer. Now preferably called a Caretaker with no skills or interest in insuring his property simply due to a lack of usable items to effect such. An Engineer is (was) Insurance against equipment failure as long as he has at his disposal the spares necessary - without these he negates any Insurance that goes with the title of Engineer. He is qualified to maintain and look after engines and equipment, but he only becomes Insured (the 'thing') if he has the necessary backup from ashore. Take that back-up away and we are left with a qualified yet uninsured Engineer. He cannot perform his duties satisfactorily, he cannot give insurance that his machines will perform well and safely under his care, he cannot fulfill his duties in any shape or form whatsoever and thus is a liability to all concerned.

An Engineer has thus become through no fault of his own an Insurance liability to all concerned and that is why we cannot use Engineer and Insurance in the same sentence - it hurts and badly.

Author and Webmaster of Seamania. As a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy he has sailed the world for fifteen years. Now living in Taiwan he writes about cultures across the globe and life as he sees it.

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