Crisis communications is a key component of effective management in the aftermath of an adverse incident. From the successive reports of piracy attacks in Gulf of Guinea to the constantly updated news agenda of the coronavirus outbreak, reputation threats are more imminent than ever for shipping companies which have to be extra vigilant on how to handle unexpected situations in the current media environment.

Which is this current media environment?

In today’s constantly interconnected world translated through social media, nothing remains hidden. The shipping industry is more visible now than at any time in history; from drones to seafarer social media activity, people can see the industry like never before. Billions of users’ news, images and video can be broadcast within minutes. This 24/7 media environment has made social media the single largest source of information.

As such, an otherwise ‘minor’ incident can take unforeseeable extensions. An improper management can damage the shipowner’s reputation, as well as causing unnecessary and serious disruption of the claims handling process itself.

Delays or mistakes in media management are often interpreted as signs that a company is either incompetent or hiding something, often resulting in damaging vital relationships.

In the meantime, how a shipowner responds in the aftermath of a major incident can have a significant impact on the public perception, even affecting potential claimants.

“If a shipping company responds and manages a crisis well, it can come out of the incident with a better reputation than before,”

…said recently Luke Lane, Syndicate Manager of TMKK, at a UK Club publication.


What can be a crisis situation in shipping?

In year 2020, shipping industry is threatened by many crisis concepts potentially caused by:

  • the coronavirus outbreak:
  • cyber security incidents:
  • piracy incidents:
  • serious accidents (i.e. collisions/ oil spills) & fatalities:
  • economic problems or even bankruptcy incidents etc.:­­


Ten tips for a successful management response

In any unwelcome scenario, the shipowner, shipmanagers and agents should be ready to ensure a quick supply of information on the case to media and other interested parties, while minimizing the impact that media have on the people working to solve the crisis. The Swedish Club has provided the following steps to follow in the immediate aftermath of an incident:

  1. Evaluate the potential for media interest
  2. Prepare a brief statement
  3. Begin media and social media monitoring
  4. Engage with journalists and the public
  5. Notify your stakeholders
  6. Prepare and updated statement
  7. Identify key players involved in the incident
  8. Put a human face on your company
  9. Repeat step 3 to 6 as often and for as long as required
  10. Analyse any reputational damage


Steps to managing the human factor in a crisis

Dustin Eno, COO, Navigate Response, has shared with SAFETY4SEA 6 steps to managing the human factor in a crisis:

  1. Provide communications awareness training to your staff (sea and shore) – this is more than just media training. Everyone is the face of your company, so make sure that they understand their responsibilities and how to communicate effectively.
  2. Evaluate any events at your company which attract increased attention for potential misunderstandings or perception issues – the optics.
  3. Add human factors to your checklists. Not just, “is the vessel safe?”, but also, who could “feel” impacted by the situation? And how can they be reassured?
  4. Find a trusted and objective external party (communications expert) who will help you to understand how your actions or inactions will be perceived by third parties.
  5. Commit resources as part of any incident response team to dealing with people, especially journalists, politicians, family members and activists.
  6. Following any incident which attracted attention, analyze your reputation for any damage and develop a plan to repair it – if you’re working with a media consultant, this should be provided as standard.


Five phrases to avoid in a crisis

“No comment”: There’ll always be someone willing to comment, even if you aren’t.

“We don’t know”: You can say “We are currently investigating what went wrong”, instead.

“The company bears no responsibility”: This phrase fails to fulfill a public expectation that the organization involved is properly concerned by what happened.

“The employee has now been sacked”: Focus on solutions rather than generating blame culture.

“This was very minor”: ‘Minor’ is kind of indefinite word, and you really need to be specific right now. Who defines minor, after all?


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