Preliminary Evidence in Favor of Raising ICC at Hellenic MET Institutes


English competence is a prerequisite for working at sea and, as such, language requirements for seafarers are rather evident (Sampson & Zhao, 2003; IMO SMCP, 2001). However, it appears that to date there has not been an official intercultural communication competence (ICC) study program addressing the Hellenic MET students’ needs to work and live among multinational vessel crews. This article, part of ongoing, longitudinal research commenced in autumn 2019, presents our research on designing and piloting a Maritime sector specific ICC measurement tool. ICC is defined as the capacity to bridge cultures effectively (Arasaratnam, 2016), and upon indisputable research evidence, such a tool could be incorporated within the Maritime English language curriculum, not only in Greece but worldwide, too. Data collection was organized through literature review (for instance, Sampson and Zhao, 2003; Deardoff, 2011; Theotokas and Progoulaki, 2007; Arasaratnam, 2016) and collection of questionnaires.

 Keywords: English as L2, Maritime English, ICC

I. Introduction

A pilot Questionnaire (Stage 1) was designed and distributed to the sample, all Maritime English students of the Deck department at a Hellenic MET institute. Its initial section revolved around competence of English as L2[1]. Students then evaluated themselves in terms of their ICC. Multiple-choice questions using cultural scripts were also included. Such scripts were employed because, based on Gladkova & Larina (2018), they can facilitate ICC.  

Interestingly enough, a certificate of English as L2 is not a prerequisite for students who matriculate at these institutes, though, according to research, English is predominant in the Maritime industry (for instance, Kourieos, 2015) and serves as the “lingua franca” (Dissanayake, 2017). And while the vast majority of reported sea accidents were caused by lack of English competence (Zhenyan, 2011), Theotokas & Progoulaki (2007) concluded that, based on the Hellenic MET institutes’ study material, these students are not well prepared for intercultural issues on board, though the industry itself is in need of seafarers who are IC competent (Albayrak and Sag, 2011; Kourieos, 2015). All these facts fully support our idea that Greek seafarers, like their international colleagues, should necessarily be equipped with both English and IC competence so as to be highly competitive in the maritime sector and serve it well.

II. Stage 2

Upon completion of Stage 1 the question rose as to whether participants actually wanted to raise their ICC. As Kourieos (2015) points out, Maritime students’ viewpoints should also be regarded, disagreeing with the idea of relying exclusively on what the students want which is exactly what we did in Stage 2 of our research; this was probably because one of her findings indicated that what students want may not always represent what they need. However, she concluded that, unlike the HR managers of the shipping companies she sampled, the ones who best know the language issues within the marine industry are the ones who should express their views. In fact, from our standpoint, the ones who best know are the students at MET institutes like the students in our sample, who experience firsthand the miscommunication issues occurring on vessels during their sea training trips. Deardoff, who has done extensive research on ICC, regards students overall as ‘stakeholders’ (2011: 72). In our study, the only ‘stakeholders’ were future vessel navigators, aspiring Masters. For all the aforementioned reasons and in addition to the importance of such sea transportation means already stated by scholars (for instance Besicki et al, 2019 emphasizing oil and chemical tankers), it should come as no surprise that, up to date, our research focus has been on whether our sample, representing what Kourieos labelled as one of the marine ‘stakeholders’ (2015: 7), wants to be better trained interculturally based on what these students themselves reported in written form, leaving room for sampling other ‘stakeholders.’ In both Rounds[2], the majority of participants replied positively, meaning they want to learn more about the cultures with which they are said to embark more frequently, for example/ e.g., [3] the Filipino culture, the Russian culture, the Chinese culture [4], a detailed discussion around which far exceeds the scope of the present paper. Out of a total 166, 157 agents participated in both Rounds and were fitted for analysis (Appendix: Tables 1 & 2). Participants’ answers were transcribed as such and analyzed. Yet, it is highly likely that such a questionnaire might be addressed to every class of freshmen, so that agents decide for themselves rather than having one cohort of students decide for the following. After all, according to Pritchard (2011) no consensus [5] exists among MET study programs worldwide on the number of the Maritime English courses.

III. Concluding remarks

Overall, participants exhibited willingness to answer and cooperated well with the researcher in both Rounds, though all blind to the research aims and her identity [6]. The vast majority of students replied positively to Question “1) Do you want to learn more about the cultures with which you are said to embark more frequently? For example, the Filipino culture, the Russian culture, the Chinese culture”. Students in semester A gave more positive answers than those in B or E study semesters, a fact which can be imputed to the “cushion culture shock” (MARCOM, 1998: 22) the former may possibly fear. It appears, then, that not only the shipping industry (Kourieos, 2015) but also apprentice officers in Greece do not wish to lead marine Towers of Babel, but multinational vessels that sail safely and on schedule.

The fact that some participants have prematurely ended their studies, and more might do so by the end of this longitudinal research, explains why unequivocal conclusions cannot be drawn yet.


[1]  This pilot Questionnaire was given to participants in the same 10 Groups mentioned in Table 1 (Appendix), during the first week of our lessons at the beginning of the academic year 2019-2020. No further information will be yielded about it herein; yet, a thorough analysis will be given in future publications within this doctoral research.

[2] In both Round 1 & 2, Groups 1, 2 and 3 were asked on day 1; Groups 7 and 8 on day 2; Groups 4, 9 and 10 on day 3; Group 5 on day 4; and Group 6 on day 5. Round 1 lasted for 5 days between Nov. 25th – Nov. 29th, 2019, and Round 2 again for 5 days, between Dec. 2nd – Dec. 5th and Dec. 13th, 2019. After Round 1, all 167 agents received a unique ID, yet one agent, a135, did not include full name and was thus excluded from analysis.

[3] Question 1 of Stage 2 was asked in a second Round, so as to ensure that every single one of the participants were asked using For example (= Round 2) instead of both e.g., and For example (= Round 1). This is because some participants between classes were asked to write For example and others e.g. Upon realizing that not everyone had understood that these expressions are used interchangeably, and that not all participants had given a straightforward answer in Q1, I asked it again, this time in a second Round. This was done to ensure the validity of the experimental tool, as well, and also to ensure that all answered Q1 more clearly, which was not always achieved in Round 1, either. For these reasons, participants’ answers to Q1 were analyzed based on Round 2 only. The answers to remaining Questions 2 -4 were analyzed based on Round 1 but only for those who were present in Round 2. Thus, the participants who were present in both Round 1 and Round 2 were necessarily chosen to be analyzed, while all answers to Question 1/ Round 1 were disregarded. Overall, in both Rounds, the same 10 groups participated, all from A (= 2 Groups), B (= 4 Groups) and E (= 4 Groups) semesters; Round 2 was completed during mid – term – test week, thus the collected answers exceeded in number those of Round 1 (Appendix: Table 1).

[4] These nationalities were stated as examples, and were selected from Theotokas & Progoulaki, 2017 and ??????????, 2018.

[5] Such inconsistency could also apply within a MET institute itself, not to mention among classes of freshmen. If, however, results show that the majority of freshmen across these three years indeed want to be more interculturally educated, safer conclusions will be drawn.

[6] This is also proven by the fact that in Round 1 out of a total 166 collected answers, only 1 participant did not write name, though everyone was requested to do so [6], whereas in Round 2, a participant merely copied the questions without answering any, and another did not return the paper back, all three excluded from the analysis. The chances of participants discussing their answers with their classmates those days were rather minimum, mainly because this questionnaire was presented as not relevant to their studies, at least for that moment, which is true, as it is part of a continuous search, results of which will not be implemented in the near future, and surely these participants will have graduated by that time.


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Electronic source

The IMO (2001). Standard Marine Communication Phrases. Accessed from


Maria Koutiva is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Shipping, Trade and Transport, at the University of the Aegean in Chios, Greece. Maria can be contacted by email at

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