Welcome aboard, Baz Kirk
Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 40, June 2012
From the time he became a skipper in 1983, Baz recognised how important it was for his crew to be up to speed. “You’re as good as the people you have on board, regardless of the systems you have,” he says. He brings that ethos to his role with MNZ: “I believe in working alongside rather than from above people – the same approach that works on board a fishing vessel.”
Originally a Gisborne lad, Baz went to sea in 1978, working in many parts of the commercial fishing industry and then moving into adult education, as a fishing tutor at Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Polytechnic Maritime Studies unit.
In 1997 he became programme coordinator. Baz describes the school as “heavily practically based. We wanted the students to know what they needed before going to sea, and to have a ‘can do’ attitude. We focused on seamanship and personal development.” He still gets a kick from encountering former students on wharves around the country and further afield, who’re now skippering boats.
Baz started volunteering for Coastguard from about 1990. When the organisation was structured into regions, he was appointed as operations manager for the eastern region and moved to Tauranga about six years ago. “I went from working with students and employees to working with volunteers, who were not necessarily willing to take direction. But I had learned from my previous work with students how to engage and empower people.”
Baz says as Coastguard transitioned from a largely young and unstructured regime to a structured compliancefocused organisation manned by committed volunteers, its volunteers became its number one tool.
He views his new role as being an intermediary, building partnerships and allegiances with clients and sector groups, “providing information and knowledge, helping with processes and systems as an outward focus; and then reflecting back to provide MNZ with an understanding of what is happening in the industry”. He aims to build partnerships by involving industry as new initiatives are developed.
“The liaison team is a key player in the middle of two evolving entities: MNZ and the maritime industry. There are new thinking processes and changes within sector groups that pose big challenges. We’re looking at our systems and how we can support new initiatives and changes happening in some areas.
“What I want to achieve is a culture of thinking that focuses on safety responsibility within the maritime sector and to remove the blame opportunity that currently exists. That will come through engaging, liaising and encouraging ownership.”
He believes a different approach is required in the recreational boating area from what is needed in the commercial sector. “The rec boating sector is growing rapidly in a number of areas. Heightened safety and education campaigns are needed and in my opinion the education needs to create a climate for real behaviour change. There are too many rec boating accidents, and many are avoidable. ‘Drink drivers are idiots’; ‘Clowns don’t wear lifejackets’ – the key messages are the same. Ultimately you end up risking everything if you ignore them. We also need to recognise those individuals and organisations in the recreational sector that are ambassadors for safe boating practice.
“In the commercial sector, the attitude to safety is more like ‘Why do I need to do this? How is this going to help my operation? If I need to do it, what’s the best way to achieve it?’ I think the underlying responsibility culture is there, we just need to massage it. We need to tell the stories about good operators and get across the message that safety is simple to manage and it gives you confidence in your vessel, your operation, and your people.”
Baz says he’s looking forward to exciting times, with lots of opportunities and big challenges too. “The maritime community is a relatively small tight-knit community. You need to be able to gain trust to bring people on board.”
For Baz’s team at MNZ, he says building strong relationships is vital. “The liaison team needs to be able to go up to people on wharves and at boat ramps. They are the public face of MNZ, and they are also the industry’s face back to MNZ.”