Intercultural Communication in the Maritime World

Wijnne Barends has decided to let all officers and office staff follow the IcCMW program.
Wijnne Barends, founded in 1855, is one of the oldest shipping companies in the world. The company is based in Delfzijl and its main activities are ship management, chartering, technical management and crewing. 

Wijnne Barends 

As a short-sea specialist, Wijnne Barends operates mainly in Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Western Europe, the White and Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It transports a wide range of commodities including sawn wood, peat moss, iron and steel products, fertilizers, grains, wood pulp, biomass products and (recycled) wood chips. Wijnne Barends’ tall cubic vessels are well equipped for project cargo, while its sea-river vessels regularly call at Duisburg, Paris, Lake Vänerm and many tidal ports along the French and British coast. Not only the destinations determine the international character of Wijnne Barends, but also its customers and the crews on its vessels. With a pool of international crew members from countries such as the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine, it is a challenge to get the crew to work together optimally. Language and culture play an important role in this. 


Knowledge, skills and communication are key

For Auke Douma, crew manager at Wijnne Barends, guaranteeing the quality (knowledge and skills) of the seafarers is an essential part of his work. Despite the fact that Wijnne Barends works with a fixed group of seafarers, the composition of the crew on each ship is different for each trip. “It always takes some time to get used to each other before the crew works well together. We do various things to make sure that cooperation runs smoothly.” says Auke. “First of all, we apply a strict 'crewing' policy in which we verify the quality of the employees. We also constantly examine how we can improve things. One area was acknowledging the effects that cultural differences can have on the way people interact. This applies not only to the seafarers but also to our office staff. After we came in contact with Spot On Learning * last year, we conducted an extensive pilot with the - Intercultural Communication for the Maritime World - (IcCMW) program. This enabled us to test the content and experience firsthand exactly how the online learning process worked,” says Auke.  

Learning from real-life situations on board

Auke continues: “We had a group of 10 people participate in the pilot. This group was made up of a number of seafarers of different ranks and office workers. They all completed the three sections of the online IcCMW program in a two-month period.” The training course consists of a number of realistic situations in the maritime world where crew members with different cultural backgrounds often have different perspectives. Various theories on 'cultural dimensions' have been condensed into 14 situations that can occur on board and that many crew members from around the world recognize. The training helps them understand how people from different countries and cultures often have their own perspective. Common differences and their consequences are explained and discussed. Participants learn to recognize the 'symptoms'.

Intercultural Communication

The online IcCMW program is based on the theories of a number of international culture experts such as Richard Lewis, Geert Hofstede, Erin Meyer. The online course uses visuals to make situations clear and describes how you can look at the situation from the perspectives of different cultures and as a neutral observer. The program includes online tests and questions and each participant starts with an intercultural communication competence scan to evaluate their initial level of intercultural communication skills. Participants are advised to study for an average of 15 minutes to half an hour twice a week. The last lesson summarizes what has been learned and at the end of the course, the participants are invited to take a final (online) test. Certificates are awarded based on the results of this test. 


Building awareness

According to Auke, the online IcCMW training course has been thoughtfully constructed. “In terms of the time it takes, it is not too bad. Seafarers are required to follow a lot of training and need many certificates to be allowed to sail, so it is nice if a training course is not too time consuming, includes short tests and incorporates recognizable examples. Personally, I was triggered by the situation where the captain was annoyed because he thought that a rating was making fun of him, when he laughed after being told that he had performed a task incorrectly. The rating, a Filipino, had just laughed out of embarrassment. It is nice that these kinds of situations are covered in the course because this captain will now recognize this situation and manage it better in the future.”

"Every seafarer should follow this course"

The pilot questionnaire also shows that the level of the English in the course is just right, not too difficult but certainly not too easy. In addition the example situations used are recognizable and relevant for our work situation. According to one of the participants, "Every seafarer should follow this course to help avoid misunderstandings between crew members." Based on the results of the pilot, we have decided to let all Wijnne Barends officers and office staff follow this program. At the time of writing, about 40 participants had obtained their certificate and a few hundred more are scheduled to take the course. "We are sure that after following the online IcCMW training, our seafarers and our office staff will be more likely to recognize culture-related situations and be able to deal with them more easily." says Auke. 

It's all about teamwork

Within Wijnne Barends, considerable attention is paid to safety and efficiency, but also to social cohesion amongst the employees. It is therefore important to regularly focus on training both hard and soft skills. The IcCMW Spot On Learning program gives our employees a better insight into each other’s cultures and how to appreciate and understand cultural differences. This improves teamwork and results in a safer and more efficient way of working together. 


For more information about Wijnne Barends look on website or contact contact: Auke Douma:


*  Spot On Learning offers online and blended learning programs to companies that work with teams and crews made up of individuals of different nationalities and cultures, or who work in highly international environments. The programs teach participants how to communicate effectively in English and deal with cultural differences. The company is based in Amsterdam and its clients are located in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. But participants in its online and blended programs come from more than 40 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Argentina and Brazil.

For more information on Spot On Learning's online communication programs or other services, look on our website or contact us at



Intercultural Communication in the Maritime World

Spot On Learning
Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10
1017 RR Amsterdam
The Netherlands

+31 (0) 20 30 80 041

Need support?

Spot On Learning bv © 2024. All rights reserved.