The Ship’s Papers
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue.
It’s not unusual for an adventure to be temporarily interfered with by an unspecified “problem with the ship’s papers”. But what are the “ship’s papers”? Why is the StarPort Authority interested in them?
Ideally, the ship’s papers will do the following:
- Show that the ship is constructed in accordance with recognized standards as regards performance and safety
- Show that the ship has been properly maintained
- Show that the ship is operating in accordance with standards as regards safety (including health/hygiene [medical safety] of crew, passengers, and live cargo)
- Show that the ship is operating with legally-qualified and properly-identified crew
- Show that the ship is operating on the legal business of the ship’s owner or master
- Show the legal provenance and ownership of all cargo
- Show that the ship’s business operations have sufficient resources to execute business at and with the StarPort
So, what are the specific documents that the ship’s papers will include, and how do they meet the above requirements?
(It should be noted that this applies only to ships in commercial service, not warships or military support ships for a government. Governments often have reason to distort or conceal some of the information indicated above (and some of that information would be completely inapplicable), and provisions are often made to accommodate those needs.)
The ship’s registration includes such information as the shipyard at which it was constructed, the class name (if part of a class, and not a custom build) and ship name, and specifications It will also include a unique identifier to minimize the chance of your ship being confused with those pirates three sectors over that happened to give their ship the same name. Major components such as drives, computers, sensor suites, et cetera, also have their manufacture and specifications included in the ship’s registration, making this document quite a thick book if in hardcopy form. The ship’s registration partially satisfies (1) and (5) above.
A ship that has been extensively refit/repaired may need to be re-registered. In such cases, the ship’s registration will include both the original and post-refit data. Older ships may be refit multiple times (to upgrade technology, for example), and the data for each refit will be included in the registration.
Spaceworthiness certificates are issued (a) as part of acceptance testing after construction, (b) annually when a ship is inspected after/as part of annual maintenance, or (c) “off cycle” after any major repairs (or a refit). A current valid spaceworthiness certificate partially satisfies (1) and (2) above. (Inspections and spaceworthiness certificates were discussed in Chris Barlow’s article in Freelance Traveller #101, Sept/Oct 2020, “Classification Societies in Traveller”, p.52.) While the “certificate” itself is a simple document, the inspection report is annexed to it, and a shipmaster should expect to be asked to submit the inspection report along with the spaceworthiness certificate.
(Yes, that’s plural.) Unlike the expository interludes in some popular fiction, the Ship’s Log is not used as a ‘diary’, reflecting the thoughts and decision processes of the officer making the entry (though the personal logs of the officers may be so used); rather, the various logs are where significant actions, events, and status reports are recorded. The main “ship’s log” is a summary log, where a third party with “need to know” can get a quick overview, and then decide which departmental logs need further inspection. The ship’s logs are also the maintenance and repair record, and partially satisfy (2) and (3) above. It is possible that a multi-ship corporation may choose to require a ship’s officers to keep an “official” log of narrative text describing thoughts and decision processes relevant to ship events and operations.
Articles of Agreement and Crew Roster
The ship’s Articles of Agreement set forth the conditions under which the crew serve aboard the ship. Each crew member signs the articles individually before entering on their duties; the copy of the Articles that a crewmember signs will specify the crew member’s rating and principal assignment aboard ship, along with expected duties, form and amount of compensation, and any specific considerations negotiated between the prospective crew member and the shipmaster.
While it is not unusual for a multi-ship corporation to have a standard framework for the Articles of Agreement of their individual ships, and ports of registration and superior polities may have requirements for both form and content, there will always be specifics applicable only to the individual ship and the environment in which it operates. Typical Articles will distinguish between crew on straight salary, crew on salary-plus-share, and ‘temporary crew’ (working passage), and will prescribe pay amounts and intervals, shares, and other entitlements (such as medical care, additional training, etc.). The Articles will also specify certain procedural matters, such as offenses against ‘good order’ which may not require intervention of law enforcement, discipline (both penalties and process), devolution of command, allowances or limitations of drawing local currency against accrued pay, procedures and limitations on leave while in port, etc.
The crew roster will list all positions aboard the ship, and the individuals who are presently bound by the Articles of Agreement and the positions they are filling. The roster will also show crew member required and actual qualifications, including licenses/certifications with expiration dates (though these may be separate documents annexed, as certifications may be renewed or updated, or new certifications gained).
The Articles of Agreement and Crew Roster together partially satisfy (3) and (4) above.
Shipping records include information about all goods (both freight and speculative cargo) carried by the ship, including origin and destination, sale documents (e.g., bills of sale or sales receipts) (for cargo), nature of the goods, owner and consignee (for freight), special handling instructions (e.g., special environment needs), etc.; they should also note hold space allocated for ship supplies and spares. If the ship is staffed and configured to handle passengers, the shipping records should also include the number of passengers accommodated for each trip, plus hold space allocated for passenger possessions.
The Shipping Records partially satisfy (5) and (6) above.
The ship’s ledger contains all of the financial information relevant to ship operations. This include all records of cargo purchase or sale, payments for shipping and/or delivering freight, mortgage payments, port fees, repair costs, costs for life support and other supplies, payroll, and so on. For simplicity, any currency on hand or letters of credit being carried should be considered part of the Ship’s Ledger.
The Ship’s Ledger partly satisfies (5) and (6) above, and generally satisfies (7).
There may be other documents that are needed, for specific cargos, or by specific worlds for either import or export. These are mostly to satisfy legal requirements (and thus apply principally to (5) above). Examples (but not an exhaustive set thereof) of such documents might include import or export licenses, end-user certificates, material safety data sheets (for hazardous materials), or copies of bills of lading or invoices.
OK, So What?
You now have a better idea of what’s in the ship’s papers. Does it really make a difference?
If you know what your player-characters have been doing – both aboveboard and “shady” – you can come up with a better idea for what papers may be problematical at any given time and place, and how the PCs can address the problem. This in turn can get your PCs thinking about the consequences of actions, and how they’ll affect their overall goals, whether immediate or long-term.
You can also use the need to address a deficiency in the ship’s papers to delay their progress in a campaign, perhaps to allow a significant antagonist to catch up with them. Alternatively, if the antagonist has the problem, perhaps it gives the PCs a chance to catch up, or maybe an extra day in port so that they’ll have a chance to sneak into the ship and find the McGuffin.