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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

HE-Alert - the magazine for safety on ships

Now also available online at:-

Here's my short response to an article on a subject dear to me . . . read on:-

Richard Sadler's column (Alert/issue No. 23/May 2010) makes some very valid points on the relationship between finance/financiers and shipping/seafarers.

Here's my point of view, and please don't put it aside as "3rd World" because of my physical/geographical location on date - as an ex-seafarer who has been a shipbroker, into politics, as a freight forwarder, been part of bringing unitised cargo inland into India, on television as an anchor, within all forms of media and headed the Asia operations of a Silicon Valley tech company in the business of transaction management for 3 industries - financial, gaming and preventive defence - as well as fathered two investment bankers - and so I do think a bit of world view comes from New Delhi, too. Please also excuse the syntax and grammar - for the last one year I have been at it trying to also revive my CoC issued 1980 and that has been an experience, too.

1) The biggest flaw is that the seafarer is seen by everybody ashore as an over-worked donkey - which she or he is. The rest of the world has moved on, not just in reduced working hours, but the seafarer is still flogged on 4-on/8-off, or worse. Between IMO, ILO, STCW, ILO 147, ILO 163, ILO 180 and now ILO Super - everybody knows that the seafarer they visit on the ship is still subjected to something called "not undermining the authority of the Master" - in this day and age. The first thing that needs to be done, therefore, is to bring down working hours onboard, especially for deck watchkeepers, by the simple method of adopting a Master + non-watchkeeping First Mate, and 3 independent watch-keepers. At the very least.

2) The training for seafarers is still stuck in arcane subjects like magnetic poles, theory of gyro and other ancient art forms - when what is needed for interaction with shore staff is more a PR cum legal person. An average seafarer by the time he is 30 or so has spent more than 4 years learning about stuff that is going to be of no use to him, while the same time could be spent better in understanding the simpler art of collision avoidance, pollution prevention and acquiring basic economic skillsets. That's the next thing that needs to change. You want respect from your banker - you have to understand what he is saying.

3) Industry meaning shipowner - and I have spent some quality time lately with shipowners as well as taken part in piracy/hijack release discussions - considers the seafarer on board as a standing expense - whether alive or dead. As long as the CoC and other certification is in order keeping the ship seaworthy, it does not matter - the seafarer is a commodity to the shipowner. Barring passenger and cruise ships, it is better to treat the seafarer as somebody who eats too much food, and then cribs about everything.

4) Industry meaning cargo interests, port state staff, insurance the rest of them - in my part of the world, treats the seafarer as somebody from the bottom rung, like the hapless truckdriver. Somebody to hold as hostage for a period of time at no cost to anybody other than the shipowner, so why feed the seafarer in the period ad interim. For "food" read salaries, and other expenses. I have heard shipowners crib about paying salaries to seafarers who have spent months onboard ships arrested, hijacked or similar - or been jailed for alleged crimes committed while on duty.

5) On crew shore leaves, and the comparison to airline crew, very valid points. Where do we start - should seafarers demand shore leave as a right? Good heavens, even earned leave is deemed to be a "privilege" extended at the mercy of the owner, so what cost shore leave? So
would owners now start insisting that charter parties include clauses on shore leave for seafarers, or ensure additional "bonuses" in lieu, is that a thought the time for which is very overdue?
What I can not agree with, Sir, is the approach that we leave it to the bankers to administer these changes. Having been a vendor to the banking industry for the last decade, I would suggest that change in inertia level is one thing they hate. What we have to do is look within. Take, for example, the whole wonderful concept of GMDSS. Great. But how on earth did it evolve into something which did away with a Radio officer onboard, when in actual fact we need a Super Elecronics and Communication person on every Merchant Navy ship?

The cure, Sir, is from within. It is the seafarer who needs to say, OK, I am a Master, and I consider this ship unseaworthy if it does not have at least 1 more watch-keeping officer - and he then needs to work with the Port State, since the Flag State and its bankers sure will not assist.

Veeresh Malik
New Delhi

(Courtesy of Alert! - The International Maritime Human Element Bulletin)

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