Saturday, 31 December 2011
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Thursday, 29 December 2011
Sunday, 25 December 2011
Saturday, 24 December 2011
Thursday, 22 December 2011
It does seem as though some people are beginning to agree with what I write here, especially on the issue of maritime piracy, criminalisation of the seafarer, human relations in the shipping industry and finally, the role of the National maritime authorities. As a result of which, I have been asked to speak at a rather high-level meeting in Delhi on the subject, across different departments,so am sharing the thoughts I want to get across with readers here, first.
Bullet points, which will be expanded, keeping things simple without power points or charts. Please let me know what you think and how I can improve it? This will also help me develop a longer article for the print and net media, and can not be done without help from active seafarers and others ashore.
# As seafarers, it has been made clear to us as adults that this is a risky profession, and we enter it with our eyes wide open. Ships are never going to be zero-defect, and life is not as easy as it seems, with money not being the main motivator any more since you can make much more ashore.
# The training used to be and has to be tough, not just physically, but also mentally. The need to be able to segregate everything else and concentrate dis-passionately on life while afloat has to be acquired, so that risks can be analysed, and acted upon without emotions.
# Piracy at sea is not new, nor is it that romantic feature from movies, nor the big dark guy with a scar and an Islamic head-dress. It has been more in the news now because the kidnap and hold for ransom aspect has spiralled because of Somalia.
# Where piracy resulted in material losses onboard, it never made news, in fact civil authorities will deny it and call it "theft" or they will fudge the records, both of which are nothing new or to be surprised about.
# Where piracy resulted in quick theft of ship as well as loss of life, like in the days of the LTTE around the Bay of Bengal or still ongoing in South China Sea and environs, then also it did not make news because in the book of accounts of shipping companies it became a one-line item under insurance.
# Modern day piracy is well orchestraed by the suits and boots in financial capitals. The targeted hijack of the FAIRCHEM BOGEY in August 2011 as an example.The evidence pointing to coordinated moves from bankers, insurance companies, security companies, even shipowners looking for write-offs. In addition to piracy due to disputes, which is almost legit in some parts of the world, where the ship and crew are held, arrested, kept hostage, sometimes jailed.
# The personal involvement, late Capt. RK Menon, Capt. Prem Kumar, Chirag Bahri, and others who are still stuck and can not be named. The trauma for families, the post release issues. The non payment of dues. ASPHALT VENTURE owners now willing to pay salaries anymore.
# The invisible shipowner, the pliant ship-manager, the even more pliant DGS, unions, FOC "business" consulates, the tax haven connection, historical linkages of some dominant shipowners themselves with piracy and opium, arms, ammo and money laundering, and the fall guys therein - the seafarers.
# So, seafarer is in for risk, nothing new. But it is the reward or the security which has gone bad over the years. Today, the criminalised or pirated seafarer is ignored. What is new there? What are the solutions?
# Triple wages while in captivity for ANY reason. One to be paid to the family and two to be placed in escrow till end of episode. Full medical expenses for family and seafarer on return. Kidnap and ransom insurance as is normal for expats in dangerous locations from specialist companies.
# Political solutions, UN, American interests, Diego Garcia, Chinese in Seychelles, Indians Lakshwadeep, Iran issues, larger political picture - all fine, but back to the seafarer and simple solutions therein, instead of just a BMP-4.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Wonder if any of our Nautical Advisors, Surveyors, Shipping Masters, would go on board a ship through the Gulf of Aden . .
Can YOU spot the difference in the way the Ministry of Shipping and DG Shipping take forward matters for seafarers, and how the Ministry of External Affairs does so for others?
Here's a report from Mail Today/India Today:-
Pranab hand in freeing kidnapped Indian
Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury/ New Delhi
FOR Sukumar Roy Chaudhury ( 65), a Delhi- based geophysicist, his tour to Yemen was meant to provide a boost to his career. Instead, it turned out to be a nightmare. Chaudhury was abducted and held captive by the infamous Hussain gang for 10 days before he was freed a few days ago for a ransom of ` 5 crore.
An IIT alumnus, Chaudhury is employed with a Faridabad- based oil and gas company. He was sent to Yemen to work for a local company with which the Indian firm has a tie- up.
Chaudhury was kidnapped along with three Kazakh engineers when they were on their way to the work site, 150 km from the Yemeni capital, Sanna. A ransom of ` 10 crore was demanded for his release.
While in captivity, Chaudhury was made to sleep on the floor and was given food once a day. Fortunately, he was allowed to use the phone. This enabled Chaudhury to contact his wife Anita who immediately got in touch with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to secure her husband’s release.
It has been learnt that Mukherjee acted swiftly and moved the ministry of external affairs ( MEA) to secure his release. It was nothing short of a secret mission launched by the MEA which saw Chaudhury being freed without much hassle. Though there were fears that with the government’s involvement the kidnappers could raise the ransom amount, the deal was finally settled for ` 5 crore. Currently lodged in a five- star hotel in Sanna, Chaudhury is expected to be back with his family in a few days after the legal formalities for his travel are completed.
And here's a report from the MASSA Newsletter of September 2011 for what the owners, agents and DG Shipping are doing for the seafarers stranded / kidnapped in Somalia especially those on the fully RPS compliant DG Shipping approved Indian Government authorised articles and agreements, working on Indian CDCs:-
Meeting of OMCI Shipping with MUI / NUSI / MASSA for updating status of Asphalt Venture crew held captive in Somalia on 19th September, 2011.
Capt. S. B. Kundargi, Secretary, MASSA attended the meeting and following is the gist of
Representative of Owners stated that owners are finding it difficult to continue expenses on
account the seven seafarers held captive in Somalia. NUSI countered that all expenses will
have to be borne by Owners as being done so far.
Similar views were expressed by both at the meeting with DGS also.
DGS has advised OMCI to discuss with Capt Vinay Singh on counseling methods used. They
may also contact V Ships and Capt Rangnekar. Owners will now contact Red Cross directly
without DGS involvement but keeping DGS advised on developments.
DGS advised that pirates generally have been allowing medicines to be delivered to hostages
and OMCI/Owners should check with family members on requirements and arrange
OMCI stated that their representatives are in regular contact with the seven seafarers. All are
healthy but some with complaints of skin infection. They are kept in huts and are being
shifted to different locations.
3) Meeting on 22nd September, 2011 in DGS Conference Room to discuss Creating
Awareness about Merchant Navy in Tier 3 and 4 cities.
The preliminary meeting of the committee for working out modus operandi to create more
awareness of seafaring profession was held under the chairmanship of Joint Director General
of Shipping on 22.09.2010.
And then, the same DG Shipping had this meeting:-
The modus operandi to create more awareness of seafaring profession:
The Chairman explained the need for creating awareness of seafaring profession. The
steps taken earlier on this issue were discussed. It was pointed out that during 2007-2008
road shows were arranged with involvement of INSA, FOSMA, & MASSA. Help lines
were also introduced by MASSA & FOSMA. However, all these activities are at present
practically not functional due to various reasons.
Mckinsey report has indicated that there is additional demand on requirement of manpower
in world shipping, which indicates that, the requirement of Indian resources in the coming
years is going to be doubled. Hence, this issue needs detailed deliberations to work out a
feasible road map to attain the target. Formation of sub-committee is, therefore, the primary
need & this group itself may be formed as a sub-committee. It was also pointed out that the
financial support to the project may also be forthcoming from overseas agencies for specific
FOSMA and MASSA representatives pointed out that if efforts have to be put up to create an
awareness among the general public regarding the seafaring profession, it will be advisable
to conduct road shows and to target students of 10 to 12 standards preferably during the start
of the academic sessions in schools and colleges. They were also of the opinion that quality
of marine training is declining and opined that a system shall be evolved by which the
responsibility of academics will be with Indian Maritime University and the responsibility for
the competency will be with Directorate General of Shipping. General awareness can also be
created by printed material, electronic media & road shows, among other means.
INSA was of the concerned view that there is a huge turn out from the Maritime training
Institutes but due to lack of training berths, there is excess manpower available. The training
is at present commercialized. Hence, awareness of seafaring profession is not warranted at
this stage. The need for quality in training has to be given priority at present. Perhaps
evaluating and benchmarking for the training institute may help the students choose the
After a detailed deliberations on the issue the following decisions were arrived at which can
be put forth to the National Shipping Board.
1. The issue on creating awareness of seafaring profession has to be looked into
comprehensively considering the present manpower availability, quality of training
imparted, management and control of training institute, etc.
2. Considering the above it is advisable to have a two track approach as follows
i) Enhancing the quality of training including controlling of the training slots in
view of training berths, by controlling & monitoring by weeding out infructuous
institutes, encouraging the 100% placement granted instead, i.e. sponsorship for
admission for training.
ii) Creating awareness of seafaring profession by following means.
Awareness programme- multiprong approach - counseling in schools, advertisements,
participation in education fairs, e-media, visual media, etc. Both these functions can
be parallel taken up in a gradual manner.
3. The sub-committee has suggested that the above members may work on this issue
and give their specific and elaborated recommendations after subsequent meetings.
Truth is this:- when senior seafarers go to DG Shipping for help in such cases, then people like Capt. Harish Khatri are reported to have told them to get out or he will call the police and have them arrested - forgetting that in this day and age these things are so easily recorded, both audio and video.
Do our shipping administrators think that we are still supplicants dependant on them, isn't the DG's interview in SAARC Journal quoted below reason enough for them to hang their faces in shame?
Monday, 19 December 2011
Brilliant hard-hitting interview of DG Shipping Dr. SB Agnihotri in latest SAARC Journal of Transport
Full interview shall be posted soon. Interim, excerpts:-
"The Directorate has immense scope for corrupt individuals to thrive. The age-old practices, rigid rules and regulations provide enough fodder for manipulation. The MMD, a major department under the Directorate, is known for over regulation, micro control and unfair practices."
From the day I was a cadet on the TS RAJENDRA, I was exposed to blatant corruption in the system, and all was kept quiet under a sort of "omerta" (Mafia code of Silence) - whether it was the pre-joining classes held by "HorsePiss" the Chief Steward's sister which guaranteed admissions, the vouchers signed for recreation of cadets which were used for Plaan's parties, the lousy food we got, the terrible sanitation, how we were taught to fudge records for LSA, FFA and Medical as a part of our training, and all the rest that went with it.
When we got down for our "tickets", we knew where to go for "sets", how to find out which "set" was going to come, how to fiddle the writtens, how to set-up orals with certain examiners (I sailed with one of them after that, and he would regale us with tales of how much for what and by whom . . .)
Moving on to chartering, forwarding, and more, and then the whole thing of dealing with the offices of the DGS and MMD and more . . . what, after all, does a welfare officer do? How do you trust a National Association of Shipowners where most of their fleet is flagged out?
All this, and more, but wait for the full interview. Or subscribe to the magazine . . . .
Thursday, 15 December 2011
In response to the earlier article on the subject, which can be found here:-
The Master in this case is in his 50s, owns and operates family as well as own businesses ashore INCLUDING a software company, is extremely competent and known as the best SAILING Master in the company he works in on gas carriers, is thoroughly computer literate, and comes out to sea because he enjoys it, always did.
When this man, at such an early age, wants to hang up his boots in disgust now, even though he is absolutely fit, one wonders - what's really happening out there on ships?
Here are his words, in context with my previous article on the subject:-
With reference to the essay on fatigue by Veeresh Malik:-
All above factors are inherent. Only counter measure has been stipulation of rest & work (R/W) hour duration by (STCW). This is only a monitoring mode and does not address the root cause of fatigue. Also, be frank, this record of R/W is easily fudged or maintained to satisfy the monitors. There are multiple electronic and satellite based ways to keep track of this if required - even taxi and bus drivers now utilise these.
To attack, this word used specifically because it is killing the industry, the root cause:-
A) Safe manning:- This certificate is taken by owners and operators in collusion with the authorities as the only requirement to meet statutory manning needs. Once issued, it is seldom, if ever, reviewed by the flag state, and hardly ever by the port state, which eventually is the ultimate sufferer in case of an episode or damage.
1) This certificate is issued on basis of a ship being new and all systems and automation being in perfect operation. It does not consider the obvious effects of the age of the vessel where by ageing the original designed systems have degenerated, additional workloads due to excessive maintainance becomes a fact of life, and increase in excessive breakdown maintainance makes for massive issues which cannot even be described since often they involve the "chewing gum and baling wire" kind of "jugaad".
2) This certificate does not consider trading patterns and port turnaround times. By rights, a safe manning certificate should take this into account for different trade patterns, just like load lines. As a matter of fact, one wonders what Plimsoll's fate would have been if he had been around today, probably not survived the shipowner's lobbies!
3) Workloads increase in adverse weather conditions like storms, ice navigation, restricted area navigation, STS operations etc. This has become even worse with climate change. Here again, what are the realities are well known, but where are the solutions that take these into account?
4) Manning level is maintained and certified at bare minimum for owners to save manning cost. That is a known fact. When owners talk about safety margin in every aspect, then why can't the required safe manning also be increased to take this consideration to maintain a little higher level of manning? What, after all, are we talking about, 3-5 more people per ship?
Leaving this judgement to ship-managers and ship's staff (who are under the mercy of owners) surely leads to operating a vessel under manned for intended voyages. Fudging of work and rest records is then a natural follow-through to satisfy the monitors (PSC, FSIS, Class etcetc.)
In a scenario where a master opines that:-
(1) The vessel though meeting safe manning requirements of certificate is under manned for the intended voyage and delays voyage to meet requirement, (2) And then delays sailing due crew not sufficiently rested . . . then who will stand behind the Master's decision when it is in conflict with owners interest, rather ensure his continued employment? This also can be extended to a crew member who refuses to work beyond the rest work hour requirement.
*1. Raising safe manning levels as safety margin basis age, condition, voyage of vessel as well as data gathered by automatic means. If retro-fitting of lifeboat capacity and accommodation is not possible, then conditions of class to apply.
*2. Immunity to Master who excercises his overriding authourity in meeting rest work hour periods requirement for Indian flag vessels as well as foreign flag operating under Indian DGS RPS Regulations.
*3. Penalty on owner or operators for flouting work rest hour periods. waiver or additional loading of insurance cover in above cases.
*4. Provision by regulators to receive formal as well as anonymous complaints about overwork on ships.
B) Reduce factors increasing workloads:-
The industry seems to be believe only in inspection , monitoring n data generation as means of ensuring safety which in turn has increased workloads and information overloads. This in itself is self cancelling. To give an example:- when a tanker/gas carrier calls port, these are the least level of activities:-
1. Customs, Immigration, Health formalities. even today in times of computers and paperless technologies at least 1 ream and more is wasted generating papers required and equal amount of time (Most companies have passed on this load to Master / Other officers after making radio officer redundant after the introduction of GMDSS)
2. Port safety inspection
3. PSC or FSI, Coast Guard Inspection
4. Internal or external audit
5. Vetting/SIRE inspection. (On average, owners require to maintain 3 valid vettings (validity 6 months) some maintain more than six) no two SIRE inspection or 2,3,4 can be concurrent this inspection.
6. Company shore staff, Inspection, General Inspection, etc most companies have not less than once every 6 month.
7. Class Surveys.
8. Various extensive other logistic activities like store, crew change,customs rummaging , repairs, etc etc.
So, fact remains, vessels enter and vessels sail out with crew fatigue.
Earlier ports calls were rejuvenating. By a way that seafarers could step ashore. have a change of food, atmosphere etc. Today we dread coming to port, and that is the simple truth, even if we get shore-leave we are treated as not just easy prey but also as criminals.
C) Information overload:-
ISM has added additional burden of paper work at sea. Number of checklists, procedures, records are being generated. Who ever says that ISM does not mean excess paper work is being very economical with the truth. At every audit a new checklist and a new procedure is added without evaluating its neccesity. There is no questioning or enquiry to audit observations. Checklist content has swelled up beyond practicality or rationale. Common seamanship practices have been lost and have become only items of checklist.
If a duty officer has to really comply to adhere and fill these up sincerely, she or he wont have time to look out of bridge front. 90% of checklists are filled up post operation to satisfy the auditors. If that is to be the case, then the office may as well send trainee managers to sail after doing basic STCW and get short-term CDC as purser, so that simultaneously they understand what life on the ships they may manage is really about.
New generation of quality managers ashore with minimal or no practical experience at sea are adding more and more to this garbage. Same people will ring-up to find out what time-zone the ship or port is in, what is the distance between ports or even simple questions to which answers are there in their own computers or files or books behind their tables.
And then there is the overload due to paperwork. To give an example with operational SVDR, ECDIS,e/r dataloger, digital echosounder with 30 days memory, we still maintain manual sounding log, gps log, e/rm movements etcetcetc. Even bus conductors where still left, or drivers, have better equipment, often hand-held. These documents are required as documentry evidence that officer is monitoring positions, soundings, engine movements, weather, everything. Additionaly we have new checklists as coastal navigation, CL tss, watch t/o checklist, ocean passage checklist . . . passage plan is written as thesis copy-pasted often without understanding. Important info is buried under this garbage. In open sea, middle of Pacific you have wheel over position marked and written in passage plan for 15 degrees course alteration.
Do these not contribute to fatigue at sea?
So, will somebody come forward to audit this information overload? And not just somebody who has been ashore forever. We require comptent Masters and Chief Engineers, not just those with Certificates of Competency, with recent seagoing experience (atleast 12 months in the last 5 years) to trim this mess created by novices becoming quality manager by virtue of being good with Excell or Word and having done a 100% passing rate auditors course on time-pass basis.
D) LACK OF RECREATIONAL FACILITIES ONBOARD:-
There is no regulation to ensure recreation for seafarers on board. How many ships have a gymnasium onboard? A laser projector coasts peanuts now, but how many ships have a good auditorium for the complement? How many ships are fitted with omni directional tv dish antenna? How many owners give free access to emails, or have internet onboard? if at all given what are address and size limitations?
New ships are being launched with lesser and lesser amineties. this lack of recreational facility adds to fatigue, and is amongst the most important because the ship is the seafarers work place as well as home.
I have not yet seen any concrete data as to accidents related to alcohol abuse at sea. We
hear about stray incidences like EXXON VALDEZ, where Master though having claimed to be consuming beer was not actually conning the ship at the time of the grounding. He was in the radio room, communicating with charterers and owners.
Alcohol world over is considered to be a validated social medium. Not being under influence of alcohol when taking a responsible job is understandable. But why he should he be deprived of it when he has leisure time? It is uderstandable for pilots who maximum remain in the air for 12 hours. Offshore rig staff work on 15 days on 15 days off. A seafarern on an average today sails for 6 continuous months. Depriving him of this relief as leisure is adding to the fatigue
This has entirely destroyed social life onboard. Those who have to drink will manage to do so, in secret and alone, and that is worse. There use to be exchange of jokes, light moments and healthy interaction in onboard bars. It used to be a place to share happiness and sorrow.
Today we see grim faces only in alleyways, with no social contacts with fellow shipmates.
Depriving seamen of alcohol has been a major contributing factor to fatigue at sea. There can be norms for controliing abuse but to enforce 0 alcohol ploicy is not right. Surprisingly, no seafarer organisation has objected to this practice of 0 alcohol even at the cocktail parties thrown after discussing these issues at the many seminars on the subject.
Monday, 12 December 2011
When head-counts were reduced onboard, they went up by multiple ashore, and continue to do so. In addition, there is no shortage of external sub-contractors for everything, to assist the poor guys ashore clocking in their 40 hours a week with lunch and tea breaks thrown in.
The workload onboard, however, went way up there. The Master is now too busy counting bedsheets and pillow covers and it goes on from there.
So, here's what one suggests, also in the interest of getting a grip on realities.
Quick thoughts on maintenance of LSA and FFA equipment onboard ships, as well as Medical Chest and other specific emergency equipment, which is not in regular use but only on an "as required" basis when the need arises. Thanks to gCaptain for the idea, here:-
Frankly, the workload onboard as well as the commercial pressures from ashore with increased communications are so heavy, that the first casaulty onboard modern ships are the LSA, FFA and medical chest requirements. A few small tests that I have used personally on the last ship I sailed on a few months ago, as well as by asking people who work on or visit ships, show me that things are worse than before.
There is no point in specifying details here, we all know about the lifeboat that will simply not be lowered except in the calmest of weathers in port, the rust expanded pins in the quick release lifebuoys, the provisions from the boat that were stolen in some port, the painters used for some other purpose, the fire-suit which makes movement impossible, and more.
As seafarers, unless we are working for companies where the work ethics and attention to details like this have over-riding importance, we know that in the rush to "get things done", LSA, FFA and medical chest take a back seat. Why we seafarers would put this aspect behind is something sociological I have never understood - till I came ashore at an early age and realised that the quality of life of the seafarer onboard and his safety is about the last thing on the mind of most ship-managers and their staff.
Frankly, in many cases, it is almost as though there is some sort of hatred at the offices where people are dealt with, still called "crew department" or similar, for the man onboard the ship. None of the rapidly evolving concept of HR (Human Relations) for us - we don't even deserve a pension fund or Provident Fund with a company contribution. And nothing reflects this better than the way LSA, FFA and medical chest are treated like a survey to survey item by all and sundry.
So here's a solution that the DG Shipping may consider as an implementation item, to start with on all Indian flag ships and subsequently put up to the various bodies including the IMO which make up the maritime world's lawmakers - make the DPA of the shipping company absolutely responsible for the LSA, FFA and Medical Chest on Indian flag ships as a shore maintenance job.
Whether done by a shore workshop, or by the Marine Superintendent using external contractors when the ship is in port, there needs to be some specific accountabilities and responsibilites that the shore management need to take. As well as liabilities if things go wrong.
How about it, does it work for us, ashore? Or does human life onboard remain a line item, unchanged since the days of seafarers being kidnapped from bars ashore and being forced to work on sailing ships of yore?
Our fellow ex-seafarers working ashore will be the last to suggest this, the shipowners will obviously resist this, the regulatory bodies are thoroughly controlled by the shipowners, so it is left to those sailing onboard, or the maritime media, to PUSH this through with the authorities.
Those onboard are, obviously, worried about their jobs. So maybe, the authorities would help?
But then, will that work, when most of our "authorities"look forward to post retirement avenues in the same companies!!
Speak up, and as said before, confidentiality totally guaranteed.
Soon publishing responses I have got from active seafarers.