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Saturday, 31 December 2011

What I would like MUI to do . . .

Here's a wishlist of what I would like MUI to do for Indian seafarers, can you suggest more, or amendments, improvements, whatever?

# Single articles of agreement for seafarers on Indian flag ships, with the MUI-INSA agreement setting the terms & conditions as well as salary minima, between shipowner and seafarer. (If the seafarer is being paid more than the MUI-INSA agreement, then mention it on the articles.)

# Revive the concept of employment on Indian flag vessels, keeping in mind the new Service tax and TDS regulations.

# Involve MUI in the revised RPS Rules from DGS and from there coordinate it to FOSMA/MASSA and INSA companies of the better variety.

# Restore dignity for all at DGS, MMD, Shipping Master along the lines of model RTOs and offices at airports - both for the people working there as well as the clients, seafarers and others who need to come there.

# Initiate a vessel feedback system from Indian Masters/Mates and Chief Engineers/Engineers of ships visiting Indian ports with some element of confidentiality assured.

# Tighten up the examination system, including video recording of orals and online "no delay" writtens without restrictions on how many seats per centre. (For example, NOIDA/Delhi has only 40 seats vs 100s of candidates)

# Bring Delhi online for engine side endorsements. (Currently Delhi/NOIDA is only deck)

# Cleaning up the whole GMDSS mess.

# Take feedback on and update the syllabus for CoC exams from college lecturers and candidates.

# Work towards courses to be on dual shift per day basis to reduce time at colleges for seafarers on leave.

# Lay down insurance covers and underwrite additional salaries at 3x levels for seafarers who have been kidnapped, hijacked, pirated, held in jail = single salary to family, and double salary head in escrow till end of episode, plus post episode trauma care and support, on a scale that rises with duration.

# Instal a system of ship / owner / RPS Agent / other feedback from MUI members and share this open domain.

# Work towards more sensible safe manning levels for Indian flag, foreign flag visiting India and foreign flag with Indians onboard. Teach seafarers how to make cogent work-time studies towards presentation skills for improving quality of life onboard.

# Bring MUI into direct interaction with Customs, Immigration, Health and other agencies which interact with Indian seafarers in India.

# Increase death and disability compensation to minimum 20 years or balance of life potential employment levels.


Appreciate more please?

How secure is communication at DG Shipping?

We are all aware of how secure paper and paper communications are at DG Shipping's office, and its subordinate offices, in India. Nothing more needs to be said about an organisation where touts flourish openly outside their offices, and all documents are available, easily. At a price, ofcourse - though if you want them genuinely, it is another question.

But now look at the electronic communication part of things?

As a seafarer who was also the head of an infotech company, I got some youngsters to run an audit on the DG Shipping website, as well as the MMD website. What they told me was so shocking, that I do not wish to share it here - or anywhere else, except by printed hard copy to the relevant people.

But just as an example:-

# Private email addresses are happily used for official eMails, in direct contravention of all Government of India policies on the subject, by officials at DG Shipping. For example:-


How secure is this otherwise open email address, then?

# While the website claims that the site is designed, hosted and maintained by the DGS Computer Cell, the truth and reality are otherwise - and very easily traced back to a certain private company with interests also in the maritime education field, amongst other things.What is this all about, then?

# The sanctity of question papers for the written exams is in doubt - this has often been rumoured about, and basis the above, needs an exhaustive audit. If the exam question papers are rattling around in the same servers, then??

# What is with the over reliance on Internet Explorer and MS, why is DGS not using technology which can be read open source too?

# The website is not optimised for usage on mobile phones or Mac/Apple.

# Most of all, the website layout is thoroughly confusing and the search functions do to not work well.

On the ground level, for seafarers, the "instructions" on the website as well as the forms on the website are not in concurrence with actual practice onsite in the offices. If seafarers have some queries, they are told to refer to the website - but then the actual practice is way different. Score one for the tout-babu nexus again.

Is it too much to expect a half-way decent website from DG Shipping, please?


incidentally, this is the security of our information on the DG Website, asprovided for on their own terms and conditions, here:-

Our Disclosure of Your Information

We will not disclose your information to anyone outside of DGS or other Allied Offices, except as described in this section.

We may disclose aggregated anonymous statistics about many Users to advertisers, content and service providers and other affiliated and unaffiliated companies.

We sometimes engage third parties to perform services for us, including in connection with this Site, that require us to disclose Users' Personally Identifiable Information to them. If we make any such disclosure, we will require such parties to keep the information confidential and to use it only to perform the services.

We may from time to time wish to disclose your information to third parties that wish to market, or provide information about, their products and services to you. We will only do so after obtaining your permission. The only other times we may disclose your Personally Identifiable Information collected on this Site are as follows:

  • In the event of an asset sale, merger, consolidation, restructuring, reorganization, liquidation or other similar transaction involving DGS or this Site, we may transfer some or all User information, including Personally Identifiable Information, to the successor company.
  • We will disclose your Personally Identifiable Information when we believe such disclosure is required by law or for the protection of persons or property.
  • We may disclose your Personally Identifiable Information with your consent, as well as when disclosure is necessary to accomplish the purpose for which you provide it. For example, when you request information from advertisers in the "Reader Services" section of our publications, we will disclose your Personally Identifiable Information to the advertisers you specify.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Welcome to 2012-Typical voyage on a VLCC PG-US

I have many batchmates who are Masters on huge ships, called ULCCs and VLCCs, what I like about all of them is their solid and stolid and stoic approach to all matters in life, especially maritime. Since I have known all of them from another era when they were like the rest of us carefree and footloose and fancy-free and more, it is not easy to get them to really unwind, but here's the result of an evening with one of them, currently on leave, but likely to rejoin early to mid January somewhere in Suez Southbound.

Off the flight, cooped up in cattle class on a heavily discounted ticket, tired and functioning off chemicals masquerading as coffee, dopamines racing ahead thanks to garbage fast food en route, dumped on a deserted wharf with other joining crew by a taxi driver eager to get back and make some real money, you are looking back at 30-odd years in command - even as a cadet in the ownership company you apprenticed with, things were better, when compared to this management company cut cost phenomena. As a Master, you carry your own bags on taxi, off taxi, onto boat, off boat, onboard into the Owner's or Pilot's cabin, if spare, and then run a rapid take-over. Even before you get used to the ship and the people onboard, you are in the heavy traffic in the Gulf of Suez, so you slow down since you have to pick the armed guards up from a pre-determind spot in the Red Sea, and you don't want too many ships messing around at that time.

The guards onboard are not really legit, and they know they have you by the short hairs, so even before you start, you have a problem - besides, you have been told that the crew already thinks that their lives and safety at sea depend more on the guards that on you, so now you have authority issue also.

When you pick the guards up, you discover that they have not been given training in being politically correct with officers and crew of a different Nationality, so there is, right away, a muster. This leaves a fair bit of muttering on all decks and a naked display of muscle power on the main cargo deck as part of their practice and to be on the safe side we go onto strict zero alcohol policy which leaves more people locking themselves up in their cabins.

Then you cross Bab el Mandir, and give the guards a short lecture on history as well as facts of life, while asking them to stay wide awake and wary as intelligence reports have just come in about some activity. They show you the reports they have received on their sat phones, which are way ahead of yours, and more precise. Go back to cabin. There is terror in everybody's eyes at this juncture in the Gulf of Aden area. Everybody knows that the razor wire has been lashed on to the railings, by plastic jubilee clips, ordered by a stores department who has seen too many American movies on Desert Rose.

Speak with Chief Engineer. Orders for next loading have still not come. Slow steaming is required. Low sulphur fuel adds to the risk of a temporary engine stoppage, no chance, hang around steaming at slow speed in the Arabian Sea, hopefully high freeboard and copy of BMP4 + SSO certificate will be enough, soon enough Chief Engineer insists that we need to stop for 12-24 hours, full dead. Sigh. Guards now even more cocky.

Enter PG, remember '80s, when we were not sure who was shooting at us with torpedoes and why. For some time, think about painting INDIA in huge letters on the ship-side, but change yourmind when the guards speak about Pakistani activities vis-a-vis Indians, which is the safe flag now, Lucerne? Edge up Hormuz with caution, and spot what just might be periscopes loitering around, read up notice on magnetic mines from mini subs and wonder what double hull does in such cases? Every twig and piece of driftwood or log afloat or packing case thrown overboard is a nuclear sub underneath.

Sail through the huge assortment of oil industry installations and traffic. VHF has become a zoo of ek do teen char balot balot pasok kabayan ella ella miakute and also songs, noises from animal farm and in the middle some ship is always getting a rocket from pilot. Somehow reach the terminal and then manouvering for 8 hours because, well, because the pilot did not get a hot breakfast, with only one GS, who gets hot fresh cooked food anymore? Get the ship ready to load. Many people have not slept for 48 hours. Fudge Rest Hours and enter Chief Engineer or Master in all the blank spaces. Guards are eating three times their entitlement, galley is in uproar, and two of the guards are now sun-bathing in the nude, offending sensibilities, luckily no ladies onboard.

Finish loading. Received stores which have come onboard with almost 2 tonnes of plastic wrapping. Departure formalities. We have used 4 reams of paper and the one you are not a Master, you are a photo-copying assistant, your 18k dollar salary is being utilised to perform a 8k rupees job, your fingers have gone black from playing with toner ink. Pilot enters into heavy discussion and allegations on why minorities are not treated properly in India, you want to try to tell him that they aren't doing too well in their country with minorities, he tells you they are a monarchy holy land and therefore exempted. You feel like kicking him, but you do not hit men in the nuts if they are wearing skirts, instead you just want to get out of there.

The threat of more torpedoes on the way out are how to de-stress. Latest reports indicate that there are 3 Israeli submarines inside the PG, and also Iranian, North Korean, Umrikan, Russian and the rest of them. And the Japanese have started selling arms and ammo again - after WW-II.

Sail out, inspectors, vetting, pilot, customs, Port State, Flag State, tug vaala, no shore leave, no sleep, and worst of all, the cook is sulking so we get corn in everything - including the desserts and the pickle. Tanker is really low in the water, given half a chance the owners will remove the Plimsoll Line also, but the bigger worry is you still do not know whose torpedo is doing target practice on you right now. It would have been good to have a radio officer, they used to be from the Indian Navy in the old days, and had re-assuring tales of how these torpedos were often duds.

Next worry is pirates. Every fishing boat looks like one. All ships are sailing with AIS off. Bo'sun is sent up as crew rep to ask why ship can't go sail closer to the coast. Bo'sun is old friend from previous ships. You tell Bo'sun to distribute canvas to crew to resolve matters, as old days type solution, Bo'sun says there is no canvas on ship. Extra ice-cream won't do it either. What to do? Double ration of weekly issue of Camay Soap.

Now you are in full-too piracy area. Some crew members want to sleep in citadel. (Next part is censored for operational reasons till guards are off-loaded at point xxyy North in Red Sea).

You have to now do the pipeline dance. Discharge some oil in the pipeline, race North to Med through Suez, re-load the oil. Suez song and game and boat and light and 4 pilots plus 4 trainee pilots plus all sorts of helpers and boatmen. They all want to eat every 2 hours. Sounding pipe covers gone again. Somehow, load oil back at the other end? How do you know it is the same oil? You do not. This is called blending. Iran Egypt Saudi all oil same same, never mind sanctions, multi point fuel injection no can tell.

Once again, no sleep for 72 hours, in addition, same old nonsense of getting off the ship the Suez light man-handling, bumboat guys onboard now make goodbye with bags bulging so secure anything loose, and bump your way out the canal and four pilots.

(To be Continued)

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Humiliation and difficulties experienced while getting DCE at MMD Mumbai

One of the most frequent inputs I get from seafarers, officer and crew, has to do with the issues faced by people at MMD and DGS offices all over the country. And of all these, one of the most frequent issues is the what should be simple job of getting a DCE endorsement from MMD.

Over here, the name of one specific person, "Captain Prashant Y. Manchalwar" keeps cropping up again and again. Not just from seafarers, but also from vetting inspectors abroad, who speak with the officers and crew.

Anybody else got any inputs on this before I publish the full report, please - because this one is seriously disturbing.


Wow, got some more inputs including tapes on one Capt. R. Johri, also at MMD, Mumbai. What is happening? Need to check for authenticity as well as double check, but as of now, seems there is a price for everything at MMD.

Good heavens.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Proposed speech here in Delhi

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 . .

Pune: A week after a Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter plane crashed leading to grounding of the fleet, IAF chief NAK Browne on Wednesday took an hour-long sortie in the aircraft in Pune, in an exercise aimed at restoring the confidence of pilots.
The Air Chief Marshal took off from Lohegaon air base and was accompanied by Wing Commander Anurag Sharma, Commanding Officer of the SU-30 MKI squadron, based in Pune.
Addressing the air-warriors after the sortie, Browne said, "I wanted to be here to not only fly the SU-30 MKI but also to assure you that our SU-30 fleet is in good and capable hands."

IAF Chief flies Sukhoi-30 MKI to assure it is safe

IAF had temporarily grounded the fleet of nearly 120 Russian-made Sukhois to carry out checks after an aircraft that had taken off from Lohegaon base crashed on December 13.
"The Chief has been restoring the confidence of pilots and all the air-warriors in these fighter aircraft. He personally wanted to ensure that the Sukhois are safe," an IAF spokesperson said.
Browne is on a working visit to Lohegaon base, which he had commanded as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), from 2001 to 2003.
Stressing that the force personnel have been doing an "excellent job", the air chief said the momentum of building up the new SU-30 Squadrons needs to be maintained.
"Our people should remain our highest priority because it is then, that a cohesive team translates itself in to a success story," he said.
Officials also said that the IAF chief performed several different manouvers on the plane.
"The sortie of course had a profile and the aircraft performed several tasks during the flight," they said.
The report of the Court of Inquiry (CoI), which was ordered after the December 13 crash, is yet to come but the Sukhois resumed flying duties from Monday. Russian experts have also been called in to assist in the probe.
IAF has also deployed the Sukhoi-30 MKIs in North Eastern region as well and Browne was touring one of these bases when the crash took place.
Sukhois have been serving in the IAF for over a decade and has registered a sound safety record with only three crashes so far.
Two of these crashes took place in 1999 owing to the fly-by-wire control system, which were repaired by the force.


I wonder what our Deck side Nautical Advisor, Engine side Chief Surveyor and for that matter the Radio Chief at DG Shipping would do if they had to sail onboard a ship in the Arabian Sea piracy affected areas?

Note what the Air Chief said:- ""Our people should remain our highest priority because it is then, that a cohesive team translates itself in to a success story,"

Have any of us in all our lives EVER heard of any of our Nautical Advisors, Engine Surveyors, Radio Surveyors, Ship-management managers, Shipowners even SAY ANYTHING remotely like this, leave alone DO anything about this.

A few steps away from the office of the DG Shipping is the office of the Shipping Master and MMD. A few days ago I received feedback of what was going on there, as well as a video clip of the "activities" therein, and am currently taking legal opinion and permissions on posting the video online because the building also houses some Defence offices and there is the issue of the identity of the person involved. That should take a few days, because this is only for safety's sake, and the issue of prohibiting photography at Government Offices or premises of Public Authorities was taken care of me a few years ago in context with photography at airports and in airplanes - the DGCA subsequently issued a circular saying it was permitted here:-

Take a look at Chapter 11.

Why is taking photographs of illegal activities on ships and in shipping offices so important?

Well, from the seafarer's point of view, simple:- take a look at how the crew members (Master and 2nd Officer) of the RENA are looking forward to 7 years in jail for "altering records".

Which Merchant seafarer has not altered records at some stage or the other, and will be backed up by the unknown owner for doing so?

All parts of a larger puzzle - and the solution lies at the DG Shipping office's doorsteps. They HAVE to start walking the talk on caring for their seafarers first - just like the IAF Chief did.

Technocrats are of no value after some time, if all they do is warm chairs, and prefer to be surrounded by sycophants.


Releasing kidnapped Indians - the difference between seafarers and shore-staff

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
the meeting.

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
correct institute.

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

Fatigue at Sea - a Master's point of view

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.

*5. Taking this forward to vessels calling Indian ports, as is increasingly happening in developed countries also.

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.

All this takes places concurrent to critical cargo operation where most staff is keeping six on six off watches. Ships staff is over stressed and overworked prior arrival, in port preparing and undergoing these activities. (I challenge any one to meet R/W norms in above scenario.)

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.


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.

e) Alcohol

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.


Finally, fatigue is one part , but creating unbearable conditions for seafarers on ship is the larger one. They both go hand in hand. This is dissuading good talent to come out to sea. The quality
of youth coming out to sea is falling. In 70's there used to be competition and only cream got to see sea. Today we are getting the residue. Worst to note is the pride of being a seamen is being lost. 


Monday, 12 December 2011

Why should LSA, FFA and Medical Chest upkeep NOT be shore responsibility?

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.