Media reports on the ASPHALT VENTURE episode now suggest that the ship with Master and 6-7 crew onboard has anchored off the Somalian Coast, as the Master has apparently refused to sail out without the rest of his crew, who were held back for the major issue of being Indians held in exchange for Somalian captured pirates being held in Mumbai.
If this is the case, then that is certainly one intelligent Master onboard, who needs to be commended and supported across all lines for the following reasons:-
# He has acquired an understanding of the Somali tribal ethos and culture, which means a lot, since it is the rule of law there.
# He would not get far in the open seas on a ship non-functional for 6 months, with only some crew members and no engineers.
# Once the ship and cargo get back into the rest of the world, it is likely that the concerned parties will forget the Indians stranded ashore, and that's a simple truth too.
# Most importantly, the Master's conscience will probably never forgive him, and there are the legal aspects of leaving those who are under you behind too.
We hope to see some pro-active measures being taken by the authorities here in India on this. While hostage exchange may or may not occur, and seafarers on other ships are in some cases in even worse conditions as per reports filtering back, fact remains, that some simple steps need to be taken, looking forward:-
1) All Indian flag ships plying in the region need to have armed guards on board, legitimately, without making any sublime noises about it. Enough is enough. All Indian flag ships to be properly worked on by way of "Vessel hardening" . . . stronger bullet-proofing of all glass areas, proper citadel design and implementation, electrified barbed wire along the whole ship, technically sound stern and side whips, automatic remote controlled high pressure hoses, investing in stern facing radars, night scope glasses,and investing in superior intelligence (as different from information). Obviously, insurance is a major factor - even workers going to Afganistan get multiple covers including 50 lakhs and more in case of death - what do seafarers get?
2) All Indian seafarers working on foreign flag ships sent by DGS approved recruitment/manpower management companies in India to have full insurance cover as well as minimum standards of safety on board, way ahead of BMP3. There appears to be a silent practice by associations of blackballing and blacklisting seafarers who refuse to head out into piracy zones, with complicit assistance of authorities, both of which shall not be named but you know who you are . . . and this has to stop. Seafarers can not be blackmailed into seeing their watch-keeping certificates or discharge records being spoilt for demanding to be relieved from ships going into piracy zones - and a proper feedback system needs to be set up very rapidly at DGS/MMD for this.
3) There are other steps to be implemented too, if we do not wish to see India's economy suffer by what is turning out into an economic attack on our country's commercial strengths. More on this soon.
But for now, salute the Master of the ASPHALT VENTURE.