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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Prateek Rishi's story - a tribute to Capt. Prem Kumar of the RAK AFRIKANA

We all have a story. It is not only about where we came from, who or what our parents were, and what we or our families have become today.

But it often gets stuck there. That's OK, that's not our fault, but it is the fault of the day and age we live in.

Never mind. So, over the last few days, I've been digging deeper and deeper into the stories of people who were on the RAK AFRIKANA as well as the ASPHALT VENTURE. And I've received a fair number of telephone calls from people who I did not know before.

One, ofcourse, was a series of calls and eMails from the Big People at the Big House in Ballard Estate where it began for many of us, Directorate General of Shipping, DGS, Jahaz Bhavan. A few days after the demise of Captain Prem Kumar, and a few weeks after the big media circus on his return from the RAK AFRIKANA for which everybody from the Foreign Secretary to assorted politicians and union leaders and others took credit - they wanted to know where Prem's family lived so that they could condole.

Make what you want of this - but it just goes to show, there is no time or room for post episode debrief.  A seafarer dead and gone is a statistic. A seafarer who returns is an embarrassment. And one who returns and then dies is extra work.

I got quite a few other calls around the same time, in connection with the ASPHALT VENTURE, and what do I say - as one put it, if we had announced a cocktail party, hundreds of seafarers in and around Delhi would have made it, but to visit and offer simple moral support to the families of the ASPHALT VENTURE detainees - see DGS above, an embarrassment and extra work.

Private and quiet salutes to the few who did reach across, especially the wives, thank you SC, TC, RK, PM, RR, and RR . . . and others.

But the call that really brought me back to my story was one from Prateek Rishi, from far away New York, and I shall reproduce one of his eMails below. It says it all, and it gives me the strength to place my next post in a few hours from now, even at the risk of curdling my own future story.

See, I have reached a point where my memories of being at sea have become bigger than the dreams I have of my future. That's kind of dangerous, the next step would be senility. So,  spent over a year getting my old ticket re-validated, and getting ready to go backl to sea - and now, by taking DGS head-on, am risking all that again.

Fair and square, if Indian seafarers have gone on ships through RPS companies, then the responsibility is with the DG Shipping to ensure their safety. If, on the other hand, the DG Shipping made conditions so lax and unethical that RPS companies could send Indian seafarers onboard ships which were registered behind the usual "care-of" kind of tax-haven FOC addresses, then that was and is certainly DG Shipping's fault.

And that's where this is heading for next - even if I risk my return to sea, as people tell me I am doing. But then, I would not be doing justice to my story, on why I chucked up sailing decades ago, right?


If I were to sign on a contract of a foreign ship, I'd ask to see the anti-piracy measures the Company is taking, and how they are equipping their vessels that are going anyway near the South of Suez and the African East-Coast. The Shipowner/Charterer/Managers HAVE TO convince me with documentation, as to what measures would be taken when the vessel is hijacked and I am taken hostage and become a bait to torture. I'd simply like to see BAGS AND BAGS of money being handed over to my family for each form of torture I undergo, right from when that damn skiff comes within boarding distance of my ship and psychological torture begins. With each slapping, spitting, choking, pressure-point pushing, crushing, skin scalding, skin burning, burning of the balls, strangling, flogging, shoving, pushing, beatings, the money bags have to be flowing. The amount of money flowing to my family needs to be MUCH MORE than what the pirates are asking for. (By the way, all of the above torture methods were REPEATEDLY used on Capt. Prem Kumar.)

If this can not be done, then, weld some Automatic Weapons on the Port and Starboard Poop Deck and front of the accommodation bulkheads, under life-boats, and on the Focsle.

My 'Serang' will sew canvas covers for them and Cadets can stencil them. Put a freaking grease-nipple on it and my Mate will put it in his maintenance schedule. The guns should be on a separate electric circuit and firing should be controlled by the Ship's Authorized Users only. The guns should be Top four or 6 folks should be given the codes to open interlocks, load and fire the guns. The guns should be able to be panned and tilted and fired from the Bridge or Radio Room. CCTV should be able to show personnel around the guns and deck PA system to warn them of "Gunning Stations"!! Gun-sights should be interlocked with additional CCTV, remotely available to the Bridge, for targeting, aiming and firing.

I am asking for fixtures on the vessel that can not be carried around to settle a drunken brawl.
There should also be a couple of handguns in the Master's Safe.
These are active measures.

Passive measures would be having something like removable barbed, bladed, wire, installed along the ship's rail while at sea, or any other measures like high-voltage pulsating current, or whatever the design allows to afford active prevention of persons boarding the vessel.

Only then, would I sign on, onto a vessel!

It is EASY to fire a gun. Especially easy once you paint a picture of how you can be tortured when caught. Training for all this is easily available. Send a polite email to Somalia with a photo of the vessel. And then, "Bring 'em on!!"

I DON'T CARE, at this point, FOR THE CARGO, THE SHIP, THE CHARTERERS, THE SHIPOWNER, THE BANK, THE FLAG STATE, CLASS, LLOYDS, UNDERWRITERS, whatever. Any skiff coming within 50 yards of me and not declaring their intention, will be warned, my Owners/Charterers/Underwriters/Class etc. will be "informed", and threat will be awaited. I will be the first to fire - after reasons have been obtained and logged, and it has been determined (I determine, not the authorities sitting behind in front of a computer-screen!!) that firing was in the best interest of the Ship's crew and the vessel/cargo.

I'll die fighting, if need be. Not getting tortured. 

And remember those BIG payments to my wife ...

(It may all, then, be worth it!!)

Authorities don't have a consensus on the issue of piracy. The Bank, Shipowner and Charterers have their individual interests. Then there is somebody waiting for that crap that was made in China and is in that container, and somebody is waiting for his car to be offloaded so that he can drive it from the dealer and park it in his driveway. 

"Honey, I don't care for which car we drive or how much Chinese crap we have in our home! All I care for is seeing that you will be paid well enough in case I am not to come back, and that you'll be able to bring up our kids the way we had imagined. I know you'll need more than emails and phone-calls of condolences when I am gone. Flowers are not going to be enough to feed the family!!"

Aaah! Felt nice to write all the above!

For those who may worry about how I put bread on my table, rest assured, it has not been coming from Sea, since a long while now! Yeah! With an attitude like above, who'd offer me a contract, right?!!! However, I do have strong sentiments to the fraternity and really wish to see a sea-change in the Industry.

The community, as a whole, needs to do something together.

Really thinking, does it cost much to put 7 automatic guns on the vessel, and linking them to remotely aim and fire from the Bridge? At the going rate of approx. 3 Million dollars of ransom, plus the off-hire times, this retrofit, I can do for the Shipowner - for under 3 Million. Shipowners, are only playing the lotto by going in that area and hoping that their vessel will not get caught. Freight rates for that area have already been up by almost a couple of dollars per tonne. That covers CARGO - dumb, useless Coal, Iron Ore, Crude, etc. Nobody is talking of the Master - the one who'd get tortured, or his Crew!

Have a nice day, folks. Thanks for reading it through!

Thank you, Prateek, you put it better than I have been able to do in decades. And now, bring them on DGS . . . as we head towards something that will make the IOA, CWG and DGCA scams look like so much spray on deck. . .

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