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Saturday, 14 May 2011

SITREP: 06may'11 - Indian Government not to negotiate with Somali pirates . . .

Let us try and analyse this dispassionately, though this is difficult after hearing the first hand accounts as well as conveyed accounts of torture and worse onboard RAK AFRIKANA and ASPHALT VENTURE, especially aimed at Indian seafarers. So, some dispassionate observations:-

1)The main negotiator on the ground in Somalia, apparently handling over a dozen ships, is the by now famous "Ali". It has been reported variously that he is of Philipino origin, and travels frequently all over, including on flights that must by geographical fact over-fly India. One way of getting hold of this person. Ofcourse, the banks that are known to support him, as well as the insurance companies, are all also located in India - and it would take just one phone call from the Ministry of Finance or the Reserve Bank of India to have them report to the authorities in Delhi.

(Interesting side observation here - for decades now, DG Shipping has been directly party to supporting the business of shipowners and their cohorts operating through tax havens, by permitting care of type of addresses especially for FOC  ships on which Indian seafarers are sent through DG Shipping channels, using the RPS companies. This, in an observation made to me by a friend in the Finance part of things, is almost like one Government department encouraging tax evasion, and then coming back to the same Government for help when things obviously go wrong. So, investigation possible - who brought about this change, of permitting "care of" kind of untraceable addresses at DG Shipping??)

2) The Government has its stated position, of not negotiating with kidnappers, hijackers, terrorists - but this has been relaxed in the past and is likely to be relaxed in the future too. This will depend a lot on a variety of factors, not least of all the public and media support, which is currently in short supply but slowly building up. The agencies, owners and Government are on the other hand trying to stress to the families that they should not go to the media, with veiled insinuations of various sorts.

(The tactic of telling the seafarers, don't go to the media, is very one-sided and selfish. What the pirates have to do to their victims, they will do, and nothing will change things. The truth, however, has a bad habit of coming out slowly but steadily. And the truth is - psychological trauma from the moment the skiff comes into sight, explosives, AK47s, RPGs, magnetic mines on shipsides, mini-submarines with torpedoes, burning, beating, flaying of skin, cutting off of balls, locking into freezers, keel-hauling, drowning, leaving naked on steel decks, hung upside down, starvation . . .and worse)

3) There is absolutely no post-release de-brief, support, analysis or even database. The approach is the same as after any, say, railway accident - disperse the people, cover up, and if too severe, make a committee for an enquiry report which is of no use. Take a look at the MSC CHITRA / KHALIJA III report, for example.

(The reason for this is simple - any post episode enquiry will force accountability - who was responsible for sending Indian seafarers through official DG Shipping channels, on to these obviously unsafe and unseaworthy ships, not equipped to fight the pirates? It will also bring out the truths on how salaries were not paid, compensation not provided, families not permitted to enter DG Shipping offices, the works.)

4) The owners / agents are safe and secure with their 10000/- rupees per head limitation of liabilities. Salaries are paid if the P&I cover or K&R cover provides for it, which is not the case in more than half the ships currently under hijack, and this includes some that were sent through DG Shipping via RPS companies/agencies. The families, therefore, know this - and keep quiet because each month's allotment amount is like so much for them.

(I have over-heard the absolutely crude and impolite way in which certain agencies and companies speak when the families call up. Maybe it is the fault of the person who picks up the phone, but is it too much to expect that the direct numbers of a senior Designated Person for Families of distressed seafarers be provided, which does not have to go through Board lines and durbans and secretaries and chowkidars and people who have no idea or concern about what is going on?)

5) DG Shipping, the truth is that more than a few families have told me how they have not been able to go past the reception desk, in Jahaz Bhavan Mumbai. Many of us can well believe this. It is easier to meet Ministers and Politicians in Delhi, and surprisingly, they had to reach the office of the Minister of Shipping in Delhi before the DG Shipping condescended to meet them - in Delhi.

(Direct appeal to Mr. S.B Agnihotri - you appear to be fresh here in DG Shipping as DG Shipping - will you wait till Crime Branch of some Police does to DG Shipping what Delhi Police Crime Branch are doing to DGCA? It is lucky that DGS is in Mumbai and there is no office in Delhi - but fact remains, please clean things up.)

6) The larger issue, of impacting India's economy, is still wide open. And the even larger issue of how working closely with FOC ships registered in tax havens worldwide has worked against the interests of Indian flag shipping as well as Indian seafarers, is a scandal and a shame that must be exposed.

More soon.

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