It is now about time that a simple demand be made by seafarers working on Indian flag ships - that a contingent of Indian Navy personnel be carried onboard all our ships operating in blue waters between Aden, Singapore and the Southern Indian Ocean. Attacks within Indian Economic Zone as well as not too far from the oil exploration areas are now becoming commonplace, and before tragedy strikes or they become another accepted danger of being at sea, a strong, message needs to be sent across clearly that any Indian merchant ship is going to not just be safe in Indian waters but also respond vigorously internationally.
It has also to be stated and is an open secret that more than a few foreign shipping companies are openly carrying armed personnel on board, and the crew as well as officers onboard are certainly benefitting from this, lifeboat capacity and other minor issues be damned. It is easy for those sitting in their little ivory towers in Mumbai and Delhi to pontificate on rights of innocent passage - what do they know, many of them have armed guards to protect their petty little backsides the moment they step out of their offices.
So what are seafarers supposed to do, then, about this reality? Especially for those sailing under the Indian flag . . .
1) Insist with your shipowners that they provide armed guards onboard in case the vessel is trading Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. The current defined danger area is bounded by the Indian coast, Arab coast and African coast as well as 15 degrees South and about 78 degrees East already, as per a NATO report. Look on a map, and see how far this gets us?
2) Insist on vastly increased levels of personal insurance and danger pay. There has to be at least 15-20 years worth of salary, protected by inflation, as insurance. In addition, triple pay, at least. This is the least that people who are putting their lives on the line need, and close to keeping in line with much lesser than what those in the Armed Forces get.
3) Make this point very clear during the revalidation classes, as well as every possible interaction with the company ashore, preferably in writing. Take the trouble to get in touch with the Union, MUI or NUSI, both have been very pro-active of late, and there is every reason to cooperate with them - especially Mr. Abdul Gani Sarang, whose doors are always open, as personal experience shows.
4) Reach out to the media, print and television, and let them know what you feel. Get on to the internet, blogs and all, including photos. Write to your elected representative, Ministry, and others. File pre-emptive RTIs. The pen is your strongest weapon, and the keyboard a force multiplier.
At the end of the day, WE shall have to make our voice heard, and dignity as well as safety restored. The pirates, such as they are, don't dare venture near Israeli flag ships, as well as ships of some companies they know are carrying armed personnel on board - about time they ran and turned tail when they see the Indian red ensign too.