Saturday, 23 July 2011
To give you an idea, for an incident involving fire on board a ship from one of the "leading" management companies, which also resulted in loss of life as well as total constructive loss of the ship. One asked for a copy of the enquiry reports and other documents - said enquiry continuing for a few years after the incident and pertaining to a lot that could be learnt for future generations of seafarers.
But what do you know? The answer I got to an RTI application filed almost 4 months ago, after due follow-up and First Appeal, has this to say:- "Being an issue over 11 years old, relating to the year 2000, the concerned files on this issue have to be traced from the official records of this organisation. Efforts are underway to do so, still. However, they have not been located, as yet, despite earnest efforts made towards that end by this office."
What does one say to this reality? Sure, the Joint DGS assures me of his best efforts to locate and retrieve, but is that what we have dropped down to at this office?
Some of us may recall the big scandal with the Seaman's Provident Fund, which had vanished as part of the even bigger Home Trade scam, some slight details of which are here:-
This was, in value terms, amongst the top 10 scams - considering that the Bofors scam was about all of about 25-40 crores. Ofcourse, scam levels have gone up now, and just one small builder EPFO scam in Delhi (kashyaps) has a figure of about 170 crores to it.
As far as Indian seafarers working on Indian or foreign flag ships are concerned, the matter is now moving up rapidly, and exemption granted to shipping companies and shipmanagement companies as a special case under the Seaman's Provident Fund Act and Amendment is being looked into. In any case, it is not possible that a "special" act for Indian seafarers should provide lesser provident fund for Indian seafarers!!
More on that later, there are many angles to it, including the definition of the word "employer", but here's an article I wrote on EPFO issues which might be of interest. As Indian seafarers, you may wish to ask your employer, too, about this.
The bigger issue here is this - for many Indian seafarers working on Indian or even foreign flag ships on contractual basis, the issue of service tax to be levied by the contractor (seafarer) on the shipping company / shipmanager, is being looked at. So, in other words, if you are working on "contract" wages, then be aware that you may be liable to charge service tax. Please do check with your tax consultant here, too.
And the question to our friends at DGS, soon in the form of an RTI, will be this:- how is the Seaman's Provident Fund giving lower returns than the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO)? The whole concept of an "exempted" category under the various Acts and Rules underlines the simple fact that a "special" provident fund will provide better returns than the "normal' EPFO.
Big question, that. If you look at the answer carefully, then Indian seafarers, whether on Indian flag or foreign flag, are served far better by being covered under the EPFO - just like any other "international worker". More on that soon, too . . .
Friday, 22 July 2011
Recent developments in mercantile maritime matters worldwide, certainly when in the so-called developed countries and possibly also elsewhere, wherever IMO's writ allegedly runs, tend to also bring out two aspects, neglected or simply getting worse without contest, for far too long:-
1) The quality of life onboard, including accomodation, food, recreational facilities, communication/internet and safe manning. Add to that the kind of care given by the owners for small things like cabin linen/towels, and you get the idea.
2) The real truth behind the ownership and operation of the ship including beneficiary ownerships as well as other details often kept hidden from complement and port state authorities. This is having impacts on seafarers way beyond simple criminalisation.
In other words, it is even more important now than ever before, to be aware of as much as possible before signing up to go onboard a ship. Even if you have been with the company for a long time. Things are changing very rapidly in the real world, and working for the shipping fleets, especially those registered in offshore tax havens, is not as simple as it used to be - matter of fact it is, to give an example, as dangerous as taking a lift on a dark night in an unregistered can going through certain parts of India.
This writer has come across more than a few cases lately, where seafarers suffered because they didn't take basic precautions in advance, and here are some which stand out:-
# Reach on board and discover that cabin accomodation on what was obviously a very shoddily built ship meant that even the top-4 officers shared a toilet. Which may not sound like a terribly bad deal, but what makes it worse is if the single toilet itself keeps packing up all the time, and simply can not get fixed.
# The messing onboard was on some 500/- rupees or equivalent per day pattern, which worked fine as long as the supplies were taken from the more reasonable parts of the world. However, stranded alongside in a port where there was a civil war ashore meant the sum of money did not really manage to do the needful, and for some time the Master went out of pocket till he signed off.
# The actual hidden beneficiary ownership of a particular ship was traced back to a person whose nationality and pending issues were not acceptable in a port the ship called. After some time the ship was released and sailed on, but the Master was held back, in jail, for about 7 months before he was able to buy his own wy out by himself.
# There are, ofcourse, increasingly more frequent cases of owners abandoning vessel and complement on board, not just due to piracy but also for a variety of other reasons. This happens through registered and unregistered agents, and you can not expect too much help from the authorities in such cases.
It is, therefore, increasingly apparent that you as Indian seafarers will have to look after your own interests. Make your own checklist before you sign on the dotted line, or stick with the well reputed companies, which have adherences and policies way better than what the authorities require of them. They may not pay as much, or may be more stringent on documentation and qualifications, but in the forthcoming turbulence in the shipping world and world overall - certainly worth it.
The Supreme Court of India took another step to prod the increasingly sleepy Indian administration towards doing their duty. The Honourable Courts have been at the forefront of what is called "judicial activism" for some time now, and matters have finally reached the doors of our babu log at Jahaz Bhavan, DG Shipping.
In a far-reaching decision, the Supreme Court permitted the family members of the missing tug JUPITER VI, to withdraw and take an interim compensation without prejudice to their rights of more compensation. As had been reported previously, this had been challenged by the owner's agents, with support from the DG Shipping.
The JUPITER VI was (or still is) an anchor handling tug which had a ship named the SATSUNG in tow for scrapping from WALVIS BAY towards India when she vanished in the middle of the Indian Ocean in September 2005 with with 10 Indians and 3 Ukrainians onboard Like in the case of the REZZAK with 25 Indians onboard, the agent for the crew in both cases was the Mumbai based PELICAN, at that stage. At a later stage, James MaCintosh as representatives for the owners came on the scene,
Briefly, this is what is known about the JUPITER VI/JUPIER 6:- (kind courtesy http://users.skynet.be/p.woinin/sjup6.htm)