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Friday, 22 July 2011

what's quality of life like in your experience, onboard?

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.

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