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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Life on an Indian Flag Coastal ship - Part 1

I am just back from 6 harrowing days as Chief Officer on an Indian flag coastal ship. Maybe it was not representative of all other coastal ships, maybe it was at the bottom of the barrel, some dredgers would probably attract the dregs of society, though modern dredgers can be highly technical and elsewhere tend to attract the best of the breed, but whatever - it was a fully certified, inspected, audited, licenced, registered ship, apparently adhering to all the assorted laws and rules and regulations. Not too small either, about 10000 DWT fully loaded, 10 knots, twin screw, lifeboat capacity of 35 and just about 5 years old.

From what I heard onboard from a variety of people (the Chief Engineer, who had joined a few days before me, also quit - and he was the only person who had sailed mainline vessels, foreign and Indian flag, in the past) who have been in nothing but coastal shipping all their lives, including the Master and Additional Master and down to the cadets and crew - as well as from the "Personnel Manager" (more like haftaa looter) at the "RPS DGS approved Management Company", this is how it is, like it or lump it, and "hum nahee sudherenge".

It starts with the experience with the "DGS approved RPS agency" which does the manning, personnel and technical management on behalf of the owner. If it wasn't so pathetic, and if it wasn't seafarers at the wrong end of the stick, it would be a joke. As it is, the has-beens in charge, usually derelicts from other shipping companies who wouldn't get a job as a telex operator for fear that they would steal the keyboard, are out to squeeze the seafarers at every step for every paisa that they can.

You start with meeting, usually, a trumped up "receptionist" who is in charge of what is probably the filthiest corner of the office, and more often than not she will be digging her nose while talking on the phone and licking the number-pad. In between she will glance at you and throw a badly designed application information form at you, which will also list out a demand for a dozen or more photo-copies of everything including deep personal information and a dozen photographs.

The next discussion is then with a personnel officer whose perspiration smells of cheap booze and whose breath smells of dental decay. If you are lucky you will survive. This is the person who is sizing you up to see how much he can make out of you by way of haftaa from all points for getting you a job - even if the demand is for your rank and qualifications, he will make you feel as though you are not required. The shipping company probably needs you yesterday, but it is this person's role to make you feel totally insecure and unwanted - and then demand a cut.

In my case, I met two champions - one a senior personnel manager who was short, fat, pudgy and very sweaty. His printer was never working, his email was always slow, his phone was always ringing for what seemed like calls from suppliers asking for payments and his notes on your application form were taken down in pencil. Nothing this man said could ever be believed - whether about the real situation on the ship, the other people on the ship and most of all in context with the money you were going to be paid.

The other dude was your typical ex-Scindia's journeyman from the office, the sort who helped a certain breed of seafarers bring down that excellent company, by selling dunnage and more. He was, too, unhappy with his life. He also did not look in the mirror too often - because he did not like what he saw. By 4pm or so he was getting the shakes anyways, DT would be too kind a word.

Between them, they would negotiate your wages downwards, provide you with duplicate appointment letters, put you up in fleabags posing as hotels to prepare you for worse onboard - and then argue about providing you food and taxi allowance. All the way it was lying, bullshitting, and assuming that the other person across the table, the guy going on the ship, was an adversary.

This, then, was my introduction to Indian flag coastal shipping. I should have taken due heed at that juncture itself and walked away. Instead, I accepted the offer, and caught a flight.


I hate to say "in the old days", but here it is:- we received better treatment as raw cadets, 5th engineers, fitters or whatever - we met the senior managers, people who knew amillion times more about handling people than the present bunch of monkeys. That, in turn, gave something that the company wanted - loyalty.

Today, Masters and Chief Engineers, never mind the rest, have to kow-tow in front of every little pen pusher. And be degraded at every step.

The owners don't seem to know, and worse, the bankers whose money it is out there in the oceans, don't seem to have the tools to find out what is really happening to their fast depreciating close to NPA.


(To be continued)

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