Over the last few weeks, and more over the last few days after publishing Deepak Divekar's article (said issue having now been escalated to offices of DGS and NA/Jahaz Bhavan, Mumbai) I have received more than a few emails and telephone calls from impacted seafarers. Some of these have simple solutions, which could be implemented by the DGS or Shipping Master with no effor, if they really cared about the goodwill of seafarers and their familes - as well as some amount of protection for themselves, especially in context with seafarers sailing through non-RPS or on non-Indian flag vessels.
Typically, these are the issues faced:-
# Seizing or holding back of documents like passport, CDC, STCW certificates and other originals by "agents", without issuing receipts, and then demanding money for the return. All the more problematic when the agent is unable provide a position on a ship, and the seafarer is losing opportunity while waiting, at his own cost. This often forces seafarers to accept lower paid positions which are also not useful from a career point of view.
I spoke to some of the better agencies and owners, and they simply do not do this - choosing to keep soft-copies instead, EXCEPT when originals are needed for visas, in which case the documented procedure is different. However, this practice is rampant with the majority of "ghatiyaa" agents, and that is what spoils the name of the community.
Suggestion:- Seizure or holding of documents is a criminal offence, but not much you as a seafarer can do unless you have a receipt. DGS and Shipping Master should immediately issue an order or circular that RPS agents and shipping companies must issue a receipt before taking any original documents, otherwise photocopies or soft copies should suffice.
# Ship that the seafarer landed up on is not the one he was selected for or told about. This may be regardless of articles or agreements signed. And once in a foreign port, in the middle of nowhere, nothing much the seafarer can do except suffer it out. This can happen in or off Indian ports too.
Again, the better agencies and owners provide vessel and company specific briefing, sometimes lasting as long as 2-4 working days, before sending a person out. Others, the ghatiyaa lot, often don't know much about things themselves. A seafarer has every right to know about the ship he is going on before he leaves home port.
Suggesion:- Seafarer must be provided with full particulars of the vessel he is being sent on, including basic minimum data on class, P&I, condition, age, and principal particulars - including all known details of owners and bankers. Once this is done, it is up to the seafarer. By rights, this data should be available online also, as soon as an owner or agent has the LOI or brief to provide Indian seafarers on the ship, then all details MUST be available on the agents website as well as on DG Shipping's website. No details, no Indian seafarer, atleast not through DGS or RPS Agent.
# Salaries are not paid in time, accounts are not received, exchange rate clarity is not provided and worst of all - deductions as well as taxation are not suitably explained.
This is the most amazing part of things in this day and age, when communications are instantaneous, and salaries should be in seafarer nominated accounts by or on the last date of the month.
Suggestion:- DGS / Shipping Master should take an 'action taken' report on a regular monthly reporting basis, submitted to the DGS not later than 7th of the next month, that ALL pending dues have been actually cleared in all cases - and exceptions, if any, with reasons, are to be listed vessel and person-wise.
# There was one salary indicated in the India office. There was another salary indicated in the contract signed. There was yet another salary in the articles. And then there was yet another different salary paid onboard. In addition, the joining date was w.e.f. the date the person joined the ship, rather than from the day he was confirmed for departure or actually departed.
The better companies who want to attract and retain better people tend to address this issue in a more reasonable way. But here again, it is the "ghatiyaa" agencies which spoil the industry's name.
Suggestion:- It should be made clear to the seafarer HOW MANY different agreements he shall have to be party to at the beginning itself, and he needs to be able to decide for himself if he wants to join or not. In advance.
# Vessel is sailing to or through piracy areas, and owner / operator is not relieving the seafarer.
Suggestion:- Your life and family's peace of mind is worth more than all the money you can earn. Pick up the phone, VHF, whatever, and call the Port Control, if your company is not getting you off the ship, and there is no help forthcoming from DGS / MMD / Shipping Master.
More follows. There is suddenly a spate of articles required on FOC vessels after the grounding of the MSC chartered RENA off New Zealand (Astrolabe reef).