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Friday, 29 April 2011

Indian seafarers, Somali piracy - and what do we want the Government to do?

Distress call: Use multiple channels to free seafarers hostage to pirates

What can be done to help the seafarers, especially Indian seafarers?

The Indian Navy is doing a great job to provide protection for Indian vessels sailing in hostile waters. But there is much that other agencies, like intelligence agencies and shipping authorities must do deal with the scourge of piracy that is brutalising Indian seamen

Read on:-

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Indian Ocean - Conflict Zone?

Another article which makes a lot of sense on what is going on is this one:-

"In the contextual reference of Indian Ocean emerging as the world's next big
theatre of conflict, the increasing Chinese military presence and activities in
Pakistan acquires a compelling and new threat perception . . ."

"The author of the book argues that the Indian Ocean region will be the
principal theatre of conflict among the United States, China, and India."

So, what do you do if you go to jail?

Relevant for some of us who may end up in jail or know somebody headed there . . .

Very relevant for seafarers. Please take time out to read. excerpt:-

"Now, while inside—it is the first couple of days that are relatively tough. I use the term "relatively" because friends who have been inside tell me that even this is nothing compared to the ragging some of us endured as juniors on a Training Ship, or in engineering/medical colleges, or certain establishments training people to wear certain uniforms. Or in many of the hostels that dot our educational system."

Friday, 22 April 2011

Letter to the "N" Hindu on piracy . . .

Your article on the ASPHALT VENTURE episode refers.
Please read this explanation of Somali Tribal Law:-
It is obvious that for now the Somalis hold the whip. However, the issue is much bigger, and impacts India's economy even more. The DG Shipping and other boides are almost clueless about things, and rules framed by them assist the guilty to go scot free, while seafarers suffer.
Veeresh Malik

Piracy & the economic war on our coast . . .

In addition to writing for MONEYLIFE, as an ex-seafarer and writer, I also write for a niche shipping magazine and run this blog on matters maritime. There is a decent but loyal fan following from amongst seafarers and their family members, and till now I have resisted the temptation of cross posting, but matters pertaining to the condition of Indian seafarers and how it impacts India's economy have reached a point where things can best be described as an undeclared war on our coastline and seafarers. Frontline seafarers. representing quietly the cutting edge of India's exports and imports, are being slaughtered like sitting ducks at a country fair shooting ground. Now subject to pirates rampaging through what has always been called the Silent Service, the Merchant Navy, which as a simple matter of fact was the one uniformed service that had the highest casualties during World War II.
But this is a different sort of war, more economic, than military. The colateral and dispensable Giffen goods in this case are seafarers. Piracy has overtaken suddenly by leaps and bounds the twin large issues of fatigue and criminalisation of seafarers which have impacted seafarers the most over the last few years. Fatigue has been a problem due to cost-cutting and reduction of manpower on board, and criminalisation relates more towards Port State authorities holding seafarers as legalised hostages for a variety of issues. But rampant piracy of the Gulf of Aden/Horn of Africa sort, and the subsequent torture as well as murder, is reaching unprecedented levels - and especially for seafarers of Indian origin, because of the perceived activities of the Indian Navy in justifiably trying to control matters.
India's economic growth has not been without an increased presence at sea of Indians. Singling out Indian seafarers for torture and worse is, therefore, also having a direct impact on the competitiveness of trade to and from India. Episodes reported include hog tying people and then looping an electric cable on to their genitals such that it tightens every time the prisoner tries to shift and then placing them on burning hot steel decks without any clothes on. Another method is to take a person and lock him inside the fish room at temperatures below 20 degrees Centigrade naked or with ice in his underwear strung up to the meathooks. At least one case of keel-hauling a person below the hull of a ship has been reported. The recent case of the ASPHALT VENTURE, where half the Indian seafarers were taken off the ship and placed as prisoners ashore, is well covered. Ofcourse, the ship and cargo are held hostage all the time, while negotiations for ransom continue.
By the end of it, the seafarers are often too traumatised to want to go back to sea again, and the shipowner has lost all market worth and credibility - often going bust in the bargain. To be fair, as many foreign shipowners have been impacted as are proportionate to their presence at sea, but of late it is the Indians who are being singled out for special bad treatment.
Barring declared World Wars and historical conflicts going back to the gunboat days, Merchant Ships and those onboard worldwide are governed by the UNCLOS or United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as far as free and innocent passage through defined territorial or international waters are concerned, amongst other things. Except in situations of war, when declared. Ofcourse, the Convention is far too complicated to be brought out in a short article, but to cut straight to the meat - The Gulf of Aden was declared a War Risk Area as far back as mid-2008. and over the last three years, this War Risk Area has spread to include all of the Arabian Sea and parts of the Persian Gulf as well as much of the Indian Ocean.
Look at a map of India, and you will see how we are now surrounded by a total "War Risk Area", and reports of torture as well as killing of Indian seafarers now coming in make no bones about the simple fact that for the other sides, truly a war is on - it has just not been declared, and it is fairly seriously suspected but not with proof yet on who is financing the war against India. Though it is very clear that the after-effects will have a major damaging and negative impact on India's economy.
Here are some simple numbers, which will help quantify issues:-
# War risk extra insurance for hull and machinery (the ship itself, not including personnel and cargo) was about 500/oo dollars per transit in the Indian Ocean till around 2008, went up to 150000/oo dollars in 2010, and is rising even higher in 2011. This is for a typical Panamax sized bulk carrier transporting about 70-80 thousand tonnes of coal. More for bigger oil tankers and container ships.
# Exact numbers on Kidnap & Ransom insurance for crew members are never declared, but are estimated to have gone up by 30 times between 2008 and 2010, for ships in and around the War Risk Zones. Cover for cargo and property as well as medical and trauma coverage for crew and families has now been added, raising the costs even more.
# Cargo insurance numbers are also not well known, since they are usually covered separately by the charterers and cargo interests, but in the case of typical 20' containers, have gone up from 25/oo dollars to between 200/oo and 350/oo dollars, depending on a variety of factors. It is estimated that cargo insurance rates for bulk cargoes have also gone up 25-30 times in the last three years.
# Damage hull insurance, which typcally covers damage due to a variety of reasons,  including harm from heavy seas, collision, sinking, capsizing, grounding, fire or piracy. It is estimated that piracy has doubled the cost of hull insurance on a global annualised basis.
# Much of the business which was done on easy credit terms achieved variously with India being the beneficiary of good credit ratings have moved into cash up front (FOB loadport) for imports into India and payable when cargo reaches destination (CIF discharge port) for exports from India. There are major cash-flow issues here which basic traders and businessmen will understand.
In addition, ofcourse, seafarers are simply refusing to sail in these waters on unarmed and unprotected ships, no longer is it a question of just additional money. Where Indians can not be found, the shipping companies employ people from other countries, and/or also place armed guards on board, which typically costs between 1 and 2 thousand dollars a day for a group of 4 commandos, all other costs at actuals. The legalities of armed guards on board is still a wide open issue.
The big beneficiaries here are, obviously, the insurance companies. Not only are their insurance premia going up, but some of them are getting into the business of organising "non-commercial" protection services at sea, often as part of the insurance package. The name of at least two specific international banks and two payment processing/remittance companies based out of the developed countries have been mentioned with some amount of credible association to the money trail, which is estimated to be around 9-10 billion dollars this year.
In addition, it is estimated that only about 50% of piracy cases are being reported, the rest choosing to stay quiet so that negotiations and reputations do not suffer.
The Indian coast as well as ports are at the epicentre of this violent attack on the shipping economies, and are projected to be the single largest sufferers, with further impact on India's economy as these additional costs will all be loaded on to the transportation costs. At the beginning, people used to think that piracy was due to local reasons, and reacted accordingly. Subsequently, the big names moved into the global piracy support business, and converted it into corporate entities. Now, in the next evolution, it seems that this has moved on to war between countries aiming to damage others economies.
And by India's geographical location, the choice of fall guy country appears to be obvious.
What are the solutions, then?
For one, the Indian Government needs to understand and accept that there is a war on, and the biggest loser will be India since the battlefield will be the oceans around India. This has to be understood, and then pro-active steps taken to ensure that Indian shipping interests and cargoes are not targeted - for far too long has India been following a lose-lose policy in the Indian Ocean. To start with, the island of Perim in the middle of the Bab-el-Manded, on which India had historical rights, needs to be controlled. Likewise, Indian warships need to be given the right to use islands in the Chagos Archipelago, just as the US utilises Diego Garcia, for use as a base to launch counter moves against the pirates.
Next, immediate steps to protect India's oil exploration industry, which sits very close to the scene of action. There are all sorts of reports floating around, including rumours of mini-submarines of unknown origin, which could also be an extension of the rapidly technologically evolving piracy business. Already, from small boats doing 10-12 knots, the pirates have moved ahead to high-speed skiffs doing 25 knots launched from secure mother ships. And our dependance on our oil exploration industry can not be risked.
Thirdly, the names of the banks and financial processing companies suspected to be in this business are well known, and they happen to be present in India on legitimate business too. Nothing strange about this, bankers have financed wars in the past too, often for both sides - Rothschilds being just one name which has come up again and again, and continues to do so. The Indian Government and its new found financial muscle must get the message across that this sort of economic warfare will not do. Reports on senior persons from these banks and payment companies visiting India in the recent past to get a bigger share of the pie, for example in the railways or the insurance business, have been doing the rounds - and having not got an entry, this is their logical retaliation.
And finally, the Ministry of Shipping and its subordinate offices have to take pro-active steps in advance to protect Indian shipping interests. UNCLOS is fine, but we can not continue to be the pleasant self-effacing fools at sea, when everybody else has upped the stake. If we have to be more resilent, if our ships have to be armed and hardened, and if we have to take risks to establish our positions, then so be it - our seafarers are willing to go out to fight for flag and country, but not with their arms tied behind them.
There is a war on off our coasts, we are already surrounded by a "War Risk Zone", and we need to do something about it now. Moaning and groaning about seafarers held in captivity is not going to solve issues - no seafarer was forced to go on a ship and take these risks. It is just that some of us need to raise our voices so that the larger problems are recognised, identified - and then solved. And if for that we have to arm our Merchant Marine as a first step - then so be it.
The sooner the better. Otherwise, with every day, the numbers are mounting up against us. Arm our boys NOW, and give them a chance to do their duty to flag and country, that's what it has always been about. The war moved out of pure military engagements to economic warfare - well, the response has to be along those lines, too.
veeresh malik

Letter to the Editor at Mint on maritime piracy

Good evening,
As an ex-seafarer as well as keen observor of the whole maritime piracy scene impacting the world in general and Indians in particular, the answer to your question is simple : YES.

However, before that can be done, certain in-house correctives need to be applied.
1) Recruitment of Indian seafarers for foreign flag ships is done through RPS companies registered with the DG Shipping/Mumbai, vide rules made in 2005 which are largely defective in as much as they encourage multiple malpractices, as well as have no control on the legalities of ships on which Indians end up working. These rules, for example, do not clearly define employee or employer. Nor do they define the responsibility of the flag State of the vessel on which the Indian seafarer is going to work. The bank guarantee per seafarer for these RPS companies is - hold your breath - 10000/oo rupees per head.
Read about this here:-
If we don't fix our own rules for our own people going to work on foreign flag ships, then what is the use of shedding crocodile tears subsequently?
2) There are specifically two large banks and two large payment processing/remittance companies linked to insurance companies which are known to be involved in this business. This is an open secret in shipping circles. All of them have business interests in India. The time for playing soft is gone - these companies need to be approached and told in no uncertain terms that the sort of games they played in the rest of the world, including during the World Wars for one of them, can not be played anymore. You do not have to see Charlie Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR to understand this, or work out the economics of how it is the co-linked insurance companies that are rolling in with the profits.
3) Most importantly, India's Government has to stop being apologetic about taking steps to protect its maritime trade and economy, and start hardening ships to prevent boarding as well as placing armed guards drawn from the Indian Navy and Indian Coastguard onboard Indian flag ships. Likewise, for Indians going to work on foreign flag ships under RPS of DG Shipping, it should be mandatory to have armed guards as a pre-condition for permitting Indians to work on board. As on date, the DG Shipping is still stuck with the now ancient BMP3 method, which means nothing in real terms.
Maritime piracy has to be eliminated, it is much bigger than a few seafarers being stuck off the Horn of Africa - it is the trade and economy of the country. The sooner india takes decisisve pro-active steps, the better.
regards/Veeresh Malik



Wednesday, 20 April 2011

ICEBERG 1 - a recap and a view from India

Of all the piracy cases off Somalia currently unresolved and going from bad to worse, none makes for sadder reading than the one involving the ICEBERG 1. Here is a file photograph of the ship along with the original first report on its hijacking in March 2010:-

But if you want to go into it chronologically, then the following questions need to be addressed and answered . . .

# What were the Indian Government documents that the Indian nationals onboard were sailing on, CDC, CoC? And if so, what were the departure Indian airport/seaport formalities like, are there any records with DGS?

# Who was the agent in India, were they linked to the "training" establishments, or what?

# What is the relationship between the owners and the cargo interests?

# Most of all, what happens to de-briefing of returned seafarers in the RAK AFRIKANA case, and is it in any way linked to the ICEBERG-1?

Questions, questions - and the bankers in question suspected of being the real backers - they appear to be the same.

Monday, 18 April 2011

RPS guidelines on employers of seafarers - DGS rules - essential reading

For anybody in the business of commenting on Somali pirates, please do a 360 and read these rules as applicable to employment of seafarers, and try to work out who else are the pirates as far as seafarers are concerned.

It is easy to blame piracy, but let us look within, also?

Defined - employer, bank guarantee amounts, and much more which the average seafarer just does not know about, to start with . . . consider this - from the day the aspirant seafarer answers her or his first advertisement on the subject of wanting to go to sea, how many pirates do they meet who take them for a ride?

Trying to understand Somalian Law

To a large extent, it appears as though we can relate more to Somalian Law, than if we expect the Western World to do so. Here's a brilliant article on the subject:-

""Somali society, that is the clan-based system, relies on a combination of Islamic shari’a law and customary law, known as xeer. Xeer law is not the same as shari’a law, it is an oral system which has not been formally codified and is controlled by male clan elders, known as the xeer begti or isimadda. Xeer law is pre-Islamic in origin, and is not a version of shari’a law. According to Andre Le Sage the general principles of xeer law include:
1        collective payment of diya (or blood money, usually paid with camels and other livestock) for death, physical harm, theft, rape and defamation.
2        maintenance of inter-clan harmony.
3        family obligations.
4        resource-utilisation rules."


Read more on the idarat website . . .

ASPHALT VENTURE - more analysis

Media reports on the ASPHALT VENTURE episode now suggest that the ship with Master and 6-7 crew onboard has anchored off the Somalian Coast, as the Master has apparently refused to sail out without the rest of his crew, who were held back for the major issue of being Indians held in exchange for Somalian captured pirates being held in Mumbai.

If this is the case, then that is certainly one intelligent Master onboard, who needs to be commended and supported across all lines for the following reasons:-

# He has acquired an understanding of the Somali tribal ethos and culture, which means a lot, since it is the rule of law there.

# He would not get far in the open seas on a ship non-functional for 6 months, with only some crew members and no engineers.

# Once the ship and cargo get back into the rest of the world, it is likely that the concerned parties will forget the Indians stranded ashore, and that's a simple truth too.

# Most importantly, the Master's conscience will probably never forgive him, and there are the legal aspects of leaving those who are under you behind too.


We hope to see some pro-active measures being taken by the authorities here in India on this. While hostage exchange may or may not occur, and seafarers on other ships are in some cases in even worse conditions as per reports filtering back, fact remains, that some simple steps need to be taken, looking forward:-

1) All Indian flag ships plying in the region need to have armed guards on board, legitimately, without making any sublime noises about it. Enough is enough. All Indian flag ships to be properly worked on by way of "Vessel hardening" . . . stronger bullet-proofing of all glass areas, proper citadel design and implementation, electrified barbed wire along the whole ship, technically sound stern and side whips, automatic remote controlled high pressure hoses, investing in stern facing radars, night scope glasses,and investing in superior intelligence (as different from information). Obviously, insurance is a major factor - even workers going to Afganistan get multiple covers including 50 lakhs and more in case of death - what do seafarers get?

2) All Indian seafarers working on foreign flag ships sent by DGS approved recruitment/manpower management companies in India to have full insurance cover as well as minimum standards of safety on board, way ahead of BMP3. There appears to be a silent practice by associations of blackballing and blacklisting seafarers who refuse to head out into piracy zones, with complicit assistance of authorities, both of which shall not be named but you know who you are . . . and this has to stop. Seafarers can not be blackmailed into seeing their watch-keeping certificates or discharge records being spoilt for demanding to be relieved from ships going into piracy zones - and a proper feedback system needs to be set up very rapidly at DGS/MMD for this.

3) There are other steps to be implemented too, if we do not wish to see India's economy suffer by what is turning out into an economic attack on our country's commercial strengths. More on this soon.

But for now, salute the Master of the ASPHALT VENTURE.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Post facto analysis and fixing of responsibilities for ships hijacked

The report on the collision of the MSC CHITRA and KHALIJA III by DG Shipping of Mumbai can be found here:-

As usual, it meanders around the real causes by going into other usual expected "sack the Master" kind of approaches.

It would be interesting to see if DG Shipping does an analysis on itself as well as the manning / recruitment companies in its fold, who provided the manpower for these ships.

And while they are at is, an analysis on the real position vis-a-vis post facto analysis of what the DG Shipping registered companies actually did about things on board ships which were hijacked, where they had sent people?

The typical manning agent who is DG Shipping registered will evade all responsibility, passing the buck to some unknown "owner", but does DG Shipping also have to toe the same line, and if so - why??

Or are they waiting for a DGCA type exposure on the murky going ons within??

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Asphalt Venture - bad news

Terrible, keeping the Indian seafarers back.

Here's the report from EcoTerra on the episode:-

Emirati-owned MSV ASPHALT VENTURE steams off with only half the crewWhat serious analysts predicted since long in the Somali piracy circus are cases where the amateur negotiators and deliverers, who are often friends of friends in the insurance industry, create more difficulties than they solve with ill-conceived ransom drops and not at all planned, insecure release operations.
After a drop of a compared to other recent releases much smaller amount of a ransom today to the pirate gang on the vessel, the sea-shifta left but took with them seven hostages of Indian nationality.
Immediately followed by the usual news-hounds from the often in these very sensitive situations too fast media, different versions concerning the why the Somalis hold the seven Indians were circulated:
"The ship has just sailed away but we have taken some of its Indian crew back because the Indian government is currently holding our men. We need the Indian government to free our men so that we can release their citizens." a wire service reported an alleged pirate calling himself Ahmed as saying. And another wire spread: "We decided to keep the Indian because India is holding our colleagues," the [alleged] pirate, Hassan Farah, said. "We released the other crew members who sailed away from our coast. We will keep these Indians until the Indians release our colleagues."
These news-clips were widely reprinted, though they might hold little substance. But as a matter of fact there are over 120 Somalis nabbed during Indian anti-piracy campaigns in Indian jails and the Somalis have been angry since many weeks and also mistreated especially Indian seamen on other hostage ships due to this situation.
However, we want in the moment therefore only report that - according to our own monitors - the seven seamen are alive and are held around 30km outside of Harardheere and that in our opinion still all options are possible. The traditional Xeer system of legal understanding, widely accepted by the traditional population of Somalia, allows for different solutions to achieve justice in their understanding - some options, however, can be drastic.
Immediately when the pirate gang made for the land, the captain of MV ASPHALT VENTURE started the engines and steamed together with his remaining seven Indian crew off the Central Somali coast near Ceel Gaan, leaving the other seven seafarers to their unsecure fate at the hands of the Somalis.
But meanwhile also the vessel run into trouble, though no more pirates are on board, because the ship reportedly encountered problems and could not proceed in her voyage. Fuel or mechanical problems could be the cause.
If ransom couriers get arrested and briefly jailed like recently in Djibouti, where they then first had to buy themselves free with a hefty handshake and part of their own loot in the exercise, such is just a story for the round-tables of the security and risk-management companies but if a release operation is so shoddily planned and executed like it is obvious in this case, the families are advised to also seek legal redress from those responsible for such blunder.
BACKGROUND: (ecoterra)
MT ASPHALT VENTURE : Seized September 28, 2010. The Panama-flagged asphalt tanker MT ASPHALT VENTURE (IMO 8875798) was captured on her way from Mombasa - where the vessel left at noon on 27. September, southbound to Durban, at 20h06 UTC = 23h06 local time in position 07 09 S 40 59 E. The vessel was sailing in ballast and a second alarm was received at 00h58 UTC = 03h58 LT. The ship with its 15 all Indian crew was then observed to have turned around and is at present commandeered northwards to Somalia. EU NAVFOR confirmed the case only in the late afternoon of 29. September. Information from the ground says a pirate group from Brawa had captured the vessel and at first it was reported that the vessel was heading towards Harardheere at the Central Somali Indian Ocean coast, while the tanker had first contact at the Somali coast near Hobyo and was then commandeered further north. The vessel is managed by ISM manager OMCI SHIPMANAGEMENT PVT LTD from Mumbai and owned by BITUMEN INVEST AS from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, who uses INTER GLOBAL SHIPPING LTD from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates as ship-handler. The Government of India and other authorities are informed. Concerning the condition of the crew so far no casualties or injuries are reported, but the vessel seems to have had an engine problem. Negotiations had commenced but have so far not been reaching anywhere. Vessel and crew were held off Kulub at the North-Eastern Indian Ocean coast of Somalia, then had been transferred southwards to Ceel Gaan in the Harardheere area at the Central Somali Indian Ocean coast with negotiations more stuck than smooth; and when the crew reportedly had no more food, clean water and diesel a hasty and ill-planned release against a ransom drop was enacted on 15. April 2011. While the vessel got away at least for some distance until it developed problems and couldn't continue, seven Indian crew were left behind on the beach, who continue to be held as hostages.

Update on the RAK AFRIKANA

Of interest to Indian seafarers, since the ship is owned by Indian interests, and training onboard involved the Indian Government:- the RAK AFRIKANA, which was finally abandoned after she allegedly started sinking and the pirates left her in mid-March 2011, is apparently still very much afloat and drifting - last reported position 04-35N and 048-04E.

Meanwhile, there is talk that the whole thing is rapidly evolving into what appears to be a massive insurance scam, since also nobody knows really what cargo was onboard. Ras al Khaimah's position as a security threat is rapidly becoming clearer in the world, also, and there is rumour that the whole episode was an understanding between various parties.

The only sufferers were the seafarers onboard - who are being told to stay very very quiet about everything. If they talk, their compensation may suffer, their future may suffer, their sea-time assessment may suffer - and this is the real truth out there.

Where is the IMO on this? Maybe, they are in a meeting.

Nett nett:- no way seafarers can avoid sailing in piracy areas. However, ships need to have proper protection, which means safe citadels capable of withstanding atleast 7 days attack, and whatever more is possible. As well as reliable agreements for risk being taken back home.

What really happened to the BELUGA NOMINATION in Somalia?

Every piracy and hijacking episode has its own human toll, which is seldom ever revealed, but the episode involving the BELUGA NOMINATION stands out for a variety of reasons. Of late, violence against seafarers seems to have grown from bad to worse, and those on board BELUGA NOMINATION's experienced some of the worst leading to multiple deaths and injuries.

BELUGA, a German company, has been in financial trouble for quite some time now. About 50 of its 140-odd vessels are currently impounded or in trouble worldwide for fiduciary reasons, and more are re-possesed or trade under other fundamentals Even the BELUGA NOMINATION, by the time it was released, had been renamed NOMINATION.

Seized on 22jan2011, she was on a voyage from Italy via Malta to South Korea via Seychelles, carrying cargo listed as "steel" but actually much else - including structurals, boats and yachts. This company is known to be in the business of delivering arms globally, also, and till today it has not been revealed what cargo she was actually carrying.

The crew were able to withstand the attack for 49 hours in the citadel, and even managed to steer and control the vessel while inside. However, despite the presence of naval forces nearby, no action was taken to remove the pirates - who finally broke into the citadel using blow-torches and gas-operated cutting tools.

Initially, the vessel was part of the convoy leaving the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and despite reports of pirates circling the convoy looking for stragglers, the vessel chose to break away from the convoy in full sight of the pirates, who then followed her. With a slow speed, loaded down to her marks with deck cargo visible, and a 2 metre freeboard as a heavy-lift carrier small general cargo ship, she was a sitting duck target - and other ships in the convoy wondered.

In the initial turmoil due to the citadel being breached, two seafarers managed to escape - the Ukranian 2nd Officer launched the lifeboat and a Filipino cook jumped into the water to get into the boat, and were rescued by the Danish warship HDMS ESBERN SNARE, which was suddenly on-scene.Two more seafarers who jumped into the water went missing, and a pirate was killed in the fighting that followed, after which yet another seafarer was killed in retribution.

It was after this that the naval ships nearby, Danish and Seychelles Coast Guard, also fired on the engine room to disable the ship. Why they did not do this before the citadel was breached is yet unknown, some attribute it to lack of information on the explosive nature of the cargo as well as communication with the Master of the ship, which as mentioned before was carrying some probably undeclared cargo in the holds.

After this, the pirates brough the Long Range Mother Ship, the previously pirated gas tanker YORK, and used her engine crew to work and repair the BELUGA NOMINATION, after which both sailed back to the Somali coast.

It was also reported that the Chief Engineer of the BELUGA NOMINATION died under terrible circumstances.

As this blog is written, the NOMINATION (as she is now called) is now released and in safe waters, the status of cargo onboard as well as seafarers is not reliably known, and interim since the owners, managers and operators have all changed, the only remaining thread is with the insurance company - Danish company SKULD.


The BELUGA NOMINATION episode, if and when the truth about the remaining 6 or 7 seafarers from the original 12 or 14 is revealed, brings out many important issues:-

# Management companies are still not able to do much, despite being the link, for seafarers. The seafarers onboard this ship were covered under an ITF agreement between Marlowe Navigation and Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, both of whom were not able to do much.

# The situation with number of ships currently seized and seafarers being held captive is grossly under-stated. According to one EU-NAVFOR report, the actual number of ships and seafarers is double that of official figures - there are many piracy incidents which are simply not revealed.

# The old method of citadels built around steering gears and after peak tanks will not work, and citadels will have to be built to withstand at least 7 days of effort, to permit naval ships to take action, especially if it involves coordination with multiple entities representing owners, charterers, flag state, cargo receivers, ITF, insurers and other interests.

# Seafarers own insurance terms and conditions for working in piracy areas need to be defined more clearly, in advance, and next of kin taken into confidence at all times.


There is much that is still unknown about what actually happened with the crew on the BELUGA NOMINATION. And this was one of the so-called "best of breed" European owners, with European officers and Philipino crew, all covered by a variety of agreements. And half of them now dead.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

What is inside your "soft drink"? (Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, Mirinda, Fanta, 7Up . . .

Much is made about how seafarers are provided with a healthy and nutritious diet onboard. Ofcourse, things are hopefully far improved from when I was at sea in the '70s and early '80s, when all we got was excessively over-fried food, lots of white bread, plenty of unknown kind of cooking mediums and absolutely no attention to health as long as the food was edible. But even now, one of the biggest issues is the easy availability on board of one of the biggest possible cause of ailments in the world - sweetened coloured carbonated waters. At cheap duty free rates.

The truth behind many of these "soft drinks" is that they contain, for example, aspartame as a sweetener and benzoids as colouring agents. BOTH of these ingredients, even in minute quantities, can and do cause a variety of ailments - hypertension, diabetes, cancer and similar, including over-weight. The "diet" versions are even worse.

Seafarers should stress with the management that there should be easier availability of organic green tea, non-sweetened and non-preservative fruit JUICES (specifically the word JUICE needs to be stressed again and again) and other healthy liquid options.

Go for it!!

Now, what exactly are those "natural flavouring substances"? And, see the smart way in which "Added Flavour" has been listed, brilliantly vague.

There is much more in Pepsi and Coke than meets the eye. Especially the versions made in countries where controls are lax.


Added on 17th of May 2011:-

After the usual run-around, I finally got a definitive answer on the status of aspartame in India, and it is shocking. There has been absolutely no risk analysis of any sort by any Government department on aspartame in India.

Vide her letter No. Dy. No. L-257/Dir (M) FSSAI/2011 dtd the 10th of May 2011, Ms. Sumita Mukherjee, the Director & CPIO of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is a statutory regulatory body under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, has stated emphatically and clearly that risk analysis on aspartame has not been carried out.
How, then, did the Ministry of Food processing as well as the other authorities, including Customs & Central Excise, even permit this product in India?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Families and friends of seafarers who are stuck due to piracy in Somalia or elsewhere.

Dear family members and friends of seafarers who are currently stuck onboard ships hijacked or pirated. Our hearts go out to you. And we understand your problems like only other seafarers can.

Kindly contact the undersigned at any time by email in case you need any help or information or simply wish to seek advice or propagate your case with other seafarer groups.

Thank you.

Veeresh Malik

Radio programme on Somali & Indonesian Pirates . . . BBC

Absolutely chilling. Please listen and pass this on to your seafarer friends. We have been quiet too long.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Piracy redux - April 2011

The Indian media has been generally shy and quiet about seaborne piracy issues lately, barring reportage every now and then on Indian Navy action, as well as reportage on the status of the captured pirates. Coverage on the reality onboard hijacked ships has been less than scanty, one reason being given is that it is being done to protect the lives of those still in captivity, as well as to prevent further hindrance to negotiations.

Likewise, governance in shipping in India, which means the DG Shipping and allied offices, have also adopted a policy of staying below the radar as far as piracy is concerned. Quiet back-door negotiations and discretion are the buzzwords of the day, it would seem, with everybody being advised to stay away from the media.

All this would be well said and done if issues were reaching some form of closure as well as sustainable resolution. However, reality is that things are going from bad to worse, and across a variety of parameters. Pirates are reaching out further and deeper into the Indian Ocean as well as striking closer to the coasts of countries not just in Africa but also in and around India. The SUSAN K, for example, was hijacked just 35 miles off the Omani coast, and reports of attacks from close to the Indian coast have been filtering in.

Reports on how seafarers are being tortured onboard, as well as beaten or even killed, are also filtering through. Pirates seem to have gone forward from treating captives reasonably well to outright violence and terror. One case of "keel hauling", where a seafarer was tied to a rope and then pulled across the bottom from one side to the other has already been reported - pulled too fast, the barnacles would rip him apart, and pulled too slow, he would drown.

Other cases, involving Indian seafarers, include a Chief Engineer and a Master being locked up in the fridge room for half an hour at 17 below zero centigrade - hung to the meathooks so that they could not move. There ave been a few cases, reportedly, of people being tied naked on to a hot steel deck, with heat applied to the genitals. Being hog tied with wires being tied around the genitals has also been reported. A few cases of seafarers having been killed have also now surfaced. And ofcourse, the regular beatings as well as terrified calls home, with automatic weapons going off in the background.

It is also obvious that the issue of vastly increased insurance costs are now beginning to impact all parties concerned - and will not remain something that the shipping lines and ship owners/managers can hope will just go away somewhere else. Furthermore,the various naval forces involved are also reaching a point where they soon will provide assistance preferably to ships which have taken some pre-emptive action on their own, so that they can board and take action in case of pirate attacks basis certain minimum guidelines and safety precautions followed by the ship itself.

One of these preventive defence measures has to do with what is called "citadel". Till now, for many ship's crew, that meant a re-modified steering gear, with access to the after-peak tank for sanitation purposes. Or being cooped up inside a control room. Either way, the pirates have been smoking people out, or simply breaking through the steel doors using explosives or basic tools. Maximum period of safety would, typcially, be a few hours.

It is increasingly clear that something more will have to be done. Just a few fire-hoses and axes are not enough anymore either. From making the bridge bullet-proof, to installing stern facing radars for coverage of vessels coming up from aft, and installing electric barbed wire running along the shipside at the bare minimum to vessel hardening by making the complete below decks accomodation area into a citadel which is explosion proof and more.

Idea is in brief to provide the complete ship's company an opportunity to move into a secure area, in case all other options including armed guards have failed and the vessel has been boarded by pirates, where they can remain in communications as well as see what is going on for a period of atleast 3 or 4 days. This will also imply that due care has to be taken for ensuring safe ventilation and de-activation  of halon or other gases used variously for fire-fighting and otherwise.

The 3-4 day period is important because naval intervention in case of piracy attacks in the further reaches of the ocean will often take that much time.

It is important for seafarers and ship owners/managers as wel as flag state and port state authorities to come together and find ways to resolve these issues. And soon.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

National maritime Day / Delhi / 2011

National Maritime Day was celebrated in Delhi, variously, and as per PTI, here is the official report:-

"National Maritime Day celebrated. New Delhi, Apr 5 (PTI) The week-long celebrations to mark National Maritime day aimed creating awareness about the activities of Indian Shipping industry, also called ''silent service'', culminated today. Every year April 5 is celebrated as the National Maritime day. It was on April 5 in 1919 that the first Indian steamship ''S.S. LOYALTY'' of Scindia Steam Navigation, Mumbai, ventured into international waters on her voyage from Mumbai to London."

Whether that statement repeated every year with minor variations is correct or not is for all of you to judge. All I know is that it is about time something more was done than the usual repeated flag hoisting, badge pinning, one-way seminars and cultural programmes. We have to move with the times, and while it is wonderful that the National Maritime Day Celebrations Committee works hard every year on this, there need to be some fresh inputs. At least, by 2019, and which would mark a hundred years.

Put it this way - sea transport is probably still moving largely at the same speed over water as it was in 1919, most ships even now function best at the 12-18 knot range, barring faster container and similar ships. But the rest of the world, whether in the air, on ground or over the internet - has moved on. By multiples.

So here's what SAILOR TODAY, after talking with some seafarers ashore, would like to see in future National Maritime Day celebrations:-

1) The venue needs to be advertised some more, using social media like facebook and twitter, as well as through the shipping websites. DG Shipping and MMD websites need to carry details in advance on bearing and distance as well as timelines for all events under the NMD celebrations. This is extremely easy, and will cost nothing.

2) The venue itself, atleast in Delhi, needs to be closer to places where public transport is available. IGNOU campus is very pretty, the surroundings are no doubt sylvan, but it takes forever to get there. And once there, the pathetic sight of seeing cadets boarding local "grameen seva" transport to get back is indeed miserable.

3) NMD should also be accompanied by some sort of future job counselling for the young cadets who take the effort to put up the grand show they did. Recruitment seems to be the biggest worry and concern for many of the youngsters heading out to sea, and this event should be used for voluntary work by people who are still at sea to give some frank and cogent as well as practical advice.

4) Efforts by those who volunteered this year should not be trivialised either - but the number of people coming forward should be somehow increased. One way would be to hold regular "open house" functions at
 MMD/NOIDA, where new people can be encouraged to take part in NMD celebrations.

5) Some amount of co-operation and co-ordination can always be sought from the Armed Forces, especially Indian Navy and Coast Guard, to make the bond between our Services stronger. Especially in these days of extremely high piracy in and around Indian waters, we need to be able to offer our thanks to them as well as seek better relationships.

6) There is a lot that needs to be improved at MMD and DGS, if we do not want to see it getting wrong exposure of the DGCA sort. Towards that, occasions like the NMD should also be used to improve matters, with introspection and free and frank debate.

7) And finally, it is time that the whole thing on SS LOYALTY moved ahead. Many great steps have been taken by and in the Indian Merchant Navy - and they need to be brought out, documented and most of all - celebrated.

We hope that the people in power will take these suggestions from our readers in the correct spirit, and we hope to have greater and better NMD celebrations in the near future.

The biggest worry that young cadets at the NMD celebrations nationwide have is about their future. With the big mess that is education in the ongoing IMU and DGS systems tussle confusing matters in the minds of the young and impressionable, some amount of clarity and direction, sustainable, needs to be declared, and no occasion better than the NMD celebrations to do so.

To ignore this reality would be doing a great dis-service to the youngsters who put in so much effort for a stellar performance.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Anti-Piracy - what do YOU want??

Ok, so one has been attending a few seminars and conferences on the issue of piracy, mainly one-way gab-fests which don't merit even a passing mention - since they seem to be monopolised by people who are not necessarily old but are certainly behind times in their approaches to reality. For example, the BIGGEST flaw in these seminars and conferenes is that the actual seafarer on the frontline of piracy does not have a simple voice.

In addition, there are these meetings and discussions held at various levels in governance, the notes and reports on which come out partially in the media a few days later and on the RTI boards after some time - when they aren't "leaked" by assorted interested parties. As of now, barring some rapid steps taken by the Indian Navy when they were finally given the brief, the rest is of not much real good. Oh yes, the Foreign Ministry diplomats are doing a good job too, somewhere, but that's always under wraps, till wikileaks brings those out.

In a way, that's good - the anti-piracy movement ashore could do with some more discretion too. But that's as long as there IS an anti-piracy movement. Which, even if it is, does not seem to be filtering down to the seafarers on the ships.

As a result, courtesy the rapid evolution of social media onboard, natural progression to the way it has moved ashore - some of us who have been more than vocal on the subject are receiving inputs from seafarers who would otherwise not have a voice. Even this, cloaked behind earnest requests for anonymity, is rare. But it seems to be growing.

Here are some examples;-

1) Facebook seems to have a few groups on the subject already, some are open to all, some are closed and some are by invitation. Once in, the discussions are fairly controlled, but the message gets across - there seems to be no shortage of people who will not go into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean piracy impacted areas in a hurry. However, poverty worldwide being what it is, reality and truth is that there are others willing to go in too.

2) On Indian seafarers, I have seen a rise in the statistics on my blog and articles pertaining to piracy, on this blog and elsewhere. Even older articles are being read, and re-read - and then distributed further or linked ahead. That feels good, too.

3) Most importantly, I have to word this carefully, assume a scenario (like in orals . . .) where I have also had access to a few email messages to the effect that - we or my spouse/son are on such-and-such ship which is heading into the piracy area, we have not got any anti-piracy measures on board other than fire hose and some barbed wire, we do not want to sail but the owners/managers are telling us they will give us a DR and play around with our wages. On top of that, the ship is in terrible shape and there are rumours that the owner has sold it, taken huge insurance and is now purposely moving into an insurance game.

And so, I have sent such and such photos and such and such scanned documents to such and such person, and if something happens to me then please make sure they are published but only if something bad really happens to me.

What would you do in my place, dear reader?


The power of social media can not and should not be under estimated by the regulators, owners, operators, classification societies, flag states, port states and everybody else involved.

Views invited.

if we DO NOT want to see shipping become a pigsty like civil aviation in India . . .

One way of looking at the recent controvery on fake and fraudulent licences in the aviation industry in India and also in some other countries is to say, oh hey, it doesn't impact us in the Merchant Navy. We have this wonderful system of flag state, port state and every other state possible which will protect our reputations as well as ensure we are competent. In addition, the paperwork is so long and cumbersome, that it automatically sifts out the chances of any problems. Plus, because of security and customs regulations, nobody will come near our ships anyways.

The other way of looking at things is to realise that, hey yes, there are deficiencies in the whole system, not just in India, but all over the world. And that the sooner we take some pragmatic steps to fix things, the better for us as individuals and for the industry as a whole and most importantly - for the Nation as a larger National Interest. And even if they don't come near our ships, those who want to find out will stand outside the Ministry and DG Shipping and find out what they want - after they've hired boats to take photos of ships outside ports and visited family members.

So, without pointing any fingers, what can be done rapidly to clean up things in the whole certification programme and training in India - so that we are not caught with our pants down if somebody does the equivalent of a nose landing on an aeroplane, at sea? What, for example, could be amongst the most stupid things a seafarer could do?
Here are two simple examples of two of the biggest news-making marine accidents in recent past. They made news because of possible pollution issues as well as passengers in danger. But hardly any news on the real cause of the incident. Mainly because the shipping lines along with their flag state, port state and classification societies were able to keep the noise level down. Very simple - keep the media away, and keep the people onboard silent.

# Go aground on an island, thinking it was a dense cloud, sighted only on the radar, making coffee instead on the bridge taking precedence to looking out.
# An uncontained crank-case explosion leading to leakage of a thin film of diesel causing a total engine room fire, because the duty engineers had no experience of how to react.

Luckily for us, the mainstream media does not have the faintest clue of what happens on board ships, and almost all of us from the old school of thought believe that the media is a terrible animal to be kept at bay. When was the last time any shipping company invited media onboard their ships, for example, other than for a fancy party during launching or taking over, and even that ashore at a hotel? Like a response to the various questions put by a Superintendent ashore - please let me know this, this, and this - and also please let me know if you understand the effect if media comes to know, and provide a response by 0800 hours tomorow morning Singapore time.

At the same time, for piracy and criminalisation and other increasingly relevant problems, the industry wants to use the media, by one means or the other - and that is a simple truth too. The media, the mainstream meida, is a double edged sword, and once an industry rides the tiger, there is no getting off.

So, before the s___ really hits the fan - and the way social media is growing, especially with seafarers at sea increasingly having access to the internet as well as other mediums to propagate their views - it is a question of time before people onboard ships start coming out with their truths. instead of keeping quiet. Already younger people are writing in direct to this magazine, as well as to some of the writers here, and if not allowed to maintain blogs on board - then saving up material, photographs, evidence, to publish at a later date. A few photographs of oil being pumped out, dirty food, unsanitary conditions on board, safety irregularities, rusty conditions, or anything like that - and by chance any of them go viral - that's it. Owners of the MSC CHITRA will know what one is writng about, and the KHALIJA III even more so.

So here are a few suggestions to the powers that be, and SAILOR TODAY invites comments as well as further responses on the subject.

1) To start with, face it, the best thing in the Indian Merchant Navy's certification system is that the main Competency Certification is still done by the regulatory authoirty - the MMD and DG Shipping. You can not be a certified deck or engine officer unless you have cleared your "tickets", issued by the Government, wonderful. Luckily for us, unlike in the aviation sector, this has not been left to the training schools. Except for the entry level. Still, there is ample room for manipulation even there, and it is about time that the examinations for aspirants leaving training institutions need to be carried out by a government body before the youngsters are allowed to even step onboard a ship. Even as cadets.
This may certainly place a heavy load on the already overloaded and creaking system - well, so be it. There are ways of using infotech to do this, online exams under supervision are only one way, but  atleast there will be some standardisation on who steps on board a ship and who doesn't. Currently all sorts of lack of capabilities along with well trained people manage to get documents enabling them to get onboard - that has to be fixed.

2) Next, for the Certificate of Competencies, the courses need to be reviewed, rejuvenated and renewed with urgency. The British in their wisdom left us an examination system in the Merchant Navy that still works on learning by rote, memorising vast amounts of often useless and defunct information, and then spilling it out in large volumes on paper. The whole method is geared towards memorising solutions of questions, so that books published decades ago can continue to be sold, in a mutual backscratch venture that would put cats and monkeys to shame. This has been said umpteen times before, then people get their tickets, and forget about the whole thing - meanwhile, the system goes on. Same holes are there on the same charts for ROC, right?
This has to be changed - more syllabus drawn from actual life on modern ships as well as even more importantly - from future design and technology expected on ships. For reasons of my own I took 27 years between two subsequent levels of competency - and the syllabus was exactly the same as done by my batchmates who cleared well in time. In between, I had moved on, headed a Silicon Valley tech company where skillsets were changing every three months - and saw how the youngsters coming in were keeping up in those industries. Matter of fact, the rise of employment potential in the shipping industry for Indians could have been as exponential as in the IT industry, if only the system had moved on with the times.
Here, the young people doing their "tickets" with me were actually being asked to regress back in time, learn about stuff that had gone out 3 decades ago - and then go on really state of the art modern ships to unlearn everything so that they could work on things they had to learn from scratch on their own using tech manuals provided by the equipment supplier. What was the use of the examination, then?

3) The grand wonder called "orals". Sit with the younger people doing their tickets nowadays and listen to them - it is almost as though we are living in archaic times. Such and such surveyor demands that you must wear a suit. Another one expects you to wait for hours and sometimes days before calling you in. Yet another one expects you to wear a shirt in such and such colour and shoes of a particular sort. Many of them are keen to show what they know rather than extracting from you what you know or don''t know. Some will argue about what you were taught by somebody because they don't like that college or instructor. Yet some more will go out of course. And bar none, it seems that almost all of them treat the candidate like SHIT, because of their own insecurities or because that is how it was always done.
It is about time that all orals were video recorded, and that candidates were given a chance to go in for appeal in case they felt their results were incorrect, and in a manner that prevents those candidates from being harmed in revenge by vindictive surveyors. A certain percentage of failed candidates along with those who have asked for appeals to be given repeat attempts very soon after being failed needs to be introduced, and the process being done in such a way that the candidates have more faith in the system. In addition, minimum and mximum time limits to be set for orals, so that schedules are not disturbed.

4) The reality of non-Competency courses, also known variously as Modular or STCW and similar courses, is well known. With 100% pass percentages, lax attendance criteria and very often dis-interested instructors, this is one reality that is going to come back to bite us one day. Here again, some institutes are very thorough and professional about the seriousness with which they take charge of these courses, and at some other institutes it is simply a pay your fees kind of formality.
It is about time that the exams for the non-Competency courses were also streamlined and held by a central government agency, so that there could be some standardisation, especially since some of these modular courses deal with extremely important topics which can impact life and limb.

5) And last but not the least, the document trail, especially things like the linkage between the INDOS number, the CDC, the CoC and the rest of the documents. This needs to be sharpened up very rapidly, and details available online, as was supposed to have been done years ago.


The future success of the Maritime certificate of competency system in India, and therefore subsequently and as a result the credibility of the CoC, will depend totally on the open-ness and transparency shown by the authorities. As well as their willingness to change with the times.

Otherwise, we have the example of the DGCA in front of us - and believe me, it is like people are baying for the blood of officials there. Interim, the credibility of pilots of Indian origin has taken a very big beating.

We do not want to see that happening to the Indian Merchant Navy.

Do we??