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Saturday, 23 July 2011

Record keeping at the DG Shipping office in Mumbai . . .

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?

EPFO and the Indian Seafarer - a perspective (and opening gambit - service tax)

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

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.

Tug JUPITER VI (Jupiter 6) and the latest position (Pelican Marine/Mumbai)

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
Built in 1975 by "Brodogradiliste Tito" at Mitrovica (Yard number 925) Gross tonnage 323 or 299, thus normally not a SOLAS ship, not subject to the ISM code. It indicates also that it was a rather small tug for a long ocean operation. It could be that the tonnage had been artificially kept low in order to escape SOLAS rules, but the list of previous owners shows only slight variation in the tonnage, the largest one being when the ship was under Philippines register (447gt). No owner will require to increase a tonnage, but the only pictures available suggest anyway large tug.
Tug/Anchor Handling/Supply , IMO n° 7391745, Gross tonnage 299 GRT, Netto tonnage 85 NRT
Lenght 39,93m(32,19), Beam 10,14m, Depth 4,611m(5,31)
Fighter fighting and salvage capabilities 
Main engine: B&W ALPHA type 16V23LU, total power 4690 bhp, 2 propellers with 4 blades
Bow thruster of 300 bhp
Generators: 2 diesels 
Speed 13,5kn, bollard pull 65 tons. 
July 2004: Harbour tug "SEA HUSKI" of Trinidad, damaged by fire was bought by "Jupiter Shipmanagement Inc" at Mumbai (IND), renamed JUPITER 6
Owner: PELMAR Shipping & Engineering Pvt Ltd, has an office in Mumbai.
Management: reported to be a company located in India or PELMAR itself? Crewing agent: Pelican Marine, Mumbai
Flag: ST.VINCENT & GRENADINES ( Previously reported as MARSHAL Islands & JAMAICA)
P&I: Unknown, it is not sure there was a P&I 
CLASS: Unknown
Crew: 3 Ukrainians, 10 Indians
The JUPITER 6 left Cuba in November 2004 towing the bulker ITHOMI (Also called SATSANG, POINTING). Called Port of Spain, Trinidad, left 6 January 2005 and reached Fortaleza in Brazil on 18 March 2005. The tow made an average speed of 0.7 knots, not taking into account the eventual stop due to engine breakdown or other. There is also a strong current in the opposite direction north this part of the coast of South America, but almost no strong winds. After a short call, the tug left Fortaleza on 19 March and reach Walvis Bay in Namibia only three and a half months later, on 1 July 2005. The average speed during this crossing of the South Atlantic was 1.3 knots. Engine problems can be assumed to have delayed the vessel as it went to dry dock for extensive repairs.
The tug left Walvis Bay on 9 August 2005 and sent its last position on 5 September 2005: 35.52 S 23.26 E with as final destination the shipbreaking yard of Alang near Bhavnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat. An intermediate call in Mauritius was probably foreseen. On 7 September a large low centred on the Orange Free state provoked heavy thunderstorms. A sattelite picture shows that the associated troughs could have brought high wind from NE then NW in the area where the tug was sailing on 6 September. The suggestions that the JUPITER 6 could have been the victim of a pirate attack are ridiculous. These were never reported off South Africa, and the bad weather itself would discourage piracy. But it is well known that freak waves associated with a depression frequently occurs near the edge of the Agulhas bank.
On 25 September the towed ITHOMI was found drifting by bulker POSEIDON drifting in position by 37.48 S 28.59 E or 25.59 E. The tug SMIT AMANDLA was sent to recuperate the vessel. It found the tow line snapped and indication that two emergency towing wires had been rigged. Which means that the crew had a hard time to keep the ITHOMI in tow. On 8th October a distress signal from the ship emergency beacon (EPIRB) was received from the position 35,12S 24,17E. A plane was sent and observed traces of oil and some floating wreckage. The EPIRB was somehow recuperated and found to have manually activated. Remain the mystery of the cellular phone call from Namibia. One sailor phoned when the ship called Walvis bay in August 2005, and on 23 and 24 June 2006 one relative received a phone call from the same phone. She tried to call back but nobody answered. It is possible that the phone had been stolen or lost, and somebody in Namibia tried to use it.

Here follows a list of the crewmember prepared on basis of internet information.
BULGARU Y. Master(?), Ukrainian
ZELENETSCIY O. Chief Officer(?), Ukrainian
TKACH S. Chief Engineer (?), Ukrainian
KUMAR Raj, 2nd officer from India 
HOLIDATHAGOTI Hussein, crewmember from Lakshadweep, his mother died in November 2005
KATTAMPALLY Jose Matthew, electrician from the Indian state of Kerala
JAGOTHI Ibrahim Eduruman, crewmember from India
FAIKAGE Hassan, 20 year old, crewmember fron India
KOLUGEDORU Ali, crewmember, his father died around 30-6-2006
EDURUMANJAGOTHI Ibrahin, crewmember, his father died begin 2006
DAS Shri Subhas, cook from Calcuta.
MATHEW Jose, crewmember from India
PRAVIN Pandey, crewmember from Uttar Pradesh province, India.

Besides the crew from the Indian state of Kerala, 4 others are from Minicoy in the Lakshadweep islands, one from Calcuta and apparently one from the Uttar Pradesh province.
Apparently the Management did not provide much since the disappearance of the tug, otherwise the relatives would not have used the net to publish their desperate situation. The crew manager advised the Indian relatives only one month after it had lost contact with the crew.
It is almost certain that the tug was either sunk by bad weather, a large unexpected wave could have flooded the engine through an open door, or was rammed by the tow itself. Then some damage could have been found on the bow of the ITHOMI, a report from the SMIT AMANDLA would be welcome here. The most important clue remains poorly studied, the manual activation of the EPIRB 33 after the disappearance of teh tug. One report indicates that the battery life of the EPIRB is only 90 hours, thus it was not self-activated by sea water if the tug sank around the 5 September. One possibility is that the EPIRB remained afloat was likely found by a passing low freeboard ship, possibly a fishing boat that was fishing or sailing the area, but did not want to report its own position. But another and more distressing possibility was that the tug boat had been disabled by heavy seas around the 5 September and lost communications due to lack of electric power or wet instruments. As she was not so far from well frequented sailing routes, with plenty provisions the crew could have hoped to get help from a passing ship. This could be supported by a single piece of information made available by the owners "One fact so far not known was that a ship named Caroline reported sighting Jupiter 6 on 12/9 but no radio contact could be extablished, the position was in the proximity of the last reported position but without a tow. The owners were in a hurry to reach the scrap yard in India as they already had the next charter, a lucrative one, in place in the oil fields off Bombay.".
What is more important here is the role of the owners/agents (Pelican Marine of Mumbai) and that of the Directorate General of Shipping. Following this case closely, it is apparent as day, that both these entities supported and continue to support each other in trying to ensure delay in payment of even interim compensation to family members of the complement onboard. To quote from the report in the Times of India:-
"The bench interrupted him and said, "All these exhaustive provisions are not working. That is why these petitions are before us. The implementation of the act is lax. Why are these provisions not resorted to by the government during the numerous cases of pirate attacks on ships? Why is it only on paper?" The court also asked the Directorate General of Shipping to detail steps taken since 2006 to improve the fate of seamen and seafarers. 

In the petition, relatives alleged that they were stonewalled by the Centre, which had all along refused to divulge whether or not steps were being taken to collect information about the whereabouts of the missing crew."
It is time that the office of the DG Shipping started taking a more pro-active role in protecting seafarers. Suggestions received include:-
# Indian seafarers to be sent on ships by RPS agents only if beneficial ownership is known. With the increasing investigations on all matters to do with tax havens, this is very important. In this case, for example, it has long been suspected that Pelican were owners as well as agents for this tug but ownership was hidden behind ofshore tax havens.
# Indian seafarers to be sent on ships by RPS agents with DGS authorisation only if full details of P&I, Class, insurance and adherence of vessel to all Indian and vessel flag state laws are adhered to. Safe Manning to be as per Indian standards, not as per flag, since some flags have abysmal safe manning certifications.
# Minimal compensation in case of any injury or loss of life by way of secured bank guarantees or insurance covers, be provided for in advance, before the Indian seafarer joins the said ship through RPS agents - and copies be provided to next of kin.
If just these three small steps could be taken, it would be a beginning, otherwise DGS can continue to listen to more raps on the knuckles from the Supreme Court in future.
To the family members of the JUPITER VI, we extend our hand of support, and wish you more success.