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Friday, 30 September 2011

What's the real nutrition on the food you get on ships lately??

Healthy low-cost food and natural water to consume are important for all of us. Is there a conspiracy to force us Indians, in the name of "development" and "growth", to consume more and more unhealthy food and beverages?


Especially important from the point of view of food served on board - increasingly not healthy, nutrition unknown.  Please read this and escalated to your company, manager and others respondible.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Life onboard a merchant ship - a true exchange

Mails exchanged with a batchmate and friend . . . after my 6 days on a ship after 29 years:-

Me:- ""The big difference is that we used to have "after work time" for socialising, now it seems we don't have it. You work, then you work some more, and then you collapse with fatigue. When do you read books, socialise, listen to music, eat food as a means of exchanging conversation?Where is the space for intellectual evolution??""

Batchmate:- ""Believe me there is no time. For instance today I am at Mumbai inner anchorage and have been awake for almost 36 Hrs, because of port arrivals and other formalities, followed by  so many inspections and surveys going on. To top it up I have 11 persons from my Technical office which incidentally is in Mumbai. Even though I have shore pass but there is no time to go ashore, I can see the tall buildings of Mumbai and enjoy. Life on board with this e mail system has become really sad as people want instant replies and solutions. Guess it is the same story for people working ashore. All the best take care and keep writing.""


And we want to try to attract the best of the best to the Merchant Navy??


(This has been one of the most popular posts on this blog . . . I guess maritime fatigue and inhuman conditions on board ships tell??)

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

DP World Ports Valarpadam/Cochin Terminal - a Big unitised scam??

By some indications, this is a scam of larger proportions than the Commonwealth Games fiasco. Take a huge unnecessary project, inflate the costs, get your cronies to cover the inflated expenses by bringing in a private player like DP World in this case, and when the project obviously fails, cry wolf, and then get out

If anything, a full & proper enquiry should be done on how this high-cost white elephant came into being in the first case. There is room for good Kerala cuisine in Tihar Jail, too.


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)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

First hand view from an Indian flag ship . . .

Here's a copy of the letter I wrote to DG Shipping and others a few
days ago, in context with this business of different letters
pertaining to service onboard Indian flag ships.
1) The "articles of agreement" which is the official document that
will hold for all legal purposes. This is between the shipowner, the
Master and you and is what is the document required under the Merchant
Shipping Act.
2) The "appointment / agreement", call it what you want, between
somebody else and you. Usually a "manning agent" who is working under
the same MSA but under the RPS Rules which were issued by DGS!!!
To: The DG Shipping, Govt. of India, Jahaz Bhavam, Mumbai.
cc: The Nautical Advisor,Govt. of India, Jahaz Bhava, Mumbai.
dtd:- 21st September 2011
Greetings & Jai Hind!!
As you may be aware, seafarers joining Indian flag ships typically
sign atleast two documents, if not more, pertaining to their
conditions of emplotyment on board, wages, terms and conditions,
taxation,benefits, insurance covers, and other related elements.
1) Articles of employment as seafarer, an official legal document
issued by the Government of India, and signed by the seafarer, Master
and shipowner. Wages shown here are to be atleast as per IMB/MUI
agreement. There is nothing that prevents higher wages or benefits
being paid to seafarers in this.
2) Another "agreement" or "contract" signed with the RPS agent which
is totally at variance with the above. Wages shown here are different
from MUI, and contradict the basic tenets of the MSA, the laws of the
country, the taxation issues,IMB/ MUI agreement, as well as any form of
natural justice. In addition, this appears to be intensely one-sided
against the seafarer, and is reportedly also filed with the office of
the DG Shipping - especially when performed by RPS Agents.
In the first instance, I would like to know if the office of the DG
Shipping is aware that such dual agreements are now almost an accepted
fact of life, apparently endorsed by the office of the DG Shipping,
Government of India, by reasons of common practice over the last few
In the second instance, I would like to know what the office of the DG
Shipping proposes to do about this, since it appears to be a rather
untenable and unsustainable practice, not covered under any part of
the Merchant Shipping Act as well as against all basic laws pertaining
to employment as well as other related factors therein, which I shall
be glad to outline if you so desire.
I look forward to your early reponse on this subject, and thank you
for your kind co-operation.
Sincerely . . .
Obviously, the DGS has not responded, it willtake an RTI to get them
to respond. But meanwhile, from onboard an Indian flag vessel, the
sub-standard work conditions and total sweatshop attitude continues to
prevail. Salary cuts are arbitary, working conditions terrible, and
there appears to be a fear generated atmosphere onboard which was
never there before.
I know much more on what ails Indian shipping now - and only wish it
was made compusory for ALL peope ashore in shipping, especially in
government as well as IRS, MMD, teaching, Port State Control and
similar, to go to sea for 3-6 months every five years.
On Indian flag ships.
THAT would really wake them up.
In my case, the bedbugs on board this ship have woken me up, I am out
in 5-6 days. That, and the crummy company on board - the ChEng, with
hardly 2 weeks under his belt, is moving on too.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Open observation on Indian flag ships and life therein

Basad on first hand observations as well as supported by inputs from others, the one big thing that needs to be done is that people involved in the shore aspect of shipping need to spend atleast 6 months onboard an Indian flag ship every five years.

The full cycle, from recruitment to briefing to joining to life on board and sign off/debrief.

This business of revalidating tickets basis a course or being involved in shipping ashore is simply not enough.

This doesn't include a separate treatise on the games indian shipping companies and their agents play in context with salaries, taxation, and the rest of it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Amazing guts. Update on the RAK AFRIKANA episode

Cadets ex RAK AFRIKANA speak to television media for the first time, in New Zealand, on what really happened when they had been hijacked by pirates.

The cool fortitude and strength with which they put their views across is eminently commendable.

Watch the news report here:-

Probably the best tribute they could give Capt. Prem Kumar and Capt. Ramdas K. Menon.

Hats off.

Friday, 16 September 2011

WTF can we do about improving coastal and inland shipping in India??

Here's a recent post by me on the Merchant Navy group website:-


There is enough of a lobby and interest in reviving the age-old superioriity of shipping that existed in the Indian Ocean environs, especially after the advent of Islam, as Arab sailors have shown for centuries. It is there in the strangest of places, but all the same, it has an effect.

For example, Amitav Ghosh, renowned author and global traveler, in his IBIS trilogy of books as well as other books, makes plenty of references to the subject - and he is widely read by those who matter.

Here, for example, is a blog entry by him on the subject, recent and being widely discussed not just on the internet but in the corridors of power in Delhi and beyond:-


quote:""it will be evident at a glance that many of the vessels in the opium fleet were of great size, fully the equal of  ocean-going sailships. As it made its way downriver, the opium fleet would stop every night at a river-port. Each of these ports was equipped with the infrastructure to deal with a substantial volume of shipping. Some of these ports, like Chhapra, attracted immigrants from far away  . . " unquote.


It requires less than 1/6th of a bhp to transport 1 tonne of ship or boat. With increasing fuel prices, can we leave decision making about shipping in India, seagoing or coastal or river, to people who are still in awe of the caucasian way of things, choosing to give our own Indian ways an inferiority complex born of their own insecurities?

I have been able to put my views across where they matter - how is it that, unlike in aviation, people who are supposed to be technically sound in decision making for sea commerce, have not been to sea for an average of over 22 years? (That's the data for people over a particular rank and level at DGS, incidentally, which I saw in passing . . . on the table of somebody who matters.)

Humbly submitted.


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Wood cellulose in much of your packaged proceesed food . . .

Start looking carefully at the term "fibre" in your packaged processed food - biscuits, cakes, breads, and more. It's actually cellulose, made from wood, which is added in an attempt to reduce the price. Your health be damned.

How does the wood in your bread, biscuit taste today?
September 12, 2011 06:19 PM
Veeresh Malik

A lot of the high-fibre fast-food packages sold by major food brands most likely contains “wood cellulose” that’s even used by the plastics industry. And the food safety authority is aware about it . . .


Incidentally, this article was inspired by this television show:-

A very patronising Vinita Bali with all the correct corporate type answers interviewed by a very unusually careful Shekhar Gupta asking all the right questions = antennae up. Especially when it has anything to do with the processed and packaged food industry - you just know that their levels of corruption would surprise even Anna Hazare!!


Let's start with some first-hand experience, which is very often how curiosity is sparked and questions arise.

A few months ago, I was wading through an assignment at a factory in an industrial suburb outside Delhi, where a large number of unskilled and semi-skilled workers were employed. Minimum wages in this segment are not very high, and for this category of people, every paisa saved counts. That's what they've left the tough conditions in their rural homes for.

Most of us have absolutely no idea of how this segment lives and survives. Even though they come under the category of organised labour in many cases, protected by law with benefits like ESIC, EPFO and pension plans, what matters is what they get in hand every month and how much of it they are able to save to send home, or to try and buy that elusive plot of land to enable them to build a roof over their heads.

Everything else is nothing but promises, which they have learned not to trust, as it does not get them dinner in the here and now.

Expenses are, therefore, sought to be reduced to the bare minimum. Free meals of the sort provided on certain days at certain places are balanced against the cost of time and travel to get there. Cheap lodging in the vicinity of the factory is balanced against the option of a place to sleep in the factory environs free of cost, perhaps in exchange for some night duty responsibilities.

Education for family members is an aim for which no effort is spared. Likewise, some amount of effort and sacrifice is made towards further self-education, by sacrificing other expenses, and night schools—where they exist—are indeed popular. Free uniforms from the factory are a boon; the older ones are used to sleep in, reducing the necessity of buying clothes.

But what's really interesting is the way they spend on food. As some of them explained, at one time it was cheaper to bring grain, cereals, lentils and even some amount of ghee from the village, and use it during their stay in the city. Now, when they return from their villages, whatever they bring along gets a good price if they sell it, and then they survive on what they can find in the city, in and around the workplace.

The first thing that takes a toss in such conditions is the group-cooked hot meal in the morning. It just doesn't exist, and in lieu it is often a packet of cheap biscuits dipped in the first mug of free tea at work, eaten on the move. Lunch is often a perquisite of the job, huge helpings of roti-daal-subzi-pickle. Dinner is scrounged around. Most of these workers also double up for late evening work where a meal can be sourced.

So, to keep things going when hunger pangs overtake planning, there are the cheap-packed foods of the biscuit sort and the cheap fried foods of the samosa sort, dipped in a cup of 'tea' which is more often than not brewed with urea as a whitener instead of milk at the roadside stall.

The biscuits attracted my attention. Popular big brands selling handy small packs at a "price point" of two to five rupees for 6-12 biscuits, seldom found at the better stores you and I shop at. Taking a bite, dipped in tea, I found that they did not dissolve and break like biscuits used to in the past, and they filled me up admirably, giving me a feeling of fullness in very quick time. At first, I thought it could be excess corn glue binders or baking soda, till I researched the price of corn glue binders and baking soda and wrote that off. So, full of pride that I had discovered a cheaper alternative, I bought a few packets and brought them home, basic "glucose", "chocolate" and "cream". All major brands. So cheap?

Obviously, I was treated to a lecture, that these were simply not healthy. At this point, I thought it was snobbishness talking, but fact remains the biscuits remained untouched for a few days. Everybody prefers "local" bakery biscuits at our home, procured from a charity organisation at the nearby Lajpat Bhavan, or expensive imported ones presented now and then. So after a few days, I thought to myself, maybe the birds and the stray dogs will appreciate them more?

Next morning, along with the bird seed that we have sprinkled on a wall, I laid out some of the biscuits, neatly crumbled, but while the bird seed was gobbled up as usual by about 9am, the biscuits were untouched-even the squirrels who eat everything, left them alone. Same with the stray dogs, a sniff at the "orange cream" biscuit, a bit of a whine, and then left alone. In due course, the ants and the termites presumably finished off the biscuits, because the birds and dogs didn't touch them.

The maid, watching bemused, said that the animals don't eat it because the biscuits have "plastic" in them. Plastic? Where had she heard that from? Turns out that everybody in her village near Ranchi knew about this, because some people from there who worked in a processed factory had told them that the seths were now using an ingredient for bread and biscuits called "cellulose", in quantities from 15% to 25%. How did they know? Because similar packets from the same supplier were being used for the plastic to be used for the wrapping and packaging, as well as to line the insides of the biscuit packaging to prevent the biscuit from going soggy. To prove her point, she crumbled up the biscuits and stirred them into a mug of warm water. After a few minutes, much of what used to be the biscuit was still floating on top. After a few hours it was exactly the same.

Please try this yourself. It is like the "patty" inside the famous McDonalds burger, which does not deteriorate or go bad for days on end.

Around the same time, I had been filing RTI applications on the subject of artificial sweeteners used by the processed food industry, specifically called "aspartame". (Read, Did you check the neurotoxin in your 'soft' drink today?)      In the course of the responses, which contained the usual evasive answers from the ministries, as well as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), I also managed to develop some sources within. People like you and me, but unwilling or unable to come on record, but right-thinking all the same.

I decided to approach a few of them to try and find out what was going on, and meanwhile, tried to place a total ban on packaged bread and biscuits at home, rewarding the maid with basic bakery lessons and going in for "chakki atta" ground at a store. (By the way, the one shop in our area which provides fresh ground atta of various sorts has so much business now that the owner is opening a second shop and provides an increasingly growing range of choices, with exotic grains of all sorts.)

This was when I received my next surprise. Yes, the FSSAI, at an informal level, were aware that there was something being added to processed foods, especially biscuits and bread, for the last few years, and that this new miracle ingredient going under the technological name of 'cellulose' was actually the same 'wood cellulose' used by, among others, the plastics industry, and by an amazing coincidence of nomenclature, was categorised as 'fibre' for all practical purposes, including the list of ingredients. As a matter of fact, within the industry there was growing awareness on the cost-saving benefits of adding more and more wood cellulose to everything, not just bread and biscuits, but also ice cream, cheese, meat . . . and upstream into desserts, pizzas and most other forms of 'fast food'.

So just how did 'wood cellulose' get into the lexicon of the Ministry of Food Processing (MoFP) and the FSSAI as 'fibre'? Well, in one way, it is the truth. Wood cellulose is fibre. The only thing is that unless you share your enzymes with termites, you and I can't digest it. Even woodpeckers can't digest wood cellulose or wood, and they are pecking away at it all the time. Nor could hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in famines from the Siege of Leningrad ,to closer in history in Darfur.

Within the food industry in the US, the FDA apparently permits limited use of wood cellulose under very specific conditions, and up to a maximum of between 1% and 3.5%. And there's no way the manufacturers there can get away by calling it 'fibre'.

Within the food industry in India, welcome to the reality, and check out how many new products on your shop or supermarket shelves carry the added nomenclature 'fibre'. And as per my source/sources in the FSSAI, this is growing at a very rapid pace. The cost of wood cellulose in India, meanwhile, is dropping, because the new miracle raw material for wood cellulose in India is, hold your breath, not just the tree or plant, but sawdust. Processed sawdust = fibre in your bread and biscuit?

At such a rapid pace and with such huge profits on the back of this new trend to put wood cellulose into everything, the processed food industry—riding on the back of these lower prices and huge profits—is making a strong bid once again to enter the mid-day meal space. With an attempt to replace the hot cooked meal with a "high fibre" pre-packaged meal. And as an added incentive, they plan to use the term "fortified and enhanced" with a variety of other ingredients like, for example, iron. This, incidentally, is co-terminus with a strong movement in the developed countries to move away from such processed foods and fast foods.

India, therefore, is the obvious next target. Just like it was with opium for China a few hundred years ago and tobacco in the recent past, it is now going to be wood cellulose masquerading as fibre in our packaged foods.

I wonder, will they use iron sweepings or filings, and will we be able to transport these modern high-fibre fortified with iron biscuits using magnets, soon?


More interacts, responses and a debate on at:-

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Please read this?

      How coastal and inland shipping has been allowed to die and what needs
to change quickly
      September 09, 2011 01:38 PM |
      Veeresh Malik

Published at

The wars of the present and the future are going to be fought using economic tools more than military might. Building this economic power requires the revival of seafaring strength that was allowed to deteriorate on account of a short-sighted and corrupt approach.

Before you take down a fence, you might want to know why the previous owner put it up.
- GK Chesterton

Monday, 5 September 2011

On cabotage in India, and the games that some entities play . . .

Where does national interest, security and the economy come in, or is the country up for sale again, to a bunch of people who will sell out for 30 pieces of silver? Or even less?

On the push to change cabotage rules, largely due to a one-sided contract that’s harmful to Cochin Port Trust
""A one-sided contract between Cochin Port Trust, the landlord, and DP World Ports Vallarpadam Terminal, its tenant, has led to intense lobbying over cabotage rules. A local problem, which has more to do with a local solution, is being used as a catalyst to push a deeper agenda with a national bearing. The country's interests are at the stake, once again, for reasons that increasingly appear to be very shady  . . .""

Read on:-