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Webinar on “Connecting Sea and Shore: Redressing seafarers’ grievances

A proper sea voyage is possible only if there is proper sync between the sailing sfaff and the shore staff. The seafarers have limited resources available on board and it is up to the shore staff to supplement these resources, said Capt. Sanjay Maini, Country Head of IRI Martime and Corporate Services Pvt. Ltd., while welcoming the participants of the Webinar, “Connecting Sea and Shore Part -1” organized by Maritime Destination, on July 08, 2021.

He stated that Maritime Industry could be called the Mother industry as most of the other industries depended on it to complete their transactions in a timely and profitable manner. He added, “The reason for this is very simple. The earth is 70% water and the maritime industry provides for about 90% of world trade. It provides a very economical way of transporting goods in a very environmental friendly manner. The seafarers are the backbone of this industry.”

He continued, “The MLC Convention provides seafarers a platform to voice their personal grievances but is this platform being used in the spirit that it was laid down?” He also questioned, “How can the seafarers’ grievances, which did not come within the ambit of MLC, be addressed? Does mutual respect exist between the sailing and the shore staff? Does each understand the burden of responsibility on the other’s shoulders? Are seafarers using the correct means and modes to voice their concern? Is the shore staff able to address their concerns in a timely and mutually acceptable manner?  Above all does a disconnect exist between the ship and the shore staff? This is what we are going to find out through this Webinar.”

He informed the attendees that the sailing staff would voice their grievances and the moderators would seek the views of the panelists. The idea of the Webinar was to draw the sea and shore staff closer so that they could exist as one unit rather than be known as two sides of the same coin.

Capt. Maini then asked the Sea staff to air their grievances.

Capt. H.S.Sengar stated that the upcoming regulations were impractical to follow. He stated there was tremendous commercial pressure on the Masters. They have to keep the company continuously informed, which was affecting their rest hours. He said, “Due to the lack of support that we are getting from the office even the boarding agents have become more powerful than the captains. Another thing is that minimum stores are being supplied, they just manage to keep the propeller running.”

He added that the ship staff was now treated like a second class citizen.  “I find that over the years things have been deteriorating. We are now getting untrained staff which the company expects us to train.

“Salary is another problem,” he added.

Bharat Malhotra, Chief Officer, stated that the paper work had increased to such an extent that they have to work even on Sundays.

He said that the paperwork also involved taking photographs.

He added that they had to show that they were compliant with rest hours while in reality they had no rest hours.

He too voiced the grievance about untrained staff. He added that they were not being allowed in enclosed spaces. “How can we train them?” he queried.

Mr Ashish Singh, Second Officer, highlighted three points:

  1. Non-payment of wages on time. After sign-off they had to run for months to get their dues.
  2. The food supplied to them was sub-standard and insufficient
  3. The living conditions were below par. Bed bugs, torn sofas, defective fridges, defective and insufficient washing machines, were some of the problems.

Ms Anshu Priya,  Third Officer,  had three complaints:

  1. The contract period should be of a shorter duration. She stated that though many companies had come up with short duration contracts, they were not available for all departments and ranks.
  2. Reduction of paper work.
  3. Lack of shore jobs for women seafarers.

V Rajachandra, Able Seaman outlined his causes of distress thus:

  1. Seafarers should be given priority in getting the vaccination during this pandemic.
  2. Reduction in the contract period for ratings.
  3. Seafarers should be eligible for pension.

ADDRESSING THE GRIEVANCES

At this juncture, Capt Maini asked Capt Mahesh Yadav, as the moderator, to get the viewpoints of the panelists on the complaints voiced, so far, by some of the sea staff.

Capt. Mahesh Yadav, Director of Education and Training, FOSMA, declared that at the outset he would like some clarifications from Mr. Ashish Singh regarding his grievance about the living conditions and payment of wages. He wanted to know whether this was only applicable to the offshore sector.

He added, “I have heard that the wages of offshore sector are high. In fact they were supposed to be so high that they are calculated on daily basis.”

Ashish replied that this was in the earlier days. “From 2016 we hardly get any wages,” he said.

Capt Yadav declared, “As far as I know the food allowance paid is Rs. 405 per day per person.”

To which Ashish replied, “I am not sure about the amount but the quality of food we get is not substantial. The food provided to us is sub-standard. It seems like they believe that expenditure on food is a waste.”

To this, Capt Yadav asked if, among the panelists, Capt Ashok Kumar or Mr. Devli would like to respond to the grievances voiced by Mr. Ashish.

Mr. A Devli, CEO ,INSA, taking the mike, said, “I would not like to state that he is incorrect. Different companies have different principles. It would seem that he is, unfortunately, working for a company that does not meet his expectations.”

He added, “It is surprising to me why a sailor stays on board if the salary is not paid. There seems to be a mistaken notion that if a person does not stay on board he loses lien over the waves. However, such things also happen on shore. My suggestion to you would be to move on. Let this be a learning for you. And pass not only this learning but also give confidence to others. When you are facing problems you need not continue working with the company.

“Actually, most of the companies’ first priority over banking dues is offshore staff. If people like Capt Yadav or me, who are working ashore, do not get our salaries, we would have to stand in line like any other creditor.”

Mr. Amar Singh Thakur, Gen. Secretary of Maritime Union of India stated, “As per MLC, I would like to mention that if you are not getting your wages within one or two months you could invoke social security to get the wages. When such a complaint comes to us we put it before the Shipping Master, who deals with it. As far as food is concerned, it is clearly mentioned in the INSA agreement that healthy food is to be provided and even the menu is mentioned.”

Capt Yadav,  referring to the grievances of Capt Sengar, asked him whether he had any unpleasant experience aboard any of the ships that he had captained. Capt Sengar stated that he had sailed as Master aboard 12 ships of MSC and the standards of MSC, at the time when he sailed aboard its ships, was very good.”

Capt Yadav then asked Capt Basin to come aboard.

Capt. Bhasin, Chairman MASSA & Managing Director of MSC Crewing Services India stated “Initially I would like to congratulate  Maritime Destination for coming up with the concept of “Honouring the Authors”, some time back, and now with this series of webinars on “Connecting Sea and Shore”.  Thanking Capt Sengar for his favourable comments about MSC , he assured all those present that the standards have gone higher. He averred that all shipping companies were reaching out to the seafarers. The concept in all the companies, he said, was that of walking together.

Capt Bhasin added, “As far as increase in paper work is concern, I concede that this is true. It has increased on the ship as well as shore. All I can say about it is that we have to adapt to it.”

Mr S. M. Rai , Maritime Advisor & Consultant , wanted to know his reaction to more and more control of the ship being taken by the offices today rather than leaving it to the captain.

Capt Bhasin replied, “I would put it in a different perspective. Technology has improvised on many ships across the world. You are from IME, which has been providing onboard sensors wherein the ship owner can easily see the parameters of the machinery. This is the latest concept. And this will go on. People are talking of autonomous ships. These are changes which we have to accept. I don’t think owners have taken over everything. Remember, combined force of the people onboard is much more than the people sitting ashore.”

Thanking Capt. Bhasin, Capt. Yadav stated that Mr. Bharat Malhotra had, in his grievances, mentioned about photographs. He had complained that before they fix anything the shore officers required photographs. Capt. Yadav declared, this was extremely common in social media too. “Isn’t this interconnected? Is it due to improvement in communications or do you feel there is a difference in attitude?, he queried.

Mr. Malhotra averred that onshore staff wanted the same photos and paperwork on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. “Doing the same copy paste work is tedious,” he stated.

Capt. Bhasin asked for clarity from Mr. Malhotra’s  about his statement that untrained people were sent on board. Mr Malhotra replied that off shore staff found it difficult to train people without any experience, due to the prevailing rules and regulations. “One example,” he said, “was that cadets are not allowed to go in enclosed space. They say that cadets are not allowed as it is risky. Then how will they learn and become good second officers or third officers?” he questioned.

Capt. Yadav invited Capt. Sankalp Shukla, from Bernhad Shulte, to answer this.

Mr. Sankalp Shukla, Chairman FOSMA & Director BSM India stated that these regulations have emerged because of past experience. There had been several instances earlier, when these regulations were not applicable, of several cadets losing their lives. “Your query,” Capt. Shukla continued, “regarding how these cadets would learn, I would state that they would learn by observing the protocols and checklists that have to be followed by people who go inside tanks or aloft. When the cadet becomes a third officer or a second officer, he is accompanied by a senior when enters enclosed spaces.

“Being the Chairman of FOSMA I would like to inform the delegates that we have two institutes which provide training ashore. MASSA too has their own institutes. Best efforts are made to provide pre-eminent training ashore. But I, personally, believe that whatever training can be provided on board a ship can never be provided ashore. There is certain kind of practical training that has to be imparted on board the ship. Even when I was a cadet, then, my senior officer trained me for the job that I was subsequently going to take over. That kind of training will continue to be provided on board the ship. This is something that will continue.

“I am sorry that there is a lot of paper work. Several companies have a mentoring programme for the superintendents where they tell them to reduce the paper work, as much as possible.”

He also pointed out the fact, as pointed out by Capt. Bhasin, that new technology, aided by sensors, was making it possible to reduce paper work.

Capt Mahesh Yadav then took up the two issues raised by Ms. Anshu Priya: That of duration of the contract and the shortage of jobs for women seafarers.

Capt.  Maneesh Pradhan, Managing Director, Anglo Eastern Ship Management (I) Pvt Ltd, replying to the issue of duration of the contract said that one had to look at the commercial aspect. He stated that there were several nationalities who were trying to steal a march over Indian seafarers on the basis of contracts of long duration. One also had to remember that the industry had been going through a rough phase over the past several years. Since 2008 it had been spiraling downwards. He conceded that there were flickers. The container trade was doing well. The Bulk trade had also been picking up. But there were other nationalities like China, Vietnam, etc who are willing to sign long duration contracts. “One has to look at the commercial aspects,” he said and added, “It’s a decision forced on us by owners.”

He continued, “If one goes into the past, when Capt. Yadav or Capt. Maini were sailing, there were very few jobs for the Indians. We managed to knock over the Europeans and others only because we were willing to stay longer at lower salaries. I completely agree that it is a tiring job and we need to seek for shorter contract period but we need to wait till things improve commercially.”

Dr Sanjay Bhavnani, Director & COO, MMS Maritime India Pvt. Ltd., delving on the lack of shore jobs for women seafarers, initially paid tribute to the efforts of the Indian seafarers in keeping the global economy on track and asked all those present to applaud for them.

He declared that there has been a constant lack of understanding of the shipping world by the non-shipping world. He was sure that in due course the importance of the seafarers would be understood by the world.

Coming to the aspect of the shore jobs, he said that the world fleet had increased. This, in turn, needed more people ashore to manage the tonnage. It must be realized that ship management is a job that can be done only by people who have had experience of sailing on the sea. When a Master or chief engineer calls up from the ship, it is expected that the person sitting in the office should be able to understand their concerns and provide the best possible solution. So shore job opportunities will continue to increase as the global fleet increases. Indians have not only proved their worth onboard the ships but also excelled in proving their versatility. He added, “As far as women seafarers are concerned, according to me they are doing well onboard as well as on shore. I think we are on the cusp of seeing an explosion in this regard. A couple of years down the line we may be talking about why are the males being replaced ?”

Capt. Mahesh Yadav then invited Mr. Abdulgani Serang to address the woes of the final speaker in the first session, Mr. V Rajachandra.

Mr. Abdulgani  Y. Serang , General  Secretary – cum – Treasurer , National Union of Seafarers Of India (NUSI)  claimed that as Mr. Mansukh Mandavuya had taken over as Health Minister, the seafarers being given the status of frontline workers should not be a big issue. Talking about retirement benefits he disclosed that the DG Shipping had, on January 11, 2021 decided to extend provident fund, gratuity and pension benefits to all Indian seafarers on board Indian flag as well as foreign flag vessels. This would have to go through the approval process and he was sure that shortly these would be granted to the seafarers.

SECOND SESSION

Bringing the first session to an end, Capt. Yadav then handed the mike to Capt. Maini to proceed with the continuation of the second session of the webinar

Capt. Sanjay Maini then invited Mr. Aritra Chakravorty, Fourth Engineer to voice his grievances. He stated repatriation, due to the pandemic, was a major issue. Though his company had ably handled this issue, there were several seafarers who were finding this a major issue.

Another problem he stated was that companies were removing the ranks with the result that there would be no Fourth Engineer. People who are fresh out of their classes now would find no employment as Fourth Engineers.

The problem of the closure of training institutes was another contentious issue. “There are a few courses where you had to be physically present, but since the institutes are not being permitted to conduct classes where the candidates have to be physically present, it is posing a problem. In Kolkatta, where I hail from, restaurants, barber shops, etc. are reopening why are maritime training institutes closed?” he questioned.

Capt. Maini then asked Mr. Mahesh Radhakrishnan, Third Engineer, to narrate his points.

He outlined them thus:

  1. The wages were not increasing in keeping with the cost of living.
  2. Since automation on the ships was increasing the sailing staff needed to be trained for this. Electro Technical Officers were being removed from several ships and the Third Officer has to take charge. For this, training in the electrical parts should be provided to him. i

The Mike was then handed over to Ms. Nyari Nain, Second Engineer  who raised the following two issues:

  1. The industry had to get over the prejudice of promoting women. This was the main reason why there was a wide gap between the males and females in the management level, she said. She disclosed that many female seafarers had to use a “Mr.” before their name to even get a call.
  2. There was a massive unemployment among the juniors and cadets.

She ended by stating that she was born in a society where there was inequality between the two sexes but she would continue to fight for her rights.

Mr. Vivek Sangal, Chief Engineer, cited the problems thus:

  1. Due to the pandemic, crew changes in several countries are becoming a predicament for the seafarers. He was of the opinion that IMO must advocate mandatory standard guidelines for all member-countries to ensure speedier crew changes.
  2. Crew changes were, at times, affecting the health of onboard workers.  Due to this the SOPs for boarding a ship was becoming complex particularly since there were a number of RTPCR tests and a lengthy quarantine period. However, he said, companies were reluctant to enforce SOPs for visitors like port officials, terminal inspectors, loading masters, etc. They too can affect the health of the seafarers.
  3. The ignorance of the knowledge about Indian Officers Welfare Scheme. There should be a familiarisation process to make them aware of this. The long time taken for settlement of dues was also a problem.  He felt that there should be a social security or pension plan for retirement.

Mr. Surendra Rai, addressing the grievances of the sailing staff voiced by them during the second session, said that as far as Mr. Chakravorty’s complaint regarding the institutes being closed, making  the physical presence of the students impossible, it was mainly due to the pandemic conditions and the authorities’ concern for the safety of the students.

He asked Capt. Sankalp Shukla to comment about the problems of the removal of ranks cited by Mr. Chakravorty as well his friends who are freshly out of the institutes to get jobs as Fourth Engineer

Capt. Sankalp Shukla,  stated that it was the responsibility of a company, which employed any engineer as a junior engineer or a junior marine engineer to give them a berth of a Fourth Engineer. “Several panelists who are present here have told their owners that if you have a junior engineer and no Fourth Engineer how would the pipeline continue?” he said. He disclosed that most of the owners had agreed to the proposal of continuing with the rank of Fourth Engineer. He continued, “It is necessary for a person joining a company as a Jr. Engineer to check whether if there is an upgradation to Fourth Engineer in the company.”

Capt. Shukla then took up the issue of Mr. Radhakrishnan, who complained about the wages not being raised to keep pace with the increase in the cost of living. He said that Mr. Radhakrishnan is probably not aware that Mr, Amar Singh Thakur of MUI and Mr. Devli of INSA have signed a contract about this and he asked one of them to clarify on this issue.

Mr. Amar Singh Thakur, General Secretary of Maritime Union of India, disclosed that an agreement had already been signed and a booklet was being printed. The agreement would be implemented shortly.

Mr. Anil Devli, CEO, Indian National Shipowner’s Association stated that salary did not increase by default for those who are employed ashore. Salary would increase if he employer feels that the employee is deserving a raise.

Mr. Abdulgani Y Serang stated that on the Indian flag ships the salaries had already been increased and on foreign flag they were in the process of increasing it. It is around 35% during three years.

Capt. Shukla clarified that as per the agreement between MUI and INSA it had been mutually agreed to raise the salaries at regular intervals. He added that the issue of autonomous ships would be kept in abeyance because it is an issue that would be better understood in the future.

Coming to the grievances of Nyari Nain Capt. Sankalp stated that he would like to assure her that Indian shipping has been very supportive not only of training but also providing employment to women seafarers.  He reminisced, that on Women’s day this year, an “All Women Officers” ship, MT Swarna Krishna, was flagged off. One of the speakers, he said, had also disclosed that many women engineers were working ashore. “Thus,” he added, “I would say that the industry has no doubt about women’s abilities.”

Mr. Rai disclosed that several institutes were encouraging more women to join them and even offering them scholarships.

Addressing Mr Vivek Sangal’s grievance about delayed relief during the pandemic, Capt. Bhasin stated that India had, with support from all segments of the industry, started chartered flights to help the seafarers in crew change.

Today, Capt. Bhasin added, the problem was different. “Restrictions,” he said, “have been imposed on flights from India by several countries. The industry has been making continuous efforts to tackle this issue.”

The issue raised by Mr Sangal about no restrictions being imposed on outsiders visiting the ships was very relevant, asserted Capt. Bhasin

Mr Rai stated that Mr. Sangal had also raised the question of blame culture. “In the last few months I have also seen blame falling directly on the Master, like in the Evergreen collision case. With pilot on board, If something goes wrong, to hold the Master responsible because he is in command, I don’t think, is right.”

Mr Rai then asked Mr. Bhavnani if he would like to responds to the issue of too many regulations, raised by Mr. Sangal.

Mr. Bhavnani said, “We have to realize that ours is a complex industry. There is a heightened level of expectation from the stake holders. They want that things should be more and more compliant. The companies’ chartering the vessels need to demonstrate that they have taken due diligence that is required and the regulations will be followed at all times .

This is affecting the shore as well as the seaside. The industry requirements are continuously changing. Whether we like it or not we have to comply with the rules and regulations.

Capt. Navin Passey, Past Chairman FOSMA & Wallem India, the Chief Guest summing up said that there seems to be a lot of grief that the seafarers are facing. He cited the reason for this woe by offering a paradigm. He said that if one wore an extremely well laundered white shirt and there was an extremely small spot on it that would be noticed. One would not appreciate the immaculately white shirt but the unnoticeable small speck. He added, “Since the last about 1½ years, when the pandemic started I have been witness to your shore counterparts – the company, the unions, et al –  going that extra mile to see that you, as the most prized people in the industry, are taken care of. Yes, issues have been there and will continue to be there but the management on the shore side is supporting you, the seafarers,  and you are in their mind all the time.

“Another issue that was raised was about the gender difference. Well I would like to state that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The best way is to compare what we have today, with what we had 5 years ago. We have come a long way. We haven’t done enough, that’s for sure. But a lot of input has happened to make this a fairer world. The only way we can make the industry go forward is by working on it together.”

The webinar ended with a Vote of thanks for the organizers and the hope that the series of webinars planned for the future would, eventually, bridge the gap between the sea staff and the shore staff.

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