INDUSTRY OPINION

Savior Of The Stranded Seafarers, Capt. Sanjay Prashar

“One man NGO,” “Captain Lifeboat” are some of the names given by different people to the man who is always there to help Seafarers and the Maritime Industry. The Man – Capt Sanjay Prashar – has proved his utility by influencing the influential for many policy changes. He has been a lifeline for hundreds of sailors who have been stranded. The list of such assistance goes beyond 600 distressed Seafarers and families. Such effort has been acknowledged by India Today in Dec 2019 Yearly edition, which has declared him as the “Unsung Hero” of India. Indeed, his flair and dynamism are unmatched! He is a sailor at heart.
Maritime Destination, to gain an insight into the personality of the person who heads a successful shipping company, Chairman of International Maritime Federation (IMF) and Vice President, Maritime Security Study Group of the Mumbai based think tank Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), took some time to know him and his views on Seafaring community.

COMPASSION AND CONSIDERATION

At the outset, I must say that the Seafarers understand you to be the “Man Friday”, a “Go to Man”. How have you acquired the image of savior for the stranded seafarers?

In addition to my core activity, in last 5 Years I have helped more than 650 Seafarers having difficulty and over 103 distressed Seafarers. I am born into a Hindu family and many traits come from the rituals of this great religion. When I was sailing, I helped several fellow Seafarers and they have reciprocated when I ventured to set up my own company.  I have followed our cultural values, ethos and have benefited immensely.

Social media has become a tool to voice their grievances. A trend that I noticed during 2012 – 2016, was that the, seafarers asking for help and opinion on Facebook pages, as they were not getting replies, so I decided to look into the issue which would help create a positive impact within the society. It was in February, 2016, while I was trying to establish my company, two families rung me up. One of them stated that their son was missing in Iran while the other stated that they wanted to bring back the mortal remains of their son, this touched my heart and since then I have devoted myself to address the grievances to the best of my ability.

I observed that illegal Indian agents were cheating families to the tune of over Rs 3 Lakhs. On such sad state of affairs, I approached seafarers well-wisher Hon. minister Mr. Shekhawat ji. He was sympathetic and who was my mainstay to resolve all such cases. We approached the Minister of External Affairs, Ms. Sushma Swaraj Ji to help us releasing stranded seafarers.

I was amazed to note that over 10000 seafarers had gone through non-RPSL holders and illegal agents in the last one year. I started putting up Whats-App/voice messages for all those facing similar problems to contact me. Within one month of my sending the message I was flooded with appeals and I was shocked to know that there were about 2,500 seafarers on abandoned ships in Iran. Something needed to be done by the Administration and by the Government immediately on a short term and a long terms basis to stop such exploitation. There were more than 250 Indian Seafarers lodged in Foreign Jails, more than 1000 stranded in foreign / Indian ports. The DG Shipping and then Honorable minister Mr. Gadkari Ji were very helpful and were open to changes. The ministry decided to send a team to Iran in the Year 2016 and I was a part of the team. We took up the issues of the seafarers with the Shipping Minister of Iran and after identification the mortal remains of Ranjeet were brought back to India.

The exploited seafarers did not belong to any union or RPSL companies. My noble efforts have continued till date and my mobile number +91-9930467030 is virtually known to all, including seafarers in distress. The social media including Whatsapp, Twitter, are being used to seek help when needed.

Have you faced a similar situation while you were sailing?

Not really. Things have changed drastically after 2009 and went unchecked till the year 2017. It is only after the introduction of e-Migrate for Indian Seafarers that the situation has improved at Human Rights at Sea. Minuscule number of seafarer’s grievance cannot take away the credit from L companies for the increased employment by 35%.

INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL MEDIA

You are believed to have taken an active interest in humanitarian causes after 2014. Why this compassionate interest in social causes?

Social tools are used heavily by illegal agents to exploit the seafarers, which is definitely not acceptable and such trend increased from 2014 onwards. With my background and culture ingrained in me through my association with RSS Shakha and other social organizations, lesson learnt from compassion I do not wish to comment any further. However, the social media tools have been of great help in reaching the seafarers effectively and quickly.

I would like to know the real identity of Sanjay Prashar. He seems to have acquired the tag of being a being assertive in achieving objectives. Who is he in reality?

Sanjay Prashar is just an ordinary person, son of an Air-force officer and forms a peaceful state of Himachal Pradesh. I have had my initiation form Kendriya Vidyalaya before joining sea and during the long journey situation and several people have contributed towards my progress,

I believe that when you are passionate about your work, there are occasions when you tend to be a bit assertive. There are times when you have to be patient as well. God has blessed me with certain virtues and I follow my intuitions. People can evaluate me in their individual ways. As far as I am concerned, I am one among many who is a part of maritime Industry.

Are you comfortable with such image? Does it affect your efforts?

I am not perturbed by any image that people form of me. There are matters where one has to express his views unequivocally and assertively and I follow it to the “Bitter end”. As far as I am concerned, I believe I am one among the few who would like to air his views without any reservations and feel Truth must be spoken aloud. Probably this is how Gen Y also feels.

The industry, it is believed, has several people as its “spokespersons” airing their views. Any comments?

Nether I confirm nor I deny, however, shipping in general is a very conservative industry and more so in India, you will find that there are very few people who are presented as the “spokes persons” of our industry. The same set of people express their views at almost all seminars, Maritime committees or even at Government meetings. Whether it is CMMI, FOSMA, IMEI, MASSA, INSA, ICCSA, IMF and even the DG’s function, you will find the same spokesperson even in trusts or any other social groups where as the industry comprises of

4 lakh Indian seafarers,

7000 ships belonging to 4000 ship owners,

425 RPS agencies,

145 Maritime Training Institutes and

800 + DG approved Doctors.

Without being concerned with such, for me this is the shipping industry and I am not limited to any group or Association. I would like to be known as a man of the masses, not the classes.

How successful you have been with such pragmatic attitude?

My work says all and I can say I am happy but have a long way to go. My organization, VR Maritime Services Pvt Ltd, manages 74 Ships under Crew Management and few ships under Technical Management.

I am also attached to IMF, but have also rendered assistance to associations like FOSMA and MASSA, etc. for seafarers common interest. I do due diligence on every issue on my own to convince its applicability for good. Based on my conviction, I put my efforts to achieve the objective and never run away from the task, no matter how difficult it may be.

In the mighty big ocean, it is “the big fish eats the small ones”. It is extremely difficult to start a new venture for the obvious reasons of resistance from established players. I joined the IMF (International Maritime Federation) in 2016 and I am proud to be a part of it till date. As said, in this vast ocean there is space for every entrepreneur to work with sincerity.

You were a part of MASSA. Any specific reason of leaving MASSA and joining the IMF.

MASSA is great organization but restricted to Ship Owners and Ship managers, agent only. There was a need to bring all facets of Maritime industry involved in manpower services under one banner. I observed IMF moving towards this objective. IMF was founded in Year 2015 and I joined them in 2016. IMF has members from Crew Management Companies, Maritime Training Institutions and DGS approved Doctors, etc. a credible platform with above objective. Since my joining IMF, the membership has increased to beyond 50. Without getting into specifics I noted that in big organization it was difficult to participate in a constructive manner to bring quick changes due to the fact that such organization had restrictions and were controlled by their superiors from abroad, which IMF never faced in its working process.

What was the specific reason of leaving MASSA?

In addition to the reasons mentioned above, MASSA’s working style is quite different. When I left MASSA, Capt Shiv Halbe was the chairman. There was a board of directors who took all decisions and members had very little role. The new members were not treated at par with the existing and old members. Understanding such a wide gap in the ideas between the two, I left MASSA. I reiterate that that FOSMA and MASSA are both run by their set of directors, who virtually remain the same (records will prove it) and have restrictions as mentioned.

There is a belief that you tried to dominate in MASSA and you are doing the same in IMF?

I would not like to comment on the veracity of your sources. The IMF, at present, has 53 members. And all have an equal say. Taking up issues and leading from the front is leadership and not dominance. IMF is active in its presentation to the authorities because of effective analysis and feedback from members. We have expressed the basic lacunae in the present policies because, same set of rules framed with the help of the big organizations cannot be applied to small entities. In other Industries, you have separate structures / policies for big, medium, small and micro scale Industries, so why not in Shipping. The IMF’s decision making is democratic and goes by the views of the majority.

ANALYZING DATA

You are known for your knowledge of analyzing data. How did you develop this penchant or affinity for evaluating data?

MIS is the essence of any management activity and for such, data analysis is the backbone. I am thankful to Mitsui OSK lines, late Capt. Iwamoto for his mentoring. All credit to Shipmate, a program built by SBNT, and MIS tools. I became passionate and due to my deep involvement in analysis and analytical tools, I could help Mitsui OSK Lines in devising the new promotion policy in 2004. With this we could gauge why people – even youngsters with high potential – were leaving, while non-performing too much experienced people were staying behind.

I am convinced that numbers speak volumes and analysis gives direction for improvement. Being passionate about analyzing the data, I started seeking data from DG Shipping office. Dr. Malini V. Shankar, who took over the reins from Mr. Shetty, made the work simpler by hosting the information on the DG Shipping website. Mr. Amitabh Kumar, present DG Shipping, has further increased the digitalization, e-governance and improved with data representation.

All data related to human elements, training, employment and the MTIs status, occupancy etc. should be readily available, by DG Shipping which will go a long way to help the industry analyze and improve. We are happy that DGS has now formed a committee for data analysis with the Industry.

Let me give you a small example. From Year 2012, the nautical side started putting data of Examination along with the marks obtained (marks were never informed to examinees for decades, we appreciate that), it improved performance but, the analysis in number of candidates at various centers showed variance. To put my point across, we noted that in Master FG exams. But sadly this data was not available for Class 1 Motor FG exams, (C/E Exams)

Year No of MTIs Written appear Written Pass Written pass % Orals appear Orals Pass Orals pass %
2019 30* 844 736 87.3% 1655 575 34.74%

* 30 number of MTIs is not correct. MMT Khopoli they have mentioned as 0, which is wrong as MMT Khapoli does not have this exam. And they have given FMIRO and FOSMA Kolkata 2 places while in reality it is one. They have listed HIMT having 4 colleges while in reality there is only one.

It will be nice if SOPs (Standard operating procedures) are formed at DG Shipping for Cross-verification or validation of data. This kind of data will help the industry and the seafarer for improvement and facilitation beside the DGS taking corrective action.

 Will the CIP (Comprehensive Inspection Program) for RPS companies help in credibility matters?
Any improvement process brings credibility. However, I am not in favor of the DG Shipping coming out with something new and additional check which in turn will increase more regulatory and costly processes rather than facilitating job Creation, during this time of slump in shipping. The philosophy of CIP can be embedded in the Audit and must be carried out concurrently by expanding the checklist of Audit.

The recruitment companies present a moral and respectable image before receiving the RPSL. Later they show their true colors. So what’s wrong with having a CIP later?

Let me clarify, the DGS does not issue RPSL without thorough initial inspection and which is followed by Annual inspections. This is also supplemented by monitoring, hence, the DGS has the liberty to inspect at any given time when they are in doubt. With such process, I do not foresee CIP improving the process or stopping illegality. The CIP will issue grades (A, B, C, etc.) to the company. CIP for training institutes has turned out to be ineffective. The case of CIP for MOTA, PKIML, SEI, etc. speak for themselves.

Lessons learnt from CIP for MTIs should be analysed before adopting CIP for RPSL holders.

FINS

You are closely associated with Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) and have conducted several seminars. Tell us about it.

FINS is an organization devoted to work towards national security interests. It consists of thinkers and well wishers who devote their time and energy towards the cause in national interest. To understand the maritime aspects, it branched a Maritime Security Study Group in 2015. I am the co-convener and work under Shri Atul Kulkarni. General Shekatkar is our President and Advocate Shri Bal Desaiji is the Secretary General. Under Maritime study group we have contributed our efforts towards:

a.  Shifting of longitude of high-risk areas from 78 degrees to 65 degrees,

b.  Deliberations on legalization of Private maritime security contractors and the rules that they should follow. We worked with Gujarat National University for this.

c.  We worked on Sagar 1.0 and Sagar 2.0, annual international conferences for providing an opportunity of discourse and fruitful dialogue among like-minded partners in the strategic sphere across the world.

d.  Seminar and paper on Human Rights at Sea.

e. We also undertook India’s influence at sea and more recently we had deliberations on India’s influence at IMO.

FINS conduct research on various issues and we submit our papers to the required ministries. FINS report promoted National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to call for task force meeting on Seafarers. We submitted a report on Human Rights at Sea. I am happy to inform that Capt L.K.Panda, Ex NA, has joined us in addressing the Human Rights of seafarers at sea and is sharing his experience, advice for common benefit.

I request you to visit our website https://finsindia.org/ for the detailed representation of the organisation in the national interest.

OPPOSITION TO TENDER ON E-LEARNING

Your views on the initiative on the DGS on e learning and the Examination on Modular Courses.

I have been advocating the E Learning, Examination, maximum digitalization and data sharing from 2016 and I am happy that the authorities are moving towards it gradually and are adopting the E learning and the E governance in Training and certification is welcome. Today more than 31,000 Indians are registered for e learning of DG Shipping. Soon exit exams for 23 modular courses will be conducted by MTIs and will be centralized. Every year 2 Lakh exit exams will be held centrally to benefit seafarers.

Let me clarify that I am not in dis-agreement to the tender process. I understand that government guidelines on tendering process would have been followed so I have no comments at this stage other than to say that is that there should not be a conflict of interest in any MTI. My concerns have been addressed by Ministry of Shipping now and I hope successful implementation of exit exams happen soon.

NEED FOR RPSL

What is your take on status and performance of RPSL companies?

Job creators should be requested at all times. Let’s celebrate and cherish about 2.3 Lakh employment generated by RPSL last year. This is a mandatory requirement under the MLC 2006, MS ACT and the MS RPSL Rule. The big and small RPSL holders have increased the employment of Indian Seafarers and soon touch 3 lakhs. Along with increase in employment some irregular practices have crept in, which are very embarrassing. To have effective checks and balances improvement in monitoring through effective E governance by DGS is a must and has to be improved to catch such delinquents.

There are about 425 RPSL holders and every such holder has his own way of conducting business, Creating jobs for Indian Seafarers. RPS companies are wealth creators of India. I will be happy if we can have a study on the business trend of RPS Agencies. These RPS agencies bring estimated inflow of USD 9 Billion in crew wages remittances.

PUNISH THE GUILTY BUT DON’T BRAND ALL AS DELINQUENTS AND IMPOSE RESTRICTIVE MEASURES THROUGH NEW RESTRICTIONS. ALL MUST BE FACILITATED TO CREATE MORE EMPLOYMENT AND BE TREATED AS WEALTH AND JOB CREATORS. It is unfortunate that unlike other ministries where job creators are facilitated, the RPSL holders who are creating nearly 3 lakh well paid jobs, creating wealth in billions, this ministry’s and DGS attitude has been rather disappointing. Auditors authorized by DG Shipping have failed to analyze audit reports and issue relevant guidance notes. Analysis of show cause notices issued to RPS agencies and Seafarers can be an asset, helping MSME (RPSL) or Start up RPSL to up their business and lower their risks.  Recent trends of 3 Grievances per day lodged by Seafarers vide online system of DG Shipping is serious matter and needs a direct talk with Industry.

90% of RPS agencies are small and medium players who employ about 50,000 Seafarers every year. Thus, there’s a serious need to respect their voice, appreciate their concern and contribution.

RPS companies are also learning new e-governance modules and digitization of data. As Seafarers are coping up with new technologies, so do RPS agencies are making up with new compliance management basis MLC 2006.

Grievance of Seafarers also define RPS Companies work now a days. There’s an immediate need to review pre-departure orientation training (PDOT) in a very standard format for all seafarers. 90% of the seafarers complete their contract. The social and the financial requirements of the seafarers are changing. We should learn from the Ministry of External Affairs which has, after making a thorough study of several case studies, come up with standard formats which is now helping the Recruitment Agencies as well as workers.

I would be happy if pre-departure orientation training (PDOT) is done on a mass scale by unions and RPSL companies and I think syllabus at MTIs also needs to be revised so that the seafarers know about 5 things:

1.  The DGS profile; so that they know that they have the correct data, correct passport number, correct phone number and email and they must share the password with one of their family members.

2.  Value of career at Sea and expected environment onboard the ship. The seafarers should know the do’s and don’ts of any trading pattern. This can only come with experience and the knowledge of their seniors or the agents who are there in the port.

3.  Online grievances. The seafarers should know, as per MLC 2006, how they can report their grievances.

4.  The guidelines issued by DG Shipping about the usage of COP online, CP online, sea-time assessment. All these should form a part of training so that even the seafarers can visit the FAQs

All these requirements of seafarers should be met by the MTIs or RPSL or the unions. I think greater communication can help seafarers which, in-turn can help the whole industry.

DG APPROVED DOCTORS

What about the DG approved doctors? It seems to be like a Doctors’ bazaar.

Data shows that 5% Indian seafarers fail pre-joining medical tests. The biggest reason for failure is kidney stones, followed by cardiac problems and drugs.

This is a requirement under the MS Medical Examination Rule and the medical personnel are approved as per Rules. Earlier, the DG approved doctors were doing a lucrative business. This is not true any longer. MTIs have opened clinics with their own doctors.

What the DG Shipping has done now is, e-governance module for Doctors to upload data of FIT / UNFIT Seafarers. I think that if the seafarer is declared unfit, it should be cited to all the other doctors on the panel.

There should be deliberations on this issue. Recently there was a case where one doctor had declared a seafarer permanently unfit and another doctor had declared him permanently fit.

Then there is another case where the seafarer is onboard and the DG approved doctor has given him medicals done on a date when the seafarer was onboard. We have brought this to the notice of DGS and I hope they take some action on this issue.

There should be standardization in interpretation and application of the medical rules, benefits and other such issues.

Anything else you would like to add?

You have virtually covered all aspects however , I would like to see

a. India participating at IMO with a permanent representative and participating at meetings for its strategic interest.

b. Administrative improvement by having domain experts at DGS and reorganize the Directorate to address the issues effectively like developed maritime countries.

c. Enact the new Merchant Shipping Act.

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