INDUSTRY OPINION

Seafaring is an art requiring great skills and perseverance: Maneesh Pradhan

The world of Shipping is largely unknown especially when it comes to what seafarers do onboard and what makes them earn the handsome salary that they do. The perils undertaken by a seafarer during his or her course of duty and the restricted life is something that most people who are not connected to the shipping industry never realize. As India is a known supplier of professional and good talent to the Industry, the percentage of the total pie that Indian seafarers represent is still a meagre 5%. Delving on the importance of the shipping industry, Mr. Maneesh Pradhan, Managing Director, Anglo Eastern Ship Management (I) Pvt. Ltd., in an exclusive interview with Maritime Destination, stated that it was an industry which had not yet received its due recognition.
He was desirous of more students from reputed institutions opting for a career in shipping industry where a fresh Marine graduate could earn a tax free salary of about USD 13,000-14,000 per month within about 12 to 15 years of service. Post that various shore options are available to take the career path forward. He disclosed that there was still a noticeable shortage of senior officers and a relative oversupply of Trainees and Junior Officers in the industry. This was mainly because the industry, initially, took some lead time but finally accelerated the intake of trainees through the various Maritime Training Institutes over the last 10-12 years. This has resulted in favorable numbers available at the junior ranks, asserted Mr. Pradhan, Managing Director, He clarified that the Industry has been under recession for over 10 years now and hence the growth in tonnage has not been as rapid as was expected, hence the supply has overshot the demand, especially for trainees.

There is a shortage of senior ranks and a surplus in the junior ranks. Could you tell us the reasons for this lopsided growth?

The reason for this lopsided growth could be attributed to the fact that there has been an unprecedented growth of Maritime training institutes over the last 10-12 years. This was intentionally done keeping in mind the expected growth in tonnage for the Indian Seafarers but unfortunately the recession has upset the forecast and hence this imbalance.

I recall that when I joined the Anglo Eastern office, one of the ranks that had a huge demand was 3rd officer. Today there is a surplus of them while there is a shortage of senior ranks. This could be attributed to the fact that though we have reacted to the fact that we need to grow the talent in India from the entry level, but it has a lead time and the efforts will show up only in a few more years when we could expect to be well stocked with our Marine professionals at every rank because the bottom ranks are filling up, and in due course, we should have good numbers at the top as well.

I may add that now with the progressive thinking of the government, projects like Sagarmala, port development, shipping hubs etc., Indian seafarers are also in demand for shore jobs. There are now several options ashore for Master Mariners and Chief Engineers in various roles of Crewing, Logistics, Operations, Quality, Technical, Chartering, Port development, Marine supply chain, Agencies etc. This demand for personnel ashore also contributes to the shortage of the senior ranks. Also, unfortunately it is skimming off the better talent of the younger generation who are keen to make careers ashore.

What would be the remedy for this?

Unfortunately there is no ready quick remedy to make do the shortage. What needs to be done is to nurture people and keep growing the talent regularly and structurally.

I would definitely put my vote for more onboard training and reduction of the shore based training in MTIs. Hands-on training onboard would not only shorten the time spent in MTIs but will also offer better insights about the onboard issues and operations leading to better skills of the seafarer. Onboard training will also expose the seafarer to the latest technology in use, which is rapidly changing, which many MTIs cannot keep pace with. Classroom training will always have its limitations and with progressing generations, the attention span also seems to be a challenge so nothing better than practical hands-on and real life experience.

Would also advocate for a faster and more structured examination / certification system. The proficiencies for each level should subdivided into modules in such a way that a seafarer can attempt to clear a certain set of proficiencies during each leave period rather than being eligible only after having amassed a certain time after which he has to, or can attempt all subjects. Example – a seafarer should be eligible to give certain subjects after 6 months sailing, then certain after 12 and then rest after 18 months. This will help maintain a steady flow of certified and tested seafarers rather than a pile up. As of today, seafarers spend a lot of time in obtaining their Certificates of Competency. This modular approach to certification would also reduce the burden on the seafarer as he sometimes spends over a year on leave without pay, staying away from home, only trying to clear his exams.

As far as Anglo Eastern is concerned, we have our own Academy where we personally select and train our seafarers for tomorrow. A lot of attention is paid to the quality of training and education imparted so that the boys make better seafarers onboard. The good standards practiced and taught in the Academy also ensures that the Cadets clear their exams faster and hence climb the ladder faster too.

The career progression of each Cadet is carefully planned to ensure his success onboard while keeping the ethos and reputation of Anglo-Eastern in mind. What is always borne in mind is that we intend to place the right guys with the right skills onboard so that the vessels run to the satisfaction of the Owners.

You claim that there is an excess of 2nd and 3rd Officers. By what period of time do you believe they could be updated to fulfill the vacancies for senior officers?

About 10 years ago we had started Anglo Eastern Maritime Academy (AEMA). Today almost 30-35 boys from AEMA are chief officers and 2nd engineers. In another 3-4 years they would be Masters and Chief Engineers. Again, thanks to DG, the examination system has become more transparent and faster so the movement is faster now.

ADVERSE EFFECT OF HIGH WAGES

So after 2-3 years there would be no shortage of senior officers?

Well it would depend on the tonnage allotted to us Indians. Unfortunately India is also challenged on tonnage acquisition front because we are becoming expensive. We are expensive when compared to Taiwanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and some others. Though the GDP of most of these countries are more than that of India, the salaries of Indian seafarers is higher. No doubt that Indian Seafarers are very skilled but thanks to the efforts / labors put in by many other nationalities, they too are matching up on many accounts which offers Ship Owners a choice. It is only normal that when choice is available, the economics play a big role in the decision making.

So what would be your take on wages? What are the wages that should be paid?

That’s a sensitive issue. Everybody likes higher wages but they should also be competitive. Over the last decade, we are having a recession which has had a deleterious effect on the industry. Many ship owners are still in the red. Every 2-3 years, some ship owning companies are selling a ship to liquidate their assets for survival. Several traditional companies have been acquired by financial institutions so as to help them tide over the crisis. There is a lot of pressure globally on the industry to cut operating costs while some new regulations such as ballast water and fuel regulations are actually driving the cost up. The new strategy comes at a time when the maritime sector is facing historical challenges and opportunities. Zero pollution, decarbonisation, sustainability, digitalization, data exchange, safety and security, compliance and effective enforcement are all topics that the sector will be tested by and will need to address in the coming years. About sixty per cent of the operating cost comprises of crew wages hence that is always under the scanner. When the automobile industry was having recession, everybody including large companies like General Motors, resorted to wage cuts. Similarly, the airline industry also has taken cut in wages and frills, to keep afloat.

I recall that when I was in college (from 1989-1993) we used to look up on the Europeans and Japanese who used to get 10,000-12,000 dollars while Indians received only 2,000-3,000 dollars as Masters and Chief Engineers on similar vessels. In a few years we had seen the end of the Japanese and European era. Indians were performing more efficiently at 1/5th of the salaries offered to them which made them noticed and desirable. Now, we have elevated ourselves to the position of the then Europeans and Japanese. If any shipping company buys a ship he would like to hire crew which would cost him less. It is simple economics. We should never underestimate other nationalities who are willing to work for lower wages. We often underestimate other nationalities but believe me that they are fast catching the attention of a lot of ship owners. Many thought that Chinese were no threat because they could not speak English but just to let you know, I have received messages from Chinese Masters in flawless English. Even if the message has been drafted with the help of Google translator, what must be appreciated is that they have looked for ways to match up – if not surpass. The world, today, looks at the end result.

When the times were good, Anglo Eastern gave five increments in 2008 because there was a high profitability ratio. Today a ship owner finds it difficult to break even due to high operating costs resulting from the high wages. All we can pray and wait is for the trade and in-turn shipping industry to hit the purple patch again so that if the profits start to rake in, then the ship owner may consider sharing the profit with the sea staff, by means of better pay and terms.

ACCIDENTS

There are so many accidents occurring in the maritime industry with very little side effects. If this occurs in the airlines, there is a great hue and cry. Are we lacking in training?

This is part of my everyday briefing to seafarers that we must emulate the aviation industry so as to achieve the highest levels of operational efficiency. While we aim for the higher goals, one basic difference between airlines and shipping is the level of technology employed by the two industries. Shipping is the cheapest form of transport while airlines are the most expensive one. The technology employed for an aircraft engine is totally failsafe. It is true that a pilot has fewer accidents than a seafarer but they are handling two different levels of technology. In aviation, automation is the key word and almost everything can be done by the computers. In shipping much of it still needs manual inputs and monitoring. The other aspect is that ships sail for way longer time to complete voyages and hence the probability of things going wrong for the crew or machine is multifold more on a ship than an aircraft.

Would like to clarify that there are not too many accidents in shipping compared to many other industries. Having said this, I must say that even 1 accident is not desirable and we keep training and working constantly towards achieving ‘zero accidents / failures. I believe that the industry wise safety records are getting better by the day. In my opinion and basis facts, Shipping is considered to be one of the safest professions.

PSYCHOMETRIC ASSISTANCE

Today cadets are required to be psychologically fit. Why has this crept into seafaring career? If there is something wrong mentally one can understand but why lay stress on psychology?

Each generation is different in their ways and behaviors. The present young boys and girls too are different from us on a few accounts. They are way better than the previous ones in terms of intellect, analytical thinking, awareness etc. What is noticeable is that the present generation is more emotional and that is not necessarily negative. I too as a parent handle my son with kid gloves as compared to how my father handled me when I was growing up, so in a way I am also responsible for my child being emotionally dependent on me. In our times, we were thrown into the deep end and we learnt how to swim after choking and struggling. Today we buy our children fancy equipment, we ensure that the water is safe and warm, etc and hence we provide our children with a sheltered life. Thanks to the internet and 24 hour connectivity, we have always shadowed our children without letting them think and work independently which is now showing up in the mental toughness levels. Overflow of information through social media and the multiple channels of communication available are not helping either, and not to forget peer pressure and parental ambitions. It may be wrong to think that the mental fitness is only of concern in shipping, as I am aware and read that this is an epidemic hitting across all industries.

Speaking of life at sea, in our times there was no news of what was happening ashore. At ports, an agent would come with hard copies of letters. If the news that someone had expired came to you sometime after the event had occurred it would not affect you so much. But today news reaches you in real time which can have adverse effects on the recipient. When a cadet goes out to sea he idolizes the Master and dreams of being one. Keeping this in mind, one must teach and exhibit the right values and behaviors as influence of seniors are strong and long lasting. The responsibility of shaping the next generation is ours and we have to be up to it.

Moving ahead, we should teach the children to be resilient and strong by letting them get exposed to more decision making and lesser cover from our end.

All said and done, this is the generation that’s going to shape the world ahead so we need to trust, support and suitably back them. We need to equip them with tools to maintain good mental health. Mediation, Yoga, Extensive workouts, appropriate reading material are some available tools which could help. I recently came across this App called ‘Calm’ which is a very good App in helping to meditate and relax.

So instead of selecting cadets who are pampered should we not select those who have faced hardships in their daily lives, like those from the rural areas? Rural youngsters are unable to enter this field as they are not able to pay the fees?

I would not like to draw lines between urban and rural as that is not fair as per me. What matters is what’s within and the right person has to be screened and fished out. We must look for that guy who is determined to make a successful career at sea rather than being one who is pushed in because of lack of options. One tool that we use for screening Cadets at the entry level, is psychometric testing. We filter out people who pose serious attitude and mental stability problems. In Anglo-Eastern, psychometric tests are conducted when you enter as a cadet and they are repeated at the time of every promotion. When you reach the status of a senior officer we do a higher level of psychometric assessment because when you take command of the ship, you are in charge of the working of the entire ship, so you have to have the right attitude.

With regards to the finances, for people interested in enrolling at Anglo Eastern Maritime Academy, we arrange bank loans and this has resulted in several youngsters from rural areas entering the seafaring career. We are also looking at developing some scholarship schemes for deserving candidates.

MASSA’S ROLE IN THE SHIPPING INDUSTRY

You have a major stake in MASSA. As one of the largest ship management companies, what are your expectations from this body?

MASSA is a great conglomerate of people from the maritime industry. It is a wonderful bouquet of people and companies which stand together to address issues faced by the industry and its people by pooling ideas on how to affect improvements. MASSA is committed to provide good training facilities to the seafarers and has a great faculty implementing this vision. Being a major stake holder we are very appreciative of all efforts and initiatives of MASSA and support them at all times. MASSA has also been a great body to discuss and successfully solve issues brought up by the member lines. MASSA serves a s a very good representation of all participating Companies to help address / communicate with the Administration. MASSA brings the industry expectations to the notice of the Administration. This helps save time for the Administration too as it is a lot easier to deal with the common representation rather than each member line communicating independently.

Working ahead, my wish list would be that we should work more towards popularizing seafaring a a career of choice Seaferers are little known in the society today but I wish that we all work together to better this status.
Being a seafarer myself, I feel strongly towards the cause and glory of the community. Seafarers have facilitated maritime trade, civilizational contacts and new discoveries since time immemorial, even at the cost of enduring difficult conditions and facing grave physical hazards. Modern seafarers are no different. They form a crucial element of the global economic system, while braving risks, pressures and hardships that are unique to a life at sea. A seafarer is a rare professional of one of the most globalized industries. A small team of 18 to 25 people who take the vessel with an asset value of over 50 million dollars through the oceans carrying cargo worth maybe more with his priceless colleagues and the environment to protect, is no mean task. What is unique is that there is no 2nd person with the same skill to back up – each person is of a unique rank with a fixed set of certification and responsibilities. No external aid such as doctors or professionals to solve problems are available when things go out of hand. An entire set of encyclopedias could be written on what rides on a seafarer but since that is not the main discussion here, I shall contain my passion for now. My main contention is that a seafarer is primarily unheralded and unacknowledged and this should change with the help of bodies like MASSA, FOSMA, INSA etc.

CHANGES IN THE WORKING OF DG OFFICE

You mentioned that DG Shipping had become transparent. What are the changes that you have observed between the working of DGS of the past and present?

The change is very transparent. Your physical presence is not required in the office. The job gets done on line. You can apply for renewals from the ship or your home. The documentation is a lot more accurate. Due to computerization there are few or no errors. The best part is that there is no corruption today. In fact the DCEs are now automatically issued; you don’t have to apply for them. The presnt DG, Shri Amitabh Kumar, is a visionary and is steering the administration body in right direction with praiseworthy integrity and intent. The digital revolution is surely visible and in good use and is a pleasant change from what we have experienced in our times.

Are there some more expectations from the DG?

The present DG’s crack down on all the fraudulent maritime training institutes has been brilliant. Now it has become imperative to do the right thing. If you want a certificate, complete the course and pass through the exam. You cannot buy a certificate. The DG’s crackdown is a very welcome move. We are very proud of him and we support him.

Expectations from the DG are that the examination systems should become better structured and provide faster throughput. I have already mentioned the wishlist in the earlier question. Just to revisit, if one looks at the Pilipino system one finds that they do their modules in a time-bound framework. If this is done, people would be able to clear the exams faster and it would be a continuous process. Instead of conducting the exam in 18 months, why can’t we break it into six months duration? If two modules are done every six months, the availability of people for sailing would also be greater.

While the opening up of CDC criteria for everyone was a good step, the watch keeping certification also needs to be looked into. In other countries one can get watchkeeping certificate in 3 or 6 months. But here the requirement is much more. We have made a representation through MASSA, for reducing the time frame for this so that we can create more berths for Indian Ratings. Certain ships, like those under the Hong Kong flag, want 12 months experience for watch keeping which is not easy to find in the Indian market as of today.

Earlier there was a sense of pride of being a Marine Officer, now this is missing and the only thing that is of consideration is the remuneration. Isn’t this bad?

I wouldn’t agree that the sense of pride is missing. You will find a lot of people who take pride in their profession while there are others who are more lured to the monetary gains. I would say that the demand for senior professionals is very high and this sometimes results in a sense of complacency with some people which is a challenge for us. With international laws becoming more rigid and strict, people will have to become serious and compliant at some stage. We have to be a ‘zero accident’, ‘zero incident’ industry. I am not aware of too many industries where professionals can earn such handsome salaries so I am proud of my background and wish all my colleagues to be so too. We have to keep reminding ourselves to be competent and professional so that Ship Owners prefer Indians over other nationalities.

Would you like to add anything?

We, as Indians, have to be very vigilant. We need to deliver quality by reducing injuries, pollutions, damages, downturns, demurrages etc., so as to stay amongst the choices of nationalities available today. We live in an industry where everyone wants safety. If you sit in a plane and the pilot announces that we are about to take off and we are 99% sure of landing safely at the destination but there is 1% chance of an accident, nobody would want to travel. Similarly every ship owner wants the assured safety of the people, environment and cargo.
End of the day, it is after all about the reputation and employability of Indian Seafarers. Companies like Anglo-Eastern have invested hugely on training of Indian seafarers and remain the largest employers of Indian seafarers till date.

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