November 29, 2008

Bigger Pictures

Just a few days ago, on November 12 this year, Islamic fighters seized control of the strategic Somali port city of Merka, just fifty five miles from Mogadishu. Al Shabaab militia chanted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") as they entered the city. Most of the UN relief enters the famine stricken country from this area.

Al Shabaab has been banned by the United States as a terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda. The US has, till last year, bombed targets within Somalia claiming they were Al Qaeda camps. A proportion of the ransoms paid for hijacked ships are believed to finance Al Shabaab operations. This outfit already controls the port of Kismayo, Somalia’s third largest city, which it took in August. It has recently taken control of two other towns near Merka, Bulo Marer and Quryoley. One could successfully argue that it controls large strategic areas in Southern and Central Somalia, and will threaten Mogadishu and the Horn next.

Al Shabaab and the remnants of the Islamic Courts Union seem to have successfully overcome the two year old US backed Ethiopian ‘invasion’ of Somalia after rejecting a UN proposal for sharing power. The battle is now getting bloodier, and the war in Somalia seems to be now getting out of control.

I am sure that the intelligence agencies of the world are following these developments closely, particularly in the US; after all, they have been around in Somalia even before the well known ‘Black Hawk down’ incident of 1993. Unfortunately, the financial crisis, elections and two larger wars elsewhere will not allow a lame duck US President run very far to handle this crisis. In any case, the US sees the piracy problem as a European one more than anything else.

Additionally, I fear that we in the industry are buying the feel good naval presence as the big fix. Maybe we need reminding of Yemen’s links with Al Qaeda, and that Bin Laden’s father come from there. A reminder, too, of the explosive dingy laden ramming of the USS Cole in Aden harbour in 2000 and the tanker Limburg off Yemen in 2002. That region is a dangerous neck of the woods, and Yemen having done a Pakistan act in the war on terror does not change that.

How is all this pertinent to a shipping magazine, you may ask. Well, for one, if the maritime fraternity thinks that the menace of seajackings in the region is going to be solved by coalition navies alone, it is breaking wind against thunder. The problem is not just at sea. The problem, as is usual with many issues we seafarers face, is to be found on land.

Notice that there have been remarkably (and thankfully) few mariner casualties over the years of ship hijackings. I am convinced this is not a coincidence; pirates and terrorists have continued to amass ransoms knowing full well that spilling seafarer blood regularly may force even the usually uncaring international community to rattle some sabre. Notice, too, that coalition navy patrol and recon military aircraft don’t seem to have made much dent in the frequency of pirate attacks and even hijackings. Reports are coming in as I write this on the weekend of the Stolt Valor being released. However, another Stolt vessel was hijacked recently, besides others. These pirates are not some cowboys robbing a liquor store. These are trained militia with a plan. That plan is honed ashore.

The genesis of the problem is decades old and is protracted. India, with much of its cargoes flowing in and out of the area cannot but press for a final resolution to the Somali problem. The Government of India must, without any further delay, push the IMO, the UN and the international community to address the root cause of the problem, which is the state of civil war in Somalia. Warlords have been in control for almost two decades, and the Transitional Government has been transitional for too long out there.

One could argue successfully that Yemen is not a big problem at present. However, we must engage that region diplomatically and otherwise before it becomes so again. India has a huge stake in keeping the sea lanes safely open in the region. And so does commercial shipping worldwide, which is why it must make every effort to push Governments to do more to tackle the Somali crisis on the ground. It won’t do that, unfortunately, because it almost never sees the big picture. It just reacts to snapshots.

India declares itself an economic powerhouse in the making, but it fails one litmus test, which is the protection of its seafarer citizens abroad. Whether in Somalia or elsewhere, this wannabe giant has failed its mariners. Equally importantly, its economic lifeblood is now being choked in its own extended backyard and the movement of its cargoes is threatened by criminals with terrorist links. It cannot sit idly by, fiddling and displaying weakness, much longer. Sending in a frigate is not even the beginning of a resolution to the crisis.

Having said that, two events this week gave me some hope. Both of these- the landmark defence and security cooperation agreements that the GOI signed with Qatar, and India’s call on Thursday at the UN for a maritime peacekeeping force under a unified UN command- are small steps in the right direction. We have to pursue such initiatives relentlessly. Will the government and the industry display some stamina this time around for a change?

Emails flew thick and fast into my inbox last week as a well known magazine erroneously reported that Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan had been sentenced to three years in a South Korean prison in the notorious ‘Hebei Spirit’ case. The error was corrected quickly; although prosecutors had demanded the sentence, judgement was expected only in December. Meanwhile and before the correction, seafaring friends and colleagues were up in arms; one could see from the tone of their emails that they were furious.

Calls for action started with the boycott of all South Korean products sold in India and went on to bigger things. Widespread strikes by sailors refusing to sail. Street protests outside Parliament. A call to stop all trade links with South Korea. Other sanctions. Union pressure. The call to arms seemed to be limited only by imagination and the level of latent anger in each of my friends.

I have to admit that, having seen such periodic outbursts from seafarers and ship managers often, their entire reaction looked to me quite like that of a man going into a coma. I have seen one such person display remarkable lucidity for a few minutes before nodding off into comatose slumber again. He would repeatedly and instantaneously wake up when tapped on the knee, converse with absolute clarity for a minute or so and then doze off. I remembered that gentleman as I read the emails, wondering when my colleagues would complete their ranting and nod off again, waiting for the next wake up call. Sadly, that is often what we mariners do: get briefly outraged and then get on with our lives till the next outrageous incident occurs. Deja Vu.

Anyway, after the magazine report was corrected and the dust (and the enthusiasm) settled, I sent a short email back, reminding the gentlemen concerned that I had been seeking their support unsuccessfully towards an honest and effective seafaring representative body for quite awhile now. I also informed them, moderately facetiously, that I had very recently decided against purchasing a Samsung microwave oven in favour of a non South Korean brand. A small blow for the Hebei Duo, I had thought, even as I paid two thousand smackeroos more over my wife’s protests.

Finally, I hit the ‘reply all’ button and told the guys that I was a little weary of these sporadic militant childish outbursts which I had seen too often. We never did anything, I told them, which was exasperating. I said I believed that it was time for all of us in the shipping industry to either put up or shut up. (Aside: I don’t think that made me very popular, although like Wilde, popularity is the one insult I have never suffered).

Towards the end, I ask you to forget that aside for a moment. What I really want to ask you is this: when I told my friends all that, did I lie?

November 18, 2008

Performance Anxiety

IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos said a week or two ago that his organisation was about to launch a global campaign to enhance the image of the industry. He also said that the crewing crisis could be much worse than earlier forecasted. Some other industry bigwigs have expressed this view as well, that the shortage of officers worldwide will remain even as all economic indicators fall through the floor.

I don’t buy this argument too easily. I believe that analysts and administrators are either putting on a brave face in response to the crisis or trying to stem panic. The dry bulk cargo market has collapsed and bulk and container vessels are already beginning to be laid up. Job loss and consumption figures from the world’s largest consumer, the US, are alarming. Downstream heat is being felt worldwide, including in India and China; in fact, the heat was just turned up. My feeling is that the scale of this crisis may well be unprecedented. Even if it is not, it is safer to assume a worse than expected scenario.

This will not happen tomorrow; the cycle of industry contraction, mothballing of ships, cancellation of shipbuilding and shrinking tonnages has to play out first, but some signs are clearly visible already.

The purpose of this article is twofold. One, I am here to warn seafarers that the days of easy jobs and quarterly upward revisions to salaries is over, and that many of us may well find that jobs are getting scarce. Two, I am here to remind the wider maritime world that this is the time to, amongst other things, re-evaluate performance evaluation systems.

To the seafarers: What those industry bigwigs do not tell you is this: long term projections of industry work force requirements have really nothing to do with short terms ones. This is especially true of a cyclical industry, which is clearly overtonnaged for the next couple of years at the very minimum. Seafarers have contractual jobs, and existing officers have to look at their earnings in the next couple of years as closely as they look at those beyond far horizons. The industry does not really care about seafarer employment prospects in the short term; it simply doesn’t pay them if it does not employ them. In the longer term, however, it cares, and cares deeply. Because, you see, if there is a shortage of qualified personnel, it has to pay higher wages. Shortage of officers is not good for owners; a surplus is much more preferable. They would like officer supply to exceed demand forever.

This is the invidiousness of the contract system. What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander here.

Incidentally, this is a good time for firms to begin demanding better performance from its employees at sea. Many seafarers have got away with mediocre professional competence and performance for too long. I have seen too many mariners in foreign companies whose only motivation is obtained by multiplying their salaries by 45 or the latest exchange rate. Worse, too many seem to perform at a minimum level required to retain their jobs. I could make a case for why poor attitudes, inexperience and a tendency to sit out contracts is unwarranted even in boom times; in times of slowdown and uncertain revenues, this is critical and should not be tolerated. The situation, by all accounts, is even worse in Indian companies. I know senior officers who do not want to sail in some only because of the poor quality of officers and crews. This industry tolerance for mediocrity extends across nationalities. Quick promotions hardly help.

Our system of retention must be overhauled right now. On the one hand, mariners in many countries are let go when their ships are sold or mothballed, or, in the Indian context, they are not recalled for future contracts. This is absurd, because it does not compare the competency of the mariner being fired with other mariners who have been retained simply because they happen to be on vessels that have not been taken out of service. A little logistical juggling is all that is needed to ensure that the right person is retained regardless of which ship he happens to be sailing on.

On the other hand, performance evaluation parameters, in my experience, are often vague and arbitrary. There needs to be much more stress on professional competence in these evaluations, which are often skewed towards subjective assessments with headings to match: assessment of a mariners ‘team player’ abilities or his ‘ability to get on with contemporaries or shore personnel’ are important, sure, but professional competency and personal integrity is critical. It is not always weighted as such.

(Frankly, I do not like the ‘team player’ term. Although it is obvious that teamwork is critical in running a ship, that phrase is used far too often to indicate and reward subservient yes men or to promote obsequiousness. A ship is run by individualistic professionals coming together as a team and not by persons servile to anybody on board or ashore. Sycophancy is not professional, and neither is a ‘team player’ the way that term is used today. ‘Don’t rock the boat but you can be mediocre’ is a poor message to send. Sometimes the boat must be rocked for it to remain steady; professional disagreements which improve overall performance are preferable to smooth sycophantic agreements that do not.)

Adding to the evaluation mess, senior officers at sea usually fill in a dozen evaluation forms in half an hour; the ‘fit for re employment’ box seems to be the only important tick in the entire sheet.

Importantly, performance evaluation of Masters usually falls through the cracks in the system. Superintendents are normally engineers and unqualified to evaluate the Master’s navigational, ship handling or leadership skills. Senior Masters ashore do not come into contact on a day to day basis with sailing Masters; in any case and in many instances, people ashore have not sailed for years and their experience is dated. Funnily, companies sometimes lay great store by what even lower ranking office staff say anecdotally about senior officers; I was irate once when the word of a glorified electrical engineer working in the office were taken over mine on navigational matters.

This hole can only be filled when updated shoreside Masters are directly and regularly involved with each ship in the fleet. A DPA looking after a dozen ships will not do. The inaccurate and inappropriate methods of evaluating a Master’s performance currently used need an urgent overhaul.

Incidentally, I disagree with the idea of an ‘open’ evaluation system at sea. I disagreed twenty odd years ago when I was a junior officer (even though the British Master in question had given me a good report and subsequently promoted me, I tore up my copy in his cabin before leaving. I disagreed with the concept on principle.) It would be much better if reporting officers were debriefed after signing off and their opinions on officers or crews recorded. Junior officers and crews could well be debriefed similarly on their next call to the office and their views formally taken.

This, to me, is a more workable system, but it implies a properly functioning Human Resource element within the organisation. The problem is that most shipping companies do not have HR in their scheme of things. This needs to be fixed today; do not get me started on this again!

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Fix HR, revamp evaluation system and push for performance. And, do I need to say this? Make it an integral part of retention and promotion. Discard the notion that we seem to work with too often: the notion that a seafarer’s main qualification is just being at the right place at the right time.

Women across the world would undoubtedly agree with me when I say that the wrong man at the right place at the right time stinks.


November 13, 2008

Systemic failures

It is precisely because the collapse of the world financial markets has been so vicious that it has astounded everybody. As under regulated financial institutions and systems have fallen as dominoes, countries and industries have had to firefight with their backs to the wall. Nobody has had the time to look beyond the immediate. The maritime industry has been no exception; plummeting demand for cargo space at a time of a meltdown in oil and commodity prices could have been well forecast, but I doubt that there were many who forecast the ferocity of the catastrophe or the speed of the elevator on the way down.

For future consumption, this is one predominant factor we would do well to digest well; that the seductive twins of globalisation and the revolution in communications have an unintended fallout which is this: markets, including freight and charter markets, will now usually move faster than you and I can react to them. Add to this the fact that the international nature of shipping makes it immediately vulnerable to events half a world away and it becomes obvious that foreknowledge, foresight and nimbleness will be the key to growth, or even survival, going forward. The alternative, that is placidly reacting to events, is becoming an increasingly expensive exercise; not only that, shortcomings of this course of action now become fatal flaws as far as any commercial firm is concerned.

The cyclical nature of our industry gives us another morsel for thought: projecting demand for ships and freight assuming unending booming markets is a no brainer. However, projecting demand when the world can go from boom to bust in a few months is, as they say across the Atlantic, the big enchilada. Those who can do this exercise well, and have an exit strategy if things go downhill suddenly, are those who will thrive. Owners and other commercial interests would do well to set up their businesses keeping this new critical requirement of “informed nimbleness” foremost in mind.

The fact that we have a reported 300 billion US dollars required for committed shipbuilding over the next three or four years at a time when we are facing a recession is proof of a failed system. Payment defaults, distress sales and mothballing of ships will surely be on the cards somewhere down the line.

While I hope that things will not get as bad as they did in the eighties, I fear that they just might. The last few years have seen all of us in shipping, whether countries or corporations or individuals, greedy participants in what many thought was a one way boom in everything. The simultaneous rise in stock markets, real estate, commodities and precious metals was abnormal, and made the simultaneous collapse of all the bubbles in all these markets inevitable. Derivate market greed and the leveraging of junk paper was just the icing on the cake that decimated liquidity and credit and precipitated the inevitable, albeit with steeper falls. (The falls are still underway as we speak; I am sure I can think of a risqué joke the next time somebody asks me, ‘where is the bottom of this market?’)

More importantly, I think that the worldwide slowdown led by the US now will be severe. The financial numbers coming out of all the countries do not look good. The West is looking to China and India to lead by consumption; India, at least, is looking for money it does not have for infrastructure spending which it hopes will spur growth. The money is not going to come easily in present market conditions; a classic Catch 22 scenario. Shipping remains at the centre of the storm by the very nature of its operations.

Besides, if we are calling it the biggest mess since the Great Depression, then by definition, it has to be worse than the eighties as far as the maritime world is concerned. Fortunately, I am not an economist; I only know that it does not look good, and hope that we recover soon.

I also hope to hell that I am being unduly apprehensive.


The aftermath of the ‘Hebei Spirit’ and ‘Stolt Valor’ incidents has left me with mixed feelings so far. One reason is that both these dramas have not yet played out their last acts. There is another reason, and that is partly borne out of my ignorance; I do not know how much of the industry support, anemic that it has been, is cheap talk or filibuster.

Take the piracy issue. On one hand, the United Nations has done its usual resolution act and can now claim, as usual, that it reflects the collective will of member states and cannot act on its own. It has therefore passed the buck to mainly Western countries, who, represented by the coalition naval task force in the Gulf of Aden, have passed the buck to the owners by asking them to employ private security measures after expressing inability to guarantee safe passage for ships in that area. Owners cannot pass the buck anywhere except to insurance, so I suspect the status will remain quo there.

On the other hand, NATO and the Indian Navy are now a presence in the area and the French have, for the first time, captured suspected pirates off a boat before an attack actually took place. Maybe at least the French are serious. Their previous actions in that area make me optimistic. Maybe France will show us the way.

In India, at least one seafarer’s union has upped the ante by boarding a few Indian ships and persuading (or instigating, depending on your point of view) the crew to threaten refusal to sail. This has met with the usual alarm from owners’ and managers’ organisations, citing mainly economic reasons. Interestingly, these same organisations also claim to represent seafarer interests, which dichotomy I have always found ridiculous. Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds must be leaving them breathless!

The reality is that these organisations represent owners and managers and nobody else, and they should stop claiming otherwise. Besides and unless I am mistaken, they do not have a single sailing seafarer involved anywhere in all these organisations put together.

However, as I said, my jury is still out on the Somali hijackings issue. I am not too hopeful that seafarer interests will be protected, though. Owners really ransom ships and expensive cargoes, with seafarers being collateral damage either way. I have a feeling that sailors are dependent on the actions of the coalition navies more than anything else on this one.

Meanwhile, what the Somali hijackings issue has shown, with crystal clarity, is that the ISPS code, conceived in haste and delivered in panic after a short term pregnancy, is not worth the paper is return on. It is time to abort that mentally challenged baby; it is time to close that ignominious chapter in our history and throw that code away, at least in its present form. No need to send it to the Recycle Bin either.

The Hebei Spirit case seems to have even less traction than the Stolt Valor issue, maybe because it hasn’t really got the same response from the idiot box in India. Surprisingly, there has been very little coverage anywhere on the legal outcomes of the appeals process well underway in Korea. Industry support for the two officers seems to have stopped with appeals to the governments of India and South Korea. One hopes that, like in cricket, there is no penalty for excessive appealing, particularly when nothing else is being done. Even more disheartening is the fact that there seems to be no real move (besides a slow moving/stonewalling IMO convention) to address the systemic issue of wanton criminalisation of seafarers worldwide; one would have thought that the ‘Spirit’ detentions would force that debate.

For an industry which loves the term ‘root causes’ when it investigates casualties, maybe it is time to look at the root causes of the abysmally weak responses to the twin issues of criminalisation of seafarers and hijackings at sea.

Actually, strike that. There is no need to waste time and money on investigations when the answer is well known. Incidentally, the root cause is the same, whether in the case of the global financial meltdown or the Hebei Spirit/Stolt Valor issues with their wider implications.

The contributory causes may be greed and lack of concern for seafarers, but the root cause is systemic failure.


November 06, 2008

Nuts before winter

Call it a slowdown or a recession, financial meltdown or a depression. Petty arguments about semantics aside, the crash in the Baltic Dry Index, coupled with the drying up of credit including for shipbuilding and letters of credit as well as the worldwide collapse of commodity prices, has hit the maritime world with the same sledgehammer that has hit everything else in the financial markets. Along with plummeting freight and hire rates, the few hundred billion dollars required over the next few years to service existing shipbuilding order books will not be available too easily to an industry long considered a bellwether for the state of the world economy and trade.

The convenient year old theme of the ‘Indian economy decoupled from the world economy’ has now been confined to the dustbin of hype and nonsense; crudely put, it may be decoupled, but it still got rogered, and will continue to go up and down along with the rest of the world. Thanks to the RBI’s last governor Mr. Reddy, our banking institutions may be in better shape, but the days of easy credit are over.

We in the shipping industry have had a poor formula for tackling recession thus far. I should say, right off, that when I say ‘we’, I exclude the fly by night operators who crawl out of the woodwork at the first sign of a boom and invest hot money in shipping like they would invest in pork belly futures; as far as I am concerned, they can live and die with the fluctuations of the marketplace.

That aside, it would be good for the rest of us, professionals and companies in it for the long haul, to examine what needs to be done (and, indeed, done differently this time) to ensure minimum present damage while positioning ourselves for long term advantage. We are fortunate, in a way, that we have not yet been overrun by Business school graduates and consultancy companies, both of whom have often never even run a tea stall down the road but try to advise long standing corporations on how to run their businesses. Jargon aside, they often do not have much to offer, have been complicit and sometimes criminal, and, indeed, have been the ones largely responsible for the present self made worldwide financial mess.

HRD aside (more on this later), we are fortunate that we are staffed by professionals with a lot of experience in the industry; knowledgeable people who understand what it will take and what needs to be done to distinguish the professionals from the amateurs. I will ignore the present credit crisis as it pertains to letters of credit and short term finance for now. This is really a crisis of confidence; countries worldwide are trying to address it in different ways and the immediate liquidity problem will probably sort themselves out sooner rather than later. The longer term credit problems we will face as regards to shipbuilding activity will almost certainly not be easy, though. Smaller companies have already started cancelling build orders worldwide, though the bigger Indian boys are saying that they are sticking to their expansion plans. So far.

Incidentally, it will be interesting to see how the regulatory and ownership legs of the industry marry the double hulled tanker requirements with difficulties in shipbuilding costs and credit in a changed scenario. It may well be that many companies cannot digest these costs at a time of plummeting revenues.

Anyway and all that aside, here is a short list of what we need to do differently this time. I have avoided some stuff that is a given: as examples, salaries ashore and at sea respond to the market and business models are reworked anyway. Instead, I have concentrated on the ‘differently this time’ initiatives, keeping in mind that some of our responses to the last recession were long term disastrous in many ways. Many of the measures I recommend should have be taken anyway; a slowdown is not a bad time to begin, as many of these promote efficiency and therefore raise revenues or cut costs.

· Form a working an efficient industry body (aka NASSCOM) to coordinate with and pressurise the Government to address industry issues. I restress the ‘working and efficient’, which would rule out most existing ones.
· Reorganise shore and support establishments. Consider leaner organisations with consequently smaller commercial real estate requirements. Consider relocation to smaller or less expensive locations.
· Do not cut back on essential or long term shipboard maintenance.
· Owners should always keep in mind that ship management companies will look at their own interests before that of the owners, and that keeping it cheap is not always synonymous with keeping it efficient. In many areas of maintenance and machinery longevity, keeping it cheap harms owners’ long term interests directly and sometimes irreparably.
· Reduce needless administration. Reduce supervisory functions unless necessary.
· Reduce needless communication. Besides being useless, it costs money in terms of time and energy and shipboard communication costs. It also contributes to overworked and fatigued crews.
· Avoid brainless cost cutting on ships; it is counterproductive in the long haul. (Yes, in the long haul we are all dead, but not necessarily our companies!). Attack wastages, leakages, overstoring and cosmetic expenses instead.
· Consider outsourcing payroll and similar functions to promote efficiency.
· Cut down on expenses on feel good exercises like useless seminars and such. They do not fool too many.
· Keep the organisational chin up. Downturns usually sap initiative and morale. Ironically, a slowdown is the time when these are needed the most; booms are heady in themselves.

Recruitment and Human Resource Development:

It is critical that this ignored but essential component of our industry be strengthened immediately; history proves that we have usually been wrong footed and clueless here. With analysts projecting a slowdown across all sectors of the Indian economy, the impact of which will be greater in the FY09/10, we have an excellent opportunity to attract suitable fresh talent. The slowdown will affect jobs across the board in India, giving us access to youngsters who may well contemplate a career in a profession they disregarded earlier.

However, to take advantage of this opportunity, we must be smart and focused. We have probably breathing space of a year or two, but we must, right now and even as we tighten our belts elsewhere, fund recruitment programmes. The money required is not huge, and it can well be smart money that gets maximum bang for the buck, but it is critical that we do not fall into the well known trap of across the board cost cutting and thereby decimate our future workforce before it is born.

In my opinion, the following needs to be done yesterday:

· Project company seagoing requirements for the next year, for the next three years and for the next five. This should be a rolling exercise. The advantages are obvious.
· Recruit an excellent and experienced HRD person and ask him/her to budget for HRD after explaining your requirements. Factor this budget into your business model. Revamp the entire HRD function to exclude ticketing and other functions of seafarers joining ships; these are administrative issues and have no place in HRD. The HRD department should be, additionally, lean, focused and concentrating only on the recruitment, retention and development of persons both at sea and ashore. This should including incentives, career paths and professional evaluations. Sorry to burst the bubble here, but a Master Mariner sitting in an office releasing some advertising is not HRD.
· Treat people professionally even when you ask them to go. Keep in mind that the goodwill lost by many companies in the last recession has still not been regained.
· Recruit fresh and smart trainees keeping projections in mind. They do not cost as much and you will be better positioned to deal with future demand.

Most importantly, rack your brains and HRD expertise to come up with a workable proposition, in this contract infested industry, wherein these fresh trainees end up as long term employees. Get out of the contract rut with this first batch. Great thought will be required here, because to do this long term the proposition has to should work for both the employee and the employer. Tough one, yes. However, all critical issues are never easy, and just because it hasn’t been done before is not a good enough excuse.

Our HRD policies, so far, have been a joke. There has been an automatic assumption that spending here is money wasted, while spending on seminars and five star get togethers somehow raises the profile of the company. This, in my view, is shortsighted and may even be erroneous. We may be surprised to find, after the cessation of stupidity, that we are now able to recruit and retain seafarers of our choosing at a similar or comparable cost to what we did earlier.

We have a little time to set things up. There will be a time lag before the winter of discontent hits us fully. What we need to remember, however and above all else, that this winter, like all others, will be followed by spring. We must act now to set ourselves up to maximise the next harvest.

Time to be creative, folks. As Einstein said, you can never solve a problem on the level that it was created.