December 26, 2008

Beggar’s Masquerade

and why the Prime Minister needs to get insomnia again.

With the imprisonment of the two Hebei Spirit officers, the burlesque act has almost come full circle. The caricature of justice in South Korea, accompanied by equally pathetic attempts across the world to have the two officers get justice, still has a final act to perform in the Korean Supreme Court. Meanwhile, we prove to the mariner, once again, that despite verbose guidelines of ‘fair treatments of seafarers’, the countries of the world hold him and his human rights in deep contempt. Worse, there is no escape, no respite and no effective support from the industry.

This overt disdain for the sailor is actually a remarkable achievement. One would have thought that, given that most international trade would grind to a halt if seamen disappeared, a bit of thoughtfulness towards their well being would be forthcoming. Far from it. This prosecution of accident victims, which is what the Hebei Two are, as
a criminal also has no parallel with any other international industry that I can think of. Even prisoners of war have rights, but it appears that seafarers have none. We are all fair game.

Remarkable, yes, but perhaps not surprising. One cannot expect respect from outsiders if, hypocritical lip service aside, one is treated shabbily by one’s colleagues in the industry. One cannot expect justice from the Koreans when one’s own Indian Government does not seem to care. Remember the Haneef case last year? An Indian doctor wrongly arrested in Australia is released within three weeks, partly because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly said he ‘couldn’t sleep’ because of Dr. Haneef’s plight, besides making other statements in support of the innocent doctor. The PM’s insomnia seems to improve dramatically when innocent Indian seafarers are detained for a year, and then sentenced to jail. Perhaps mariners would do better if we marketed ourselves as vote banks instead.

Instead, even as Chetan’s wife Preetha says that the two are living in appalling conditions in prison, we have the Government of India asking South Korea to treat the two senior officers more humanely. What a nice, civilised, and useless thing to do.

The unions and industry bodies did make some representations to the government. These repeatedly failed, and will continue to fail in future for much the same reasons. Lobbying weaknesses, conflicts of interest and partisan agendas will ensure this. So will the fact that industry protests always start after an untoward event, while successful lobbying involves pressure to obtain a desired outcome before such an event even occurs. Put simply, we were reactive, not proactive. Another factor which will guarantee an effete result is the fact that, in the end, all elements of the industry consider their bottomlines before they look at anything else (quite revealing, the bottomline watching, if I may say so); any action against South Korean interests, in this case, will be weighed against possible punitive repercussions, and so no effective action will be taken. Will the industry, for a start, boycott all business dealing with South Korea? Will mariners refuse to sail to that country?

Most of all, all these impotent efforts will fail because the people who are most affected by the criminalisation issue, which is the seafarers, are nowhere to be seen in these so called ‘seafarer representation’ bodies. Although individual merchant naval groups have publicly protested, notably in Chennai, the fact is that unless there is concerted and decisive action in which a wide mass of seafarers are brought in to participate, all such protests are doomed to be ineffectual.

I am positive that many recruitment managers would have worked out the chances of their seafarers refusing to ply to South Korea. The consensus may well be that in the present economic climate, seafarers concerned about their jobs would fall into line easily once again. That the Hebei Spirit ruling is a travesty that must be fought for the future well being of the industry itself will be a sentiment brushed aside with impunity. The short term will prevail. Greed before integrity again.

Meanwhile, individual ex mariners, irate at the developments, propose a boycott and destruction of South Korean goods, besides other such knee jerk reactions. I disagree with these options, because they will be too little, too late. These kinds of options may have gained some traction in June, when the Hebei Two had a favourable court decision behind them. Today, the two have been found guilty and sentenced. South Korea, like any other country, will not want its courts to be seen to be buckling under commercial pressure. I also think a boycott will not pressurise them enough, and not quickly enough.

Despite my usual cynical pessimism, the solution to our innocent colleagues’ incarceration is actually not too complicated. All it needs is for one major body, (whether the government, FOSMA, MASSA, INSA or any of the unions) to make one decision. “Effective immediately, Indian seafarers will not sail on any ship destined for South Korea”. I believe that the Government of India is best placed to do this. I also believe that it is up to the rest of us in the industry to force that decision right now. Government pressure is the best and quickest option for Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan now. This includes Indian pressure at the IMO and other international industry bodies. Pressure needs to be applied now, before the Korean Supreme Court appeal even starts, not later. We all can burn Korean products later.

We claim we are a superpower in the making. Let us behave like one. We have been threatening to rattle sabers since the Erika incident ten years ago. It is a pitiable state of affairs when innocent Indians continue to be abandoned by shining India to suspect judicial systems, to say the least.

Regardless of the final outcome of this tragic sentencing of innocent mariners, it would be good to remember that this is not an isolated incident, that many other seafarers continue to be criminalised worldwide, and that this parody of justice will recur and probably sometime soon. We need a concerted and preplanned national response to this, else we will go through the same motions again, trying to helplessly reinvent the wheel while our colleagues are in prison. We need to fix the system, not firefight each travesty of justice.

We are all furious about the plight of Capt. Chawla and Chief Officer Chetan. Nevertheless, unless we translate this anger into meaningful long term protection of our seafarers against criminalisation, we will play out this beggar’s masquerade of wealth again tomorrow. Just the names of the innocent will change.


December 20, 2008

Barking up the wrong tree after Mumbai

A couple of weeks after the end of the carnage in Mumbai, this seafarer remains bewildered by the country’s amnesia that makes it continue to forget, simply, that oceans exist. This national blind spot, known to mariners for decades, now stands exposed.

The TRP driven, media provoked ranting of the urban middle class and the elite, rattled by the invasion of their world for once, cannot escape from this simple fact: that the 7500 mile of coastline, the 13 major and the almost two hundred minor ports, the 1200 barren Indian islands, the few hundred offshore oil installations and close to sixty mobile oil platforms and the tens of thousands of registered boats (and the equal number of unregistered ones) did not appear on the horizon overnight. Our security analysts acknowledged the threat caused by our topography, amongst others, years ago, but we all had blinkers on. This weak link of amnesia in our national consciousness has now broken, and it has cost us

Fully twenty months ago, in March 2007, two militants coming in from Karachi by sea “paid a “huge sum as a bribe” to Indian Coast Guard officials who let them go. After they were apprehended in Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir police "sounded more than adequate alarm about the potential of this spiralling into a bigger challenge", according to a State police official anonymously quoted in national newspapers. Abdul Majeed and Mohammad Jameel, the two Pakistanis arrested, told the J & K police that they were amongst a group of eight infiltrators coming in by sea. The Jammu and Kashmir police official regretted recently that the "input and alert by us in this regard was not paid due heed.”

RDX comes in by sea; this time too, but also at the time of the 1993 Mumbai bomb attacks; corrupt police and customs officials were involved in smuggling it in from the sea at Shekadi, Raigadh. The urban elite were not sufficiently enraged then to take to the streets, perhaps because they themselves were not the targets of those attacks.

While on the subject of RDX, will the authorities clarify what happened to the rest of the reported 70 kg of RDX (and the remainder of the up to 25 terrorists) believed to have entered the country this time?

The Mumbai terrorists used the same strategy as was used in Kargil: nonexistent policing, appalling intelligence analysis by India and the utilisation of barren lands (islands, in this case) to devastating effect. Incidentally, this maritime modus operandi is well known to the authorities, as it has always been popular with drug smugglers and gunrunners. Security experts say 70% of smuggled arms come into India by sea. Corruption undoubtedly pays a part in this, and may even have in Mumbai 2008, though we may never be told how much.

Back in 2001, the “Border Management Report” recommended an overhaul of our coastal security. A unified maritime agency was mooted, modern technology and infrastructure proposed. Various ministries approved four separate reports. Fully five years later, in 2006, a plan to protect coastal areas from incursions was finalised by the Union Government, but nobody was interested in implementing the plan at the State level, and funds were scarce. The one thousand fibreglass boats, the hundred patrol boats and an equal number of coastal checkpoints, the coastal police stations and other such infrastructure was simply not built, except, ironically, in Gujarat. One State Government even said, with a straight face, that it did not have enough land to build coastal police stations! Incompetence and lethargy at its most glorious, or maybe there were more kickbacks to be milked elsewhere.

The Central Government is now, after seven years, talking of implementing what it had decided to put in place years ago. A federal agency, nationwide coastal security, more funds, transponders and GPS systems on trawlers, digitised identity cards, beefed up intelligence networks including reports from fishermen (ignored in Mumbai before the tragedy) are now promised in a flurry by our politicians and babus closing doors after the horse has murderously bolted. Boat registration has finally been made mandatory for motorised craft. One retired Indian naval expert estimates, however, that there are up to a hundred thousand unregistered boats in the country, many of them not motorised. The Centre also decided to allow the coast guard to hire boats for patrolling as they have an acute shortage of boats; a sad reflection on the state of affairs. There is also no synergy between the coast guard and the Indian navy in search and protect operations. The gaping holes in such a system are obvious.

It has been reported in some newspapers that the nearly sixty mobile oil drilling platforms in the country have now been asked by the Directorate General of Shipping to conform to the International Ship and Port Facility regulations, which we know were rolled out after the World Trade Centre attacks to prevent exactly what occurred in Mumbai. The ISPS came into force in 2004, but many Indian operators have now informally told reporters that they do not implement the rules to save costs or, in some cases, to increase revenues. No fly zones are now to be enforced over the hundreds of permanent oil installations off both the coasts, many unmanned. Notwithstanding that the recent events off Somalia and in Mumbai have proved what was known to seafarers for a long time, that the ISPS code has failed, the fact remains that an internationally mandated statutory regulation is being wilfully ignored, even sabotaged, by an industry four years after it came into force. This, when the Oil Industry remains a prime terrorist target for economic and environmental reasons. In fact, some of these units have approached the authorities asking to be exempted from the ISPS provisions! This is shocking. This is corruption too, even if it is by big business.

While ranting at politicians is fashionable, the rattled urban middle class needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, for once. We are a part of the problem. The political class is an issue, sure. However, many of the politicians come from our ranks, and most bureaucrats do. We tend not to vent at the babus, perhaps they are ‘people like us’; some are our siblings, parents, friends or otherwise within our social circle. They are far more dangerous than the politicians are, though; they do not even have to win any elections, ever, and they almost can never be sacked. Many, crooked, callous and lethargic, continue to play the same never ending games of patronage along with politicians and criminals. Efficiency and competence is thus hostage to corruption, and inertia rules. The rot is everywhere around you; all of us who have ever given or taken a bribe or used “influence” to grease the system are part of the problem. Indian naval, coast guard, police, excise and customs officials come from within our group, and so do big businesspersons and top executives. So folks, time to stop being so self righteous. The Mumbai failure is ours as much as anybody’s is, stop blaming just the politicians alone.

I fear that an overhaul of the maritime or other security apparatus in India will not suffice; we need an overhaul of the entire culture of corruption and patronage that is the real system. A system so depraved that it has subverted entire organisations and undermined a nation’s ability to defend itself can only destroy, not protect. We need to stop lighting candles or waving catchy printouts against politicians, and use that time to start to reform ourselves. If we do not do that now, when the rising waters threaten to choke our oxygen, we should then shut up, at least, and let the television media find another cause to temporarily boost its ratings.

As events in Mumbai have proved, it is breathtakingly easy to circumvent Indian maritime security, which seems to be akin to a bunch of holes masquerading as a system. We need to force a change to our culture of corruption, lethargy, patronage and plain cussedness right now. The way things stand, I am amazed we have such few terrorist strikes. I am also fearful that the next one may be a nuclear or biological attack. It seems so easy.

Think that we have woken up after Mumbai? Consider this: As I write this, reports are coming in of at least two abandoned boats being found on our southern coastline. One is pockmarked with bullet holes; it is assumed that some LTTE fighters escaping the Sri Lankan offensive may have escaped to India. Even if this is true, I must ask, though, that given the support that has always existed in parts of the country for the LTTE, and given that the organisation assassinated a Prime Minister of the country, and given that the LTTE is a terrorist setup, why are we still so ineffectually and blissfully sanguine? Has the urban elite reached its limit of selective raving? Has the methane finally run out?

Our termite infested system is not just stopping us from greater economic growth; it now threatens our very existence. Mumbai was not just an “intelligence failure”; it was the collapse of a rotting edifice. The blind leading the blind are now barking up the wrong tree, or, at best, just one branch of the right one.

Time to look in the mirror more often, instead of television screens.

December 13, 2008

The Sitting Duck Defence

(Anti piracy measures for dummies )

I have found a way for seafarers to tackle Somali piracy and emerge winners every time. The recommended and modified Saltshaker plan (aka Sitting Duck defence, version1, copyright 2008) is reproduced below. Subject to your approval, of course. Please be gentle.

Prior to the vessel entering pirate waters, a new flag to be hoisted on the main mast: a replica of Michael Bedard’s “Sitting Ducks” (see above). Note the bullet holes behind the duck that ducked.

At the first sign of the pirates closing in, alarm bells to be rung and crew mustered on the bridge. The new ‘pirate attack contingency plan’ to involve one selected athletic crewmember who is an excellent swimmer standing by with walkie talkie.

Meanwhile, the Master tries his rusty and shaking hand at evasive manoeuvres; he may even attempt a Williamson’s turn and log it down in triplicate as per the relevant manuals. (Be careful when coming on to the reciprocal course, though, as you may hit a pirate boat, which is against good seamanship). Another officer sends out the appropriate distress signal (and logs it down for fear of being hauled up for a non conformity later. Come what may, the paperwork must always be in order.)

After sufficient time has elapsed to dispel pirate suspicion that this attack is too easy, suitable lee to be made for the pirate boat and said athletic crewmember to be sent on deck to receive the gentlemen. Engines to be simultaneously set for maximum speed, autopilot engaged, after which the Master and the rest of the crew go into stealth mode and make their way to preplanned locations simultaneously as per the stamped and approved ISPS anti piracy contingency plan (more later, unfortunately).

The athletic crewmember welcomes the pirates on board and reports on the walkie talkie, “Bridge, pirates aboard” to keep up appearances and look seamanlike. He then escorts them to the bridge from inside the accommodation.

The pirates are not too puzzled at finding the bridge empty; they should be used to people disappearing from their sight in fear. In any case, they start fanning out everywhere as per their own approved and stamped ISM manuals, while our sole crewmember goes to the bridge wing and looks around and up as if trying to find the Officer of the Watch (OOW) on the monkey island. He can’t see him easily, so he goes right to the extremity of the bridge wing.

He then jumps into the water and swims like hell away from the ship.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew have abandoned the ship by liferaft or lifeboat or similarly jumped overboard even as athletic crew was escorting the pirates. Note: It is preferable that at least survival craft is in the water (of sufficient capacity blah blah and complying with all the irrelevant regulations in this case) else, things can get slightly hairy, especially for non swimmers. It is also recommended that due care be taken while abandoning the vessel at her maximum speed, which is not normally recommended. However, beggars cannot be choosers, especially if they are sitting ducks).

Anyway, the ship is now proceeding at flank speed with confused pirates on board searching hither and thither for the crew. Somewhat like those ‘Speed’ movies which are so popular. Shall we call this one Speed 6?

Remember that the crew (and at least one survival craft) is in the water. Crew are picked up by, or make their way to, this craft, where they wait to be rescued by one of the numerous navies cluttering the seas in the region who should be able to do something simple, like receiving a distress message and acting on it. If they take too long, the crew polishes off the survival rations (and logs it down). Athletic crewmember gets double rations on the quiet.

It now gets interesting. In case there are any pirate boats with armed pirates in the water along with our survival craft, what can they do?

a) Kill the crew? What for? The ransom they get is for the ship, which seems to be, literally, on its own trip. Might as well save the AK47 ammo.
b) Rescue the crew? Likewise. Like the dog that chases a car, what will they do with the crew after they have caught them?
c) Try to chase and board the ship themselves? Let them.

As for the pirates on board the hijacked ship, well, either they have the expertise to navigate and work the engines or they do not. If they can navigate, they lower the duck flag, proceed to Eyl remembering to go astern before dropping anchor as per their ISM manual, and make their usual demands (Easier on the owners, too, they don’t have to pretend they are paying ransom for the crew, or handle pesky relatives demanding the return of seafarers in one piece).

If the pirates can’t manoeuvre the ship, they leave the duck flag up and wait for the fuel to run out, or the ship to hit something or, alternatively, they jump into the water themselves. By the time they figure out that nobody is on board, they should be miles away from the crew anyway. Meanwhile, coalition navies make plans to rappel down dramatically from helicopters or otherwise board the ship to apprehend the pirates: the usual commando stuff they love to do but don’t seem to do enough.

Wait a minute! Hey, maybe the navies cannot do that at all! Because, is the ship technically hijacked or is it abandoned now? If the latter case, are the pirates salvors? And if so, is salvage likely to be higher than ransom? And if so, the plot has really thickened, has it not? (Note to myself: Consult maritime legal experts. Consider alternative career path in Somalia. Remember to take all safety precautions while boarding ships at high speed. Remember you are not young anymore.)

Flash of inspiration again. What if I modify the plan and have the Master and crew abandon ship even before the hijackers come aboard? What would happen if crew abandoned ship whenever they saw a suspected pirate boat approaching? And why are the Rules of the Road silent on the critical subject of ‘Responsibilities between lifeboats being lowered and pirate boats coming hell for leather for you?’ (I hope they keep short rapid blasts out of this rule, we are all jittery enough as it is)

The possibilities are endless.

In conclusion and after repeatedly going over this plan, I do believe that it is foolproof and workable. I am now going to take it to the relevant authorities for necessary approval. I request the IMO to pause in making their usual rules and resolutions, dig up their dusty ISPS regulations (there they are, at the bottom of that dusty pile!), and start modifying the ISPS code asap and accordingly, incorporating my practicable plan.

Let us have something that works, for a change. Nothing else has.


December 10, 2008

Hubris and the Passion to Inertia index

(Authors foreword: Once upon a time, the kind of thinking put forward in this article was used by me in a software company I was responsible for, in India. In one particularly good period of four months, using these strategies, revenues at one office quadrupled as a result. Yes, four times)

We often talk about a lot of critical changes we need to make within the shipping universe to make it work far better. We talk of workable industry and seafaring bodies, practical regulation, government support, protecting seafarer’s welfare and enhancing their working conditions, officer shortages, criminalisation and the need to improve the maritime world’s profile in the eyes of the world. We talk about new ways of increasing profitability. We make grandiose plans and hold eloquent seminars and think we are furthering our cause.

In my considered opinion, we are banging our heads against the wall here, because what we do not do is address the one issue that is fundamental to making any of our initiatives work. That issue is, simply, the two contrasting attitudes of inertia and arrogance that simultaneously exist across the industry.

Most of us are bad actors in stereotyped roles here, hamming it up as we go along. Like the actor, we strike the right attitude, but it is often the weary attitude of surrender and inertia, or, if we are senior managers, arrogance bordering on hubris. Until we overcome these attitudes, we risk running into the same brick wall time and again. We see programmes and initiatives fall by the wayside of short attention spans and lack of spirit on one hand and a mandated authoritarian thinking on the other. We still persevere, though, because we are the salt of the earth, or at least of the sea. What we don’t realise is that doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different result is folly.

The participants in this endless drama are many, and I will be the first to say that most of them are well meaning. Unfortunately there are too many who are not: we have our share of the fly by night ship owners hidden behind flags of convenience and post box addresses and managers stripping maintenance budgets bare to help project lower annual budgets and increase their fleet sizes. We have the usual suspects, including mariners who are satisfied working badly in poor organisations because they are birds of a feather, flocking together in mediocrity and disinterest. Let’s leave these folk aside; the taste of wine is never in the dregs.

Let us address the majority of interested professionals instead. Why do we see so many initiatives peter out into mediocrity at their hands? Excellent beginnings are made and fall by the wayside. Agendas are born, nurtured into plans and murdered during implementation.
It is obviously not due to lack of hard work, for many work long hours at sea and ashore. Oddly enough, though, the flesh seems willing but the spirit seems weak. There is no passion at the workplace.

This weakness of spirit plagues us in our working lives and eats away at our souls. Aboard ships, it translates into bored watch keeping, poorly motivated crews and sloppy maintenance. Ashore, it translates into uncaring attitudes, uninterested managers and short term blinkered thinking. Like the actor, we are going through the motions. We are choosing mediocrity over vision, even over greatness.

I am convinced that part of the reason for poor motivation and dreary attitudes at sea is, simply, diminishing pride in seafaring as a career. The clear attitude among many seafarers is that no longer is there much to be said in favour of a seagoing career except the wages; shore leave bans, fatigue and criminalisation have seen to that. This feeling is across nationalities and is reinforced by the fact that company structures and managerial disdain ensure that a seafarer feels excluded from the organisation he is working for. Clearly, the seafarer is looking for something more than wages; something is missing from his life, and that something is passion.

Shore establishments display similar fault lines too often. I can’t recall when I last saw a shore setup which was passionate about the firm or the industry they were working for. Whether in booms or busts, most of us are efficient at best. We are usually not enthusiastic, though, and rarely are we ablaze and impassioned about our jobs. Seamen may come and seamen may go, but ship management and owners go on, sometimes lethargically, forever. Thoughts limited to salaries, bottomlines, profits and efficiencies do not transform businesses; they just squeeze out more dollars and cents from the existing ones. To transform a business one has to think beyond the mundane and execute beyond the ordinary. Where are the organisations which will transcend the routine and leapfrog into the future? After a few decades connected with shipping, I can’t see many.

It is my clear belief that organisations should involve their personnel, ashore or afloat, in transforming themselves. Shipping, perhaps because many of its managers are ex seafarers, tends to operate in rigid hierarchies, although there is some improvement at sea in this regard. Officers and crew are much more involved, perhaps because of often threadbare manning and overregulation, in what was earlier, traditionally, a Master’s domain. Mess, management and safety committees have democratised ships, though they don’t work well as often as I would like them to. The need to disseminate voyage, technical and administrative information coming in from shore (often too much of it) means that a Master risks going crazy trying to do it all himself. More people are involved in decision making than ever before. This process is in its infancy, sure, and is not half as strengthened as all of us need to make it. However, imperfect as it is, it is well underway.

Unfortunately, democratisation has not really taken off ashore in a big way. Too many managements are too top heavy in structures and in thinking. With regard to ship/shore affairs, too many of them separate ‘the ship’ from ‘the office’, (unfortunately, seafarers do this too) ignoring the fact that the organisation is nothing without the ship and shooting themselves in the foot because they ignore the hundred odd years of collective seagoing experience that the crew of each of their ships can bring to the table, if seafarers opinions were only asked. They discourage a Master’s suggestions for systemic changes. They ignore their own shortcomings, a potentially suicidal trait in any manager, by tuning out the fact that many of them have no recent seagoing experience. Finally and critically, they ignore the concomitant advantages a more involved relationship with seagoing staff would yield.

In the relatively short experience I have within maritime shore establishments, and in the many I have additionally seen at close quarters, this despotic attitude is not unusual. Scattered offices across many continents is really no excuse as our industry is hardly unique in this regard. The fact is that most other industries are much more inclusive today, except perhaps some old time labour intensive manufacturing ones. Many encourage employees, even relatively lower ranking ones, to come up with big ideas. Not just the ‘we could save money by switching off alternate lights’ ones, but much bigger, entrepreneurial ones. In fact, some of the more forward thinking companies even fund in house mentoring programmes towards this end, encouraging employees to branch off on their own. Our industry is light years behind in comparison.

If I were sitting in my old fictional office as CEO of the fictional Differentship Pvt. Ltd., I would be spending a fair amount of time trying to involve my employees in the company. I would be particularly thinking of ways I could involve my contractual employees at sea, but I would pay almost equal stress to my shore colleagues, even if they were permanently employed. I would encourage passion and discourage inertia above all else.

I would not demand loyalty, or even call bonuses ‘Loyalty Bonuses’; in any case, how can one have loyalty when one’s employees do not even feel attached to the company and even sometimes feel alienated from it? I would invite seagoing staff in their off times to act as ‘short time consultants’, encouraging them to come up with ideas, big and small, to transform Differentship economically and otherwise. I would invite all my employees ashore to do likewise. I would pay for the ideas that raise profit and profile; in fact, I would involve people in the execution of their own ideas.

I would involve those without big ideas in smaller ones or the ideas of their colleagues; nobody should feel excluded and everybody would get ample opportunity to get passionate about their work. Promoting employee growth would be high on my agenda; with it would come the collateral advantages of employee satisfaction, higher company profile and excellent word of mouth. I bet a lot of people would be talking about us. I bet the word would be out that if you are a ‘business as usual’ person, Differentship is not the place for you.

And I daresay each one of us at Differentship would be making more money. Ideas, passion and the efficiencies thrown up by employee involvement would see to that. After all, and especially if I gave them stock options to boot, it is their company. I bet employees would think twice about leaving the company; after all, they are having more fun here, and they are growing, personally and otherwise.

That, folks, is loyalty. It is not the subservient loyalty peddled by our industry today; this is much stronger. Other companies demand loyalty and are mocked. Differentship invites it and displays, without a shadow of doubt, that it values its people. Because it does so, it commands loyalty.

No improvements will take place in Shipping unless many of us have passion and a vision. Vision can be shared but the passion must emerge from within. It will emerge when senior managers encourage it instead of stifling it. It will emerge only when some of us dismount from our high horses and listen to our employees. It will emerge when employees grow in ways beyond just economic. And it will flourish when the vast majority of employees, whether ashore or afloat, discard their old snake skins of inertia and bored efficiency and come to work with a spark in their eyes. We will win when the passion to inertia ratio is high in each one of us.

Plodding along is not an option. We are already perceived as a backward industry; if we continue to trudge on the same beaten path we risk continued stagnation and being shut out from the consciousness of the rest of the world, with all the resultant disadvantages that we see already.

Although pride can be constructive, arrogance is self destructive. Arrogance bordering on Hubris, as the Greeks will tell you, leads to downfall.

And mixing inertia with hubris is a fatal cocktail.