May 28, 2009

Seadog Millionaires?

It looks like piracy pays, after all, even if you are at the wrong end of the stick. Kenyan Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, a well known figure to both hostage negotiators and pirates, has reportedly signed a deal with actor Samuel L Jackson and moviemaker Andras Hamori to sell his story to Hollywood. In another similar development far away in the USA, the Publishers Weekly reports that Capt. Richard Phillips, the Master of the Maersk Alabama who was rescued from a lifeboat by Navy SEALS after three pirates were shot dead, is auctioning off the book rights to his story.


The bidding for Phillips’ memoirs has already reached a half million dollars. Observers say this could cross the million dollar mark, since the hero of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, airline pilot Sullenberger, recently sold his story for upwards of three million, thus setting a precedent. Two big media houses are reportedly bidding against each other for the Maersk Alabama Master’s story. In the way these things go in the United States, Phillips became a hero and a media darling after his dramatic rescue, spiking public interest in piracy off Somalia. His agents CAA are understandably thrilled at the bidding war, although they have refused to comment.


Andrew Mwangura is sometimes a controversial figure. He lives in a small house outside Mombasa, Kenya, with no running water or electricity. His story is fascinating and made for the movies: an ex seafarer now in his 40’s, he started keeping track of hijacked ships since the early nineties and soon gained a reputation for getting accurate information through contacts in Somalia. He operates with four mobile phones, receiving calls and messages from owners, diplomats and others across the world and sending text messages to Somalia to get information that is passes back through journalists. He has been amazingly accurate, as the International Maritime Bureau confirms.


The Kenyan government briefly arrested Andrew after he alleged that the armaments aboard the hijacked ship Faina were bound for Sudan and not Kenya as reported and in violation of international law. Andrew continues to report hijackings and help in negotiation, running his decade old nonprofit organisation, trying to make a living as a consultant and writer, worrying about money and some recent death threats he says he has received. Andrew is called when negotiations for ransoms stall; his rapport with the pirates have been built over time. Hollywood has now come to him to buy his story; Samuel Jackson will play him in a movie to be shot later this year.


Excellent negotiator that he is, one can only hope that Andrew Mwangura has negotiated well with Jackson and Hamori; his days of scratching out a living may well be over. Of course, Capt. Phillip will probably not be seen sailing around Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter, anytime soon.
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The Elephant in the Bedroom

While all of us spew ideas on how to address the pressing issues within the shipping industry all the time, we continue to pussyfoot around an issue that has been, for more than fifty or sixty years, probably the single largest one responsible for India’s slow growth and Public Sector inefficiency and the biggest reason why so much potential is killed before it is even born.


Corruption is insidious; like a putrefying corpse, it vitiates everything around it, sweeping away merit and efficiency and substituting it with the grime of invidious practices and helplessness. Corruption is also the reason why a reported 1.7 trillion US dollars is stashed away by Indian politicians, babus, industrialists and others in Swiss banks alone. Imagine if that money, or that in the other tax havens worldwide, could be put to productive use within the country.


Post election wish lists of industry in India seem to include labour, insurance and banking ‘reforms’, besides a gamut of other steps that the government is almost being begged to take today. There seem to be no real demands for taking on the depravity of corruption, which has always been the predominant menace in our society post independence. Perhaps this is because the rich, who are the most influential, include corruption in the cost of doing business. Perhaps this is because many in the middle class either already are, or aspire to be, in the corrupt class. Perhaps this is because the poor, who have been ground into the dust the most with daily doses of this menace, take corruption as the inevitable cost of survival.


Banal and predictable reactions always seem to end in hand wringing whenever this debauched behaviour is brought up. Politicians say that the people get the governance they deserve and that political and bureaucratic behaviour is a reflection of society. Everybody else says that nothing will change unless clean people come forward in public service. Many say that urban India is apathetic. So, in the absence of political and societal will, most Indians who are in a position to force change just rant and go home instead, and officialdom goes back to its crooked ways. Promises are made and administrative reforms are claimed to be on the government’s agenda. Unsaid is the fact that, like the STCW convention on rest periods, it is taken for granted that these ‘reforms’ will be implemented last, if they are implemented at all. Meanwhile, nobody needs to tell us how our ports and waterways suffer because of this; we need no reminding of the millions of ways this profanity defiles, bleeds and demoralises us.


It is time that we in the shipping industry demand corruption free administration across our interface with governments, both Central and State. Perhaps we will be assisted by the fact that the trillions stashed abroad did become, briefly, a pre election talking point. Perhaps the recent international spotlight on tax havens makes this an opportune moment for us to aggressively push our demand for a clean maritime bureaucracy. The Congress claims that ‘good governance’ in its first term is the reason it was reelected and promises more in its current term in office. Although it is foolish to blame only the Congress for the ongoing state of affairs across the country, how can governance be good when so much of it is so corrupt?


Many of us, me included, will agree that cleaning up the Shipping Ministry and associated administrations, both Central and State, is a monumental, maybe even impossible task. A majority might even say that we should let corruption be; creeping globalisation and the consequent requirements of transparency will slowly clean things up. Many will argue that corruption exists everywhere, and that many countries prosper despite this parasite in their intestines. Some will claim that cleaning up the maritime administration is meaningless without taking a broom to related Ministries handling Customs, Excise, Labour or even Environment, besides others.


While agreeing with many of these arguments, I can only say that we have to start somewhere, and that the cost of not doing anything will widen the gap between cleaner shipping administrations elsewhere and ours to a point when we will never be able to catch up. The mention of Singapore, Dubai, Port Kelang and even Colombo should be enough to drive home my argument; they came out of nowhere, overtook us and have now a lead that cannot be narrowed easily, unless, of course, we clean up our act. I could additionally argue that though corruption may exist everywhere, the levels of corruption in India are just plain unacceptable and have demonstratably stymied progress.


It is clear, at least to me, that we should not sweep the muck under the carpet anymore; that this menace is a clear, present and ongoing danger and the prime reason why our tonnage is so low, our costs so high, our ports so inefficient, our ancillary maritime services industry nonexistent, our shipping tax revenues so low, our imports more expensive, our exports less competitive, our maritime security a proven joke. It is not just slowing us down; corruption decimates us.


The Central Vigilance Commission’s not so recent report indicting the functioning of a couple of Ministries, including that of Shipping, should tell us, if we still need to be told, that the danger is very real. The enemy is not at the gates, he is inside them and amongst us. A multipronged counterattack is required, and so is a top down approach. To start with, the shipping industry should push for clean Ministries with non partisan agendas. These ministries then have to be pushed to increase transparency and clean bureaucracy down the line. The maritime industry, meanwhile, should ally with FICCI like organisations representing a cross section of Indian industry and take the lead in pushing clean administrations across the board.


Progress will be slow, and we will feel often like monkeys going up a greased pole. We will have to accept that generations of political and bureaucratic lard will not be burnt off by next weekend. The younger generation may be the hope here; us older ones have been part of the problem for far too long. Regardless, all of us have to peck away at the python that is squeezing us to death. Individuals in our industry must show resolve; perhaps if we all manage to change our little corners of the world, the whole world will change too.


I know that failure here is not an option, but I do not know if we can win this battle; it seems to be the toughest one yet to be fought, and I question, so far, our collective stomach for this fight. I do know, however, that we cannot ignore this peril any longer; we have had our heads in the sand for too long as it is. In addition, I know this: if India wants to be one of the giants of this century, she just cannot afford to refuse to see the elephant in the bedroom any longer. She has to take the beast on, and slay it.
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May 22, 2009

The Master and no Margarita


Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” is one of my favourite books. A satirical story set in the days of Stalin’s Moscow, it includes the devil as one of the main characters. Margarita, incidentally, is the ‘Master’s’ mistress. Much like the story connected with banning of alcohol on many ships today, the novel is a strange, satirical and often absurd tale. Somebody described it once as Dante’s Inferno meeting the Marx Brothers.


Coincidentally, the Margarita also happened to be (note the tense, please) one of my favourite drinks at sea. My preferred version had three parts of tequila, one part of triple sec and one part of fresh lemon juice. Crushed ice, chilled salt rimmed glass and shaken, not stirred. One drink in the smoke room in the evening before dinner. ‘The Master and a Margarita’, I sometimes joked.


Then the powers that want to be decided to treat me like a retarded child.


Much like Bulgakov’s story that sometimes reads like a story within a story, the evolution, if one can call it that, of the ‘Drug and Alcohol policy’ on board ships is yet another matryoshka doll exercise at sea. Much like those Russian dolls one inside another, one rule pops out of another in the D and A policy too. At the end of it all, the smallest pygmy dolls and the most draconian steps emerge. These dolls then decide that Masters and crews can be trusted with sometimes a couple of hundred million dollars worth of ship and cargo, but they cannot be trusted with a can of beer. They decide that there will be no alcohol carried or drunk on their ships at anytime, anywhere. Ever.


And what is worse, these dolls get away with it.


In no other industry anywhere in the world is a worker subjected to such harsh restrictions on his personal choices over months on end. Perhaps astronauts at space stations are, and so are Saudi Arabian residents and jailbirds elsewhere, but nowhere else is such an exercise even attempted. Restrictions may well apply to people operating machinery, to pilots and many others, but they do not do so twenty four hours a day over a nine month contract. There would be uproar if this measure were even mooted elsewhere.


I am well aware (how can I not be?) of the history and the rationale behind the arguments in favour of a complete alcohol ban. I am not advocating drunk crews operating ships as the alternative here. What I am advocating is this: it is high time everybody in the industry, including charterers, owners, managers and ship vetters, started treating me like a Master and not like a wayward juvenile delinquent. It is high time everybody started treating crews with some respect and not like they are some dumb animals that must be controlled or else they will run amuck after being intoxicated to the gills.


I am also advocating leaving the subject of alcohol intake of the crew to where it rightfully belongs: with the Master. I imagine that this gentleman, who the dolls give overriding authority on paper to protect themselves not all that long ago, should be able to stop the crew getting inebriated regularly. He did that earlier, before the days of the headmasters, didn’t he?


Sure, have a zero tolerance for drunkenness. Use the breathanalysers and urine testers freely. Let the axe fall on defaulters. However, for those many companies that bar any alcohol at all on board (and, if you are an Indian seaman, there are too many), I say this: Treat people like adults. Leave some things to the good sense of the individual and the Master. In addition, in Ronald Reagan’s words, trust but verify. Your crews are responsible for much bigger things than a bottle of beer. If most of them can handle those, most of them can handle a beer too.


Instances of alcohol abuse have sometimes occurred when people drink too much just before their ship is due to sail. Remember the Exxon Valdez? In many such cases, the reason people drink too much ashore is that no alcohol is available on board after sailing. If it were, they would not be tempted to go on a binge, I think, and certainly not at a waterfront bar just before sailing. Why do that when you can enjoy a drink in peace in the open sea?


This Master, for example, would rather have his single Margarita a day or two after sailing out of port, when in the open sea, rather than just before departure. That is just common sense. Besides, have any of the matryoshka dolls making these rules sailed in recent times with port stays, regulations and short manned crews being what they are? Come on, we are fudging port rest periods here. Do you think we have time to get sozzled regularly?


A couple of years ago I sailed on board a Scandinavian vessel before it was taken over by us. The Master, officers and crew were liberal in their intake of alcohol with every meal, and on most evenings, weekend barbecues and parties. Although Margaritas were not on offer, everything from beer to cognac to Schnapps was. Having seen and heard of similar instances where at least some Western mariners are allowed, by their companies, to drink alcohol freely on board, I wondered why the head masterly ‘zero alcohol’ rules seemed to be reserved largely for Asian mariners.


In this context, a slightly surreal story is that of Capt. Phimister’s recent trail in the UK. In November 2007, Capt. Phimister went ashore from the support vessel ‘VOS Viper’ with Chief Officer Gordon Buchan to celebrate his own birthday; when they returned, the Chief Officer, subsequently found to have four times the permissible blood alcohol level, boarded the vessel and died after falling down some steps. The Captain was charged with breaching the vessel’s safety management system, and was fined 1800 pounds last month for allowing an ‘over the limit’ crewmember back on board. The British Union Nautilus points to increasing seafarer criminalisation and calls these developments ‘extremely disturbing’, adding that the Master’s decision to allow Mr. Buchan back on board was one in which he was ‘between a rock and a hard place’. What was he to do? Leave Mr. Buchan on the pier? What would have happened to him there? What if he had fallen and died on the pier instead of on board?


While explaining his reasons for letting the Chief Officer board the vessel, Capt. Phimister had earlier elaborated that the ship was not scheduled to leave for twenty four hours and there were other (and sufficient) crewmembers on board in case she was required to shift berth. Nautilus may be right when it says that this case raises ‘fundamental questions about the responsibilities of masters and the workings of the ISM Code’.


If these draconian rules must exist at the expense of all common sense, then this Master would like to see them extended to other matryoshka dolls, please. What about the ‘Zero Alcohol’ policy applying to people in other critical positions in the industry? Let’s see, now, by the same reasoning, no alcohol should be allowed to pass the lips of DPAs, Superintendents and others in emergency response systems or teams, Shipmanagement company senior managers, outsourced oil spill response personnel, and many, many such more. Not a drop. Ever. At any time of the day or night.


Sounds absurd? Then welcome to Bulgakov’s satire. Welcome, also, to Stalin and the devil’s Kafkaesque alternative.

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Piracy spreads tentacles as attacks rise tenfold

International community struggle to cope; criminals get organised



Mumbai, May 15: In developments that the maritime industry will undoubtedly find alarming, a Fairplay Shipping news items says that some acts of Somali piracy have links to big businessmen in Somalia and even to law enforcement and monitoring agencies and the judiciary. UPI picked up on the report, which was then carried by many Western publications, including USA Today. Another unrelated but equally worrisome report carried by a Spanish radio station quotes European military intelligence saying that London based highly placed ‘consultants’ divulge, to the pirates, details of ships, cargoes, nationalities of crew, and even the layout of vessels scheduled to transit the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia. The network of informants allegedly extends to Yemen, Dubai and the Suez Canal. At least some ships have already been hit by pirates based on this network’s information.


The two independent reports have come as no surprise to many who have long suspected that piracy off Somalia is well organised, with UAE connections for finance. logistics and money laundering. The links to Somali businessmen and officials have also been long suspected. However, the reported involvement of officials in London, along with the depth to which the network extends and the resources it can draw on, have taken many observers completely by surprise. That many of the Western and Middle Eastern businesses are legitimate is an additional cause for concern.


"The International Maritime Bureau links slicker operations and their gaining bigger boats to the spike in attacks in recent months. The improved operations have been funded by the Somali businessmen who, together with some law enforcement, hide behind the pirates," the Fairplay report says, pointing out that even the judiciary is sometimes involved. Many of these ‘financiers’ have links to legitimate businesses in the UAE. Pirates in Somalia are also hiring bodyguards and paying off police officials and judges with their ransoms.


Interestingly, Fairplay quotes Roger Middleton, Chatham House consultant at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, obliquely confirming that other expenses incurred by shipowners match the ransoms paid. Middleton says that around $80M was paid in ransoms last year, with the same amount was paid to lawyers, insurance and ‘kidnap and ransom’ specialists. Typically, a third of a ransom is paid to the pirates on board and a tenth to local officials on the pirate payroll. Part of the rest is laundered or used to finance better equipment for future raids. Obviously, a part of this is also used to pay informants as far afield as London.


Meanwhile, in other developments, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has mooted the establishment of an international court to bring captured pirates to justice. Coalition and other navies have long struggled with the issue of where to try these criminals, and the Russian navy’s recent capture of around thirty pirates on board a mother vessel has undoubtedly precipitated Medvedev’s statement. Other organisations are pondering this question too; US Admiral Gary Roughead believes that the solution lies on land. “Pirates don’t live at sea. They live ashore. They move their money ashore. You can’t have a discussion about eradicating piracy without having a discussion about the shore dimension,” he told journalists.


The US Navy estimates that the coastal areas of Somalia are four times the size of Texas, and that arming crews is not a solution. It says that shipowners are unwilling to pay for security. In addition, Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been quoted in Lloyd’s List admitting that combating piracy is not his top priority, as less than one percent of the ships passing the Gulf of Aden fall prey to hijackers. Many believe that it will be therefore likely that ships will have to arrange more anti piracy measures in future on their own. In any case, with the theatre of operations widening into the Indian Ocean, there is only so much that coalition navies can do; a fact made obvious by the fact that this year’s pirate attacks have gone up to ten times as compared to the same period last year, according to the IMB.


Others have asked for international cooperation under UN control, coupled with a ‘user charge’ paid by shipowners. Among the proponents of this course of action is the chairman of the Nippon Foundation Mr. Yohei Sasakawa. His “Ocean peacekeeping initiative”, somewhat along the lines of UN peacekeeping initiatives on land, envisages monitoring pirate areas from air, sea and land, and more extensive communications to combat the menace. “While it is critical for the international community to co-operate in dealing with piracy, I think the time has come to expect the private sector to also make various contributions,” he said.
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May 15, 2009

Gravy Train

The fact that the maritime industry is indeed unique was brought home to me again by the Belgian Government’s recent announcement reported in Lloyds List. That country’s armed forces will now offer protection to Belgian ships at risk from Somali pirates, at the cost to owners of around a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a week. Private security agencies apparently charge approximately between 12000 and 18000 dollars a trip; obviously, the Belgian armed forces have higher overheads or a greater profit margin.


Coming up next: Somali pirates offering insurance at 100,000 dollars a pop; in return, they will guarantee that you sail through pirate waters untouched. Special annual rates offered for your entire fleet. Cheaper than the Belgian navy, and better. (Because they will offer guaranteed satisfaction, or your money and ship back!)


Post threat developments in our industry follow a typical pattern. Distinctive in this weave is the sight of innumerable players attaching themselves like parasites to the train, or ship, and continuing to milk it almost to eternity. The following is the usual sequence of events after the industry cannot ignore a problem any longer; this is what normally happens when the clamour after an accident or a systemic failure has become as shrill as it can get, and action must now be taken:

Stage 1: The IMO, Flag States, Port States and other consultative bodies attach themselves to the host. Budgets for ‘studies’ and jobs for experts and international (usually Western) consultants are now on offer. A new threat like Somali piracy opens up a new revenue stream. This will trickle down to others, and work well for a select few in an identical way that trickle down economics does: most of the end users get a trickle.

Stage 2: New IMO recommendations, Acts and Codes are enacted and ratified after the usual self centered wrangling and after many trees have been needlessly decimated for the reams of paper consumed. The new Acts attract others on board the lucrative gravy train: management companies that will bill owners for new equipment and training, the maritime education and training industry that will peddle substandard training, other alleged consultative experts and bodies, insurance, class, bureaucrats and equipment manufacturers (again mostly Western). The circle is almost complete by now.

Stage 3: The problem is not solved (perhaps it was never intended to be) or the results are too meager to declare success. Therefore, the gravy train can now be sanctimoniously perpetuated into eternity while we endeavour to solve it.


Of course, one should not discount, in countries like India, the relish with which the bloated and often corrupt bureaucracy looks forward to every new regulation and the power it gives them. To them, all this is often potatoes with gravy.


At least I would have fewer problems with this scenario if the outcome of this exercise resulted in a satisfactory resolution to whatever it was we intended to address. I agree that most other industries, especially international ones, have similar procedures and timelines. In most forward thinking industries, however, the results are far superior to ours. Other businesses seem to address issues more maturely and systematically than we do.


Consider the ISPS code. Ignoring Somali piracy, the fact is that years after its implementation, the situation today is that a few guys armed with nothing more than knives can board and threaten a ship, its cargo and its crew in many ISPS compliant ports in the world. A bunch of terrorists could create a major disaster, and probably will, at some stage. Yet the ISPS gravy train rolls on, unchanged and unexamined.


Consider the ISM Code. Although some may successfully argue that it has succeeded in safer ships and cleaner oceans, one must examine exactly how successful it has been considering the millions (billions?) that have been spent in the formulation of the Code and its implementation. Have we, after years of the ISM gravy train, got enough bang for the buck? I don’t think so. Copy and paste procedures and manuals, lackluster training and overworked crews aside (and even ignoring the blatant and universal violations of another convention, one that addresses fatigue at sea), results have not been good enough. The fact that ships of ‘advanced’ Western nations could dump nuclear and other waste off Somali waters in recent history is just one of the failures of the Code. Not enough bang for the buck, is my verdict, although, to put it a little crudely, many on the gravy train undoubtedly have enough buck for the bang.


And, finally, consider the Piracy issue. In addition to the pirates who seem to be riding the engine on board the gravy train, others who have benefited financially from piracy include insurance and reinsurance companies, international organisations and private security agencies, for a start. (It may not matter, but personnel working for one of these agencies, Blackwater, have been held guilty of murder in Iraq and have been chastised by the United Nations Assistance Mission there). Other direct beneficiaries include management companies that hold training programmes and seminars on piracy, secretive organisations that deliver ransom monies and others that launder it and seafarers who get extra allowances for sailing through dangerous waters. If the recent US lawsuit filed by the Cook against Maersk sets a precedent, the gravy train will become slurpier. Incidentally, there is another plan in the pipeline: more training for crews in anti piracy measures. Prepare to do this at your next revalidation, folks.


At the end of it all, we do not seem to be any closer to the resolution to the piracy issue, which is a problem to be solved on land anyway. It does not matter, though. The gravy train rolls on, with new compartments being added to it every now and then. One recently attached one is the ‘criminalisation of seafarers’ compartment. By now, it is attracting the usual travellers with others running on the tracks alongside trying to jump on. Codes have been formulated, industry bodies are already on board, the usual consultants and ship management companies are well entrenched and the Hebei Two are still in Korea. Meanwhile, the European Union is pushing fast to implement new regulations that will criminalise pollution further and widen the geographical area that sailors are scared to transit today. A new crop of inspections and oppressive regulation will get more on board the gravy train.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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May 08, 2009

When Differentship MET common sense, Part Two

(The concluding part of a two article series aimed at driving Marine Education and Training –MET- towards excellence)


Differentship management’s training establishment is on schedule for completion in two months time. We believe it is now time to make our MET plans public.


Philosophy

Put simply, our aim is to see our training institute rank amongst top ten globally within four years. We will do this by appropriate funding towards facilities and faculty, building partnerships with regulators and industry and insisting of an uncompromising path to excellence from our trainers and administrators.

We are not opening a training institute to just make money, but to provide, in an economically sustainable manner, excellent Marine Education and Training to seafarers. In order to do this properly, our intention is to plough back almost all the profits from training back into the institute.

We believe that advantages to us, and our brand, will accrue because we will graduate the best trained mariners possible. While this may seem like a collateral advantage to some, to us this advantage alone will erect a high wall separating us from the herd. This entry barrier will be invaluable for the Differentship brand. In any event, the pursuit of excellence, is, actually, the raison d'ĂȘtre for our institute’s existence.

As with our HRD policies rolled out recently, the training institute will be run in an ethical and professional manner. We will not make promises we cannot keep, and we will be fully transparent. The question of making our plans public, at this stage, was carefully debated internally. In the end, we are happy to make these public; we do not mind that this will put additional pressure on ourselves to excel.


Economics

• Differentship presently owns all the equity in this project.
• Our expectation (and target) is a Return on Equity (ROE) of 15 percent.
• Although we will start fully equipped in June, a minimum of 90 percent of the annual profits will be ploughed back into the business in the form of capital expansion plans every year for the first four years. Our desire is to scale up quickly and to invest in the future instead of skimming profits from training today. Initial investment will be recovered in seven years, assuming prudent reinvestment of the 10% profit retained.
• Capex plans will include elearning platforms, high technology simulators and other such modern resources. We believe that the mandate of reinvesting a huge chunk of our profits for Capex will automatically create barriers of entry for newer institutes or others seeking short term profit. We know that a high ROE on a low asset base does not mean too much anyway.
• We intend to charge owners or trainees market rates for training. We see no reason to charge less; our differentiating factor will be quality, not cost or quantity.
• We now declare that we are open to other likeminded partners who may be interested in equity participation in this project, since this will push our ability to scale quicker. However, we will retain majority shareholding and all operational control. We do not want to outsource our commitment to excellence to anybody.
• The overwhelming majority of employees of the Differentship training institute will be permanent and will be awarded cashable equity in the institute for every completed year of service. Annual bonuses will be paid to everybody based on their contribution towards excellence.
• Salaries will be 15 percent higher than market wages at the institute.
• With existing owners of the 50 odd ships we have under management excited about this initiative, and with great interest shown from other industry quarters, we do not see any issues in raising demand.



Some Key operational decisions have been arrived at after much thought. Some of the more important ones are:

• We have two customers: ship owners and trainees. Our endeavour will be to provide excellent service to both.
• The Differentship Training Institute will be run ethically and with complete transparency.
• We will seek to promote ethical professional behaviour to all our trainees during course delivery, because we are dismayed at the present low levels of ethics and professionalism across all segments of our industry.
• We will seek to collaborate with other large institutes to engage the Directorate General of Shipping towards a MET compliance framework that is robust and practical.
• Advisors, Directors and key personnel will be appointed and retained only if they share our vision, because we do not want people who are content with promoting the business model currently prevalent in the industry.
• We have developed an online learning delivery system and will integrate it into our training from the outset. Although some training is enhanced by group discussion and face to face peer involvement, we believe much training can be undergone from within the comfort of a trainee’s own home. The advantages of cost savings in travel, hotel accommodation, faculty and paperless training are obvious. Other positives, including higher employee satisfaction and course curriculum and material that can be quickly modified cannot be ignored. We intend to make Elearning a large part of our future initiatives, and have already tied up with two of the largest providers of maritime training software to push this aggressively.
• We will employ visiting faculty to the minimum. One exception will be where a high end technical curriculum makes availability of a full time faculty difficult. The reason for preferring full time faculty is simple: we have less control over quality with visiting faculty and greater administration headaches. We do not want sailing Masters or Chief Engineers to teach for a month or two part time, unless they have something unique to offer.
• Distance Learning Programmes, where they exist for fresh Cadets, have been overhauled. Frankly, the present DLP quality is below par and unacceptable. Our DLP concentrates on practical education during the trainees’ sailing period and reduces on board academic study. We believe that the time for arcane academic pursuits is during preparation for competency examinations and not at sea.
• Realising that on board trainers do not grow on trees, we have identified, within our own fleet, suitable trainers and have completed a shortlist of sailing officer educators across all ranks. These officers are capable and interested in imparting some of their knowledge at sea to the next generation. We propose to introduce a mentorship programme wherein such officers will be themselves trained and then involved in training younger colleagues whether they are at sea or ashore. Juniors will be encouraged to keep in touch with their mentors by email and otherwise. We will try to schedule a rotation that has mentors sail with their ‘wards’ at least once. As far as possible, mentors and juniors will be paired if they belong to the same country, city or geographical area. Mentors will get a small allowance as compensation for involvement, though we feel that this contribution is actually priceless. We will also use our mentorship programme to identify future faculty, and, if necessary, mentor the mentors towards that end.
• Our selection process for faculty and administrators will be strict. We do not intend to retain anybody who has a low commitment to MET or is seeking a semi retired life with low involvement. There are enough institutes that employ deadwood; we do not see a reason to add ourselves to that list. Frankly, we will compensate much better, and so will not accept second best.
• Pre Sea Cadet courses will be planned carefully and monitored strictly. We notice that many institutes have faculty that do not work in tandem, resulting in confusing and uncoordinated course delivery. Pre Sea trainees deserve to have a well knit course that explains basic concepts to them clearly and indelibly; instead they are often taught by a gaggle of visiting and permanent faculty of varying competence and uncertain commitment in an ad hoc manner.
• As of last month, we have stopped the practice of using Cadets for routine clerical work at sea. Time saved is being put to productive use, including on board training.
• All company employees attending add on or company sponsored courses will be invited to bring their families along. Although family travelling expenses will be borne by them (at least in the first four years), these officers will be paid an appropriate daily allowance to cover local expenses if the training is outside their city of residence. We feel that this is only fair.



Addressing motivational Issues

We see this as a key reason for the present low quality of training. We are convinced that overcoming low motivation is key to imparting excellent education.

First off, we believe we have largely addressed this issue as it pertains to institute faculty and on board trainers already. We believe that our model of better compensation coupled with strict quality control of faculty is well workable. Although we know that our mentorship model has still to be road tested, we also know this: so far, nobody in the industry has tried to identify on board trainers internally, or even vaguely tried to make on board training a serious and professional affair. For the first time, we have.

Secondly, we do not believe that motivational issues with raw trainees attending pre sea programmes will be problematic. Those of us at Differentship that have been involved with MET know that these youngsters yearn for quality. They are keen to learn and establish themselves in the industry even if they are already planning to quit sailing within a decade. Their parents have spent hard earned money or have taken loans for training. In our experience, many are then frustrated by the quality of education offered to them at present training institutes. It is a poor excuse to point to education in India in general and say that it suffers the same malaise. It is also cowardly for an institute to hide poor educational quality behind certificates, ISO compliances and domestic and foreign associations. Most of these trainees want cake. So far, they are being given bread instead.


We do admit to facing a bigger challenge when it comes to add on courses, whether statutory, company sponsored or otherwise. This, we feel, is largely because most of these trainees are industry hardened cynics who have suffered poor standards of MET throughout their professional careers. We have spoken to many of our officers; frankly, many of their comments on post sea courses, including revalidation and upgradation courses, are too embarrassing to repeat in polite company.


We do believe, however, that the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. The same officers we spoke to have singled out certain institutes where courses are conducted well and expressed satisfaction at having received good value for their time and money. Therefore, we are hopeful that these officers will be motivated, even if gradually, to take full advantage of the excellent training that we will offer to them.


In any event, we know this too: Our desire to impart MET of a quality not seen before in India is visceral; we know that this is the way towards excellence and competitive advantage. We know that excellence is a habit. We intend to make it ours, even if some in the industry do not demand it, or indeed even recognise it yet.


Therefore, to the sceptics out there, we repeat what the restaurant cook told one of us in Livorno: “You don’t know what good lasagna is, because you haven’t eaten ours yet”.
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