July 10, 2014

Slow march to extinction

The manning setups in India who cater to foreign flags seem to have accepted the fact that many of those who go out to sea today have little interest in sailing for more than a decade or so. They understand this because they see the fallout every day- not just with people wanting to leave, but in terms of lower commitment and other disadvantages that a disinterested or poorly motivated employee always brings to the table.

Acceptance is one thing; managing this change is much harder, especially as most shipmanning outfits are hardwired to focus completely on costs and treat everything else as low priority. The psyche of folk only interested in their clients’ perceptions about their own efficiencies does not have room for any long term planning of their critical human resources. 

That there are many issues connected with the fact that Indian seamen do not see themselves as ‘lifers’ any more is obvious. Where will experienced Indian senior officers come from when so many are quitting, or plan to quit, the moment they get what in India is called the chhapa- the ‘stamp’ of a Master or Chief Engineer- on their CDC’s? Are standards falling because fewer people are interested in doing their jobs- that they see as temporary- well at sea?  And connected: does our corrupt and corrupted on-board training regime need a total overhaul to ensure that people are fit for purpose? Should we be planning a shore based career path to those quitting sailing in order to retain them in the maritime industry? Are we at all concerned that Indian seafaring skills- also valued ashore- may be on a slow march to extinction?

As if often the case, shipping knows what needs to be done but will not do it because its culture does not promote a long term view of anything to do with seamen. The body-shoppers will tell you, if they are honest, that they don’t really care about the future of Indian seamen and that they see more Indian crews being replaced by those from other countries in future. The Filipinos, for example, have a long history of being ‘lifers.’ 

Most importantly, desired change will not happen because the bodyshoppers, the administrators and the wider industry are all usually interested only in the short-term. Long term interests of the Indian maritime industry or its seamen- a legacy going back thousands of years- are simply not on anybody’s agenda. 

This problem will not go away, you know. It will only multiply with time, because the existing stifling regime of international maritime overregulation will continue to feed shipmanagement companies and distance shipowners- who will eventually face the problem of a shortage in quality seagoing personnel, and who are usually more interested in human resources at sea- further from seamen.  

We all see the problem and we all know the possible solutions. We can even think up new ones- we aren’t that dumb. But, nonetheless, the solutions will not be found, I am afraid, much less implemented. Not without some drastic and collective brain surgery, they won’t.


No comments: