June 06, 2013

Reflecting morality

Occurs to me that I may have been wrong all this time, blaming the STCW conventions alone for plummeting seafarer standards and the mess that maritime training is in today. For, although each STCW amendment seems to have done nothing except widen and deepen the fraud that is perpetrated on seamen in the name of training, the law may not be the only ass in the room.  

Occurs to me that western countries- and a few others- have implemented the same STCW conventions without the associated corruption that we have come to take for granted in places like India. It is well known that many countries do not mandate unnecessary (and worthless) STCW courses for seamen. Even the euphemistically named ‘upgradation’ courses are deemed superfluous. So what is unique about India?

I think it is not a coincidence that the rot in Indian shipping- certainly in all aspects of training and the manning of ships, domestic or foreign- accelerated in the mid-nineties, around the same time as ‘economic liberalisation’ was forced on the country.( That the STCW conventions were amended around the same time was unhappy coincidence). As we now acknowledge, that liberalisation heralded, on a structure already weakened by decades of corruption, a new form of rottenness- crony capitalism. It also unleashed a depth and width of corruption never seen before in India, to an extent that today, twenty years later, a leader of the Indian opposition calls the present Indian government a ‘cash and carry’ one. 

It may not help to know this, but I think that the same thing that happened to the country happened (obviously, do I hear you say?) to its shipping establishment. I think that all participants there reflect today the collapse of ethics and morality in the wider Indian society. Some of these entities were corrupt (or corrupt enough, anyway) to begin with; the winds of the phony ‘liberalisation’ seem to have given them a kind of carte blanche to take their corruption to new, dizzying levels. The maritime training establishment has been just one of the many clear beneficiaries of this collapse. 

(Playing devil’s advocate for a moment: To those of you who are ready to buy my explanation as an excuse for the state of the Indian training and body shopping apparatus today, one question, please: Why has morality and ethics in shipping degenerated to an extent not seen in most other private industries in India?)

The STCW conventions (and others too, I bet. Watch the MLC after August) have always had just one major effect in India. Each amendment gives regulators and MET establishments another stick to beat the seafarer with. It helps little that the purpose of the exercise is not the beating; it is the moolah that is arranged to be made. The seaman sits through useless courses time and again, on his own time and paying with his own money that has been earned through blood, sweat and tears. If Pre-Sea, he is exhorted to show, now and when aboard, a level of professionalism and integrity that he does not see in the rest of the industry, ever. He pays a couple of hundred thousand Rupees for his first job or for an on-board training berth. Some of the people taking this money are ex-Masters now sitting ashore. Some of the middlemen are sitting in maritime training establishments; other touts abound in dusty streets across the country. 

We hear often- mainly and obviously, from politicians themselves- that a society gets the governance it deserves. Banal or not, that comment is true across the board. Perhaps a country also gets the kind of shipping- and the kind of seamen- it deserves.


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