Amit Mitra

Mumbai, April 6

THE Shipping Ministry's efforts to improve the image of Indian ships abroad, by bringing down the number of ships getting detained in foreign ports under the Port State Control (PSC), do not appear to be cutting much ice with ship owners.

Sources said in the first three months of 2005, four Indian ships were detained in different foreign ports under the PSC, while the whole of 2004 recorded 14 such detentions. In fact, the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), which had cracked the whip on Indian ship owners last year to reduce the detention of their vessels in foreign ports, wanted to make 2005 a `detention-free' year. Apparently, the DGS has not cracked the whip loudly.

Informed sources said that after managing to get out of the Black List under the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to emerge in the Grey List. India is still trapped in the Grey List under the Tokyo MoU, while slipping from the `Watch List' of the US Coast Guard to its Grey List. Different MoUs categorise the quality of ships under Black, Grey and White lists in that order of improved quality.

Indeed, the increasing trend of detention of Indian ships in 2003 and early 2004 had been causing concern in the domestic shipping industry, as it was threatening to smear the image of Indian flag vessels abroad.

If 2003 was considered a `bad year' on this score, the beginning of 2004 was worse, as there was a spurt in detentions of Indian flag vessels. The first four months of 2004 saw 10 Indian ships getting detained, while the next four months registered four more detentions, the number reaching the total detentions in 2003.

However, the measures initiated by DGS saw a marked improvement in the trend, with the last four months of 2004 not registering any detention. The 14 detentions last year include six vessels under the Indian Ocean MoU, four each under Paris and Tokyo MoUs and two under the US Coast Guard (two of the vessels have been shown in the lists of Tokyo and Indian Ocean MoUs).

"Apparently, in the ship owners' quest to squeeze maximum economic mileage out of the freight market boom in last few months, good house-keeping in ships had taken the backseat, resulting in more detentions," a shipping analyst pointed out.

The DGS had initiated steps to ensure that India came out of the Black and Grey lists of the different MoUs at the earliest to make 2005 a detention-free year. The steps initiated by the DGS include calling back any Indian vessel detained in a foreign port to the nearest Indian port, restricting any ship that is subjected to two PSC detentions in 12 months to Indian coasts and a mandatory floor space index inspection of all vessels every year.

Shipping analysts feel that four detentions in the first three months of 2005 do not typify a healthy trend for Indian ships and they called for more stringent measures.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 7, 2005)
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