Logistics

Difficult for us to support any action which will affect safety at sea: Anglo-Eastern Ship Management

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on June 11, 2020 Published on June 11, 2020

Vinay Singh, Group Managing Director - HR Sea Staff, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Ltd

India needs to resume commercial international flights, says Vinay Singh

Despite other modes of transportation coming to a standstill - across the globe - owing to the lockdown restrictions and closure of borders, ships continued to sail and help with the supply goods including essential commodities.

However, crew changes on ships became a casualty due to stoppage of international flights. Thousands of crews were, thus, compelled to work beyond their original contract tenures.

BusinessLine spoke to Captain Vinay Singh, Group Managing Director - HR Sea Staff, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Ltd, the largest foreign employer of India seafarers, to know what the ship manager is doing to ease the situation. Excerpts.

Of the total crew rotated, how many Indian seafarers went and came back on chartered flights, signed-off/on at anchorages of ports and during normal cargo operations while calling at ports?

We have been able to achieve crew changes across 54 vessels, with 692 movements of Indian crew.

Of which, 138 crew members have travelled on 5 chartered flights. We have 6 more flights planned for change for another 200 crew members.

We have carried about 15 crew changes for vessels during normal cargo operations in India. Further, 9 crew changes were arranged at anchorage by calling on Indian ports and 4 ships at Galle (Sri Lanka) for crew relief.

During such crew changes, have you had to replace an Indian crew with a seafarer from another nationality due to non-availability of Indian. If so, how many Indian slots went to other countries?

Two of our new takeover ships were taken over by different nationality since we were not able to place Indian staff. This is a loss of about 40 berths or 80 jobs for Indian Seafarers.

Given that the pandemic has added multiple layers of screening for off and on signers, what is the cost per head for a crew change now in India for Anglo compared to pre-Covid levels?

The crew change costs had largely escalated due to additional screening for Covid-19 and the travel restrictions by road only during the lockdown. Though with the resumption of domestic flights, the travel has eased up, additional costs for quarantine of joiners and off signers in Indian ports is still a significant cost for crew changes in India. At times, the overall the costs have increased by more than 100 per cent due to various factors.

Do overworked and tired seafarers on board pose a risk to the safe operation of ships in an industry that is obsessed with risk assessment? Where is the risk assessment now? Is the industry waiting for another disaster to happen before finding solutions as seen in the past?

Controlling fatigue is a very important aspect for safe operation of ships. The industry has moved authorities at the highest levels to seek “key worker” status for seafarers and we are now beginning to see the results with a number of countries granting visa on arrival for seafarers and allowing crew changes at their ports. We could have preferred if the same key worker status was given to our offices in India, because without shore support, seafarers are unable to join ships. Currently, our Mumbai office is working at 10 per cent strength, as allowed by local rules.

How many seafarers on your fleet are overdue for relief including those on extended contracts? Have contract extensions become inevitable? Are you forcing extensions on the hapless crew?

We have overall about 45 per cent of our staff onboard who are due for relief and about 26 per cent of them are overdue by more than a month. During the earlier weeks due to global lockdown, there were no possibility of crew changes in any country and the flag states allowed contract extensions as this was inevitable. Our crew members have been very cooperative and have willingly extended their contracts. We have been at the forefront of the industry for relieving our crew whenever there is an opportunity and they have full confidence in us. We are doing utmost to bring back our crew who is overdue for relief.

Are you paying a delayed relief compensation of 25 per cent extra to the crew to get them to sign such extensions?

The delayed relief compensation, which is about 25 per cent extra, has been a part of our terms of employment for a number of years. We had this allowance for overdue crew long before the current crisis, however during this pandemic, it has benefited much larger numbers of seafarers.

With the June 15 deadline set by the ITF and IMEC closing in, do you forsee an industrial action by the crew on board post June 15. If so, how do you plan to deal with such a situation?

Most of the countries are still under lockdown, though this is gradually changing. The crew understand this and our efforts to relieve our crew have been second to none. We do not expect any untoward situation onboard our ships and will continue to make every possible effort to bring our people back to their families.

What is your take on the June 15 deadline?

We support the initiative from ITF which has also put pressure on many countries to treat seafarers as key workers and allow crew changes. Though given the number of seafarers on the world merchant fleet not all crew can be repatriated by this date, serious efforts are on across the world to bring them back as soon as possible.

If the ITF says it’s time to stop ship operations for a day, will you support it or will you take the line, ‘it will only increase the losses of owners and, in turn, affect the employment of Indian seafarers’, to oppose it?

We hope that ship operations or port operations will not get stopped. It is difficult for us to support any action which will affect safety at sea, or disrupt global supply chains, during such critical times.

There have been instances of masters’ seeking suspension of some key checks on tanker ships, till the situation normalises and/or refusing to allow inspectors on board fearing contamination of virus. This is being cited by the crew, who say that managers are disconnected from ground realities and trade takes precedence over crew health. What is you view on this?

The ship is a quarantined place and crew at sea are safest from any infection. Hence, it is important that any visitors boarding ships observe the standard protocols of tests, sanitary practices and social distancing to ensure the safety of the crew. We have standard protocol with regards to visitors, in order to keep our crew safe. Many inspections are now being carried out remotely, to reduce exposure to staff onboard.

Have the actions of Indian seafarers such as non-cooperation and forcing deviations for crew change hurt their employment prospects? Will it hurt their brand image? Will you as a manager be vindictive on such seafarers?

Our crew have been very co-operative and we are thankful to them for the patience and support. We are a responsible employer and look after the wellbeing of our crew and their families, which in turn reinforces their trust in us. We understand that these are unprecedented times, where taking care of people is our most important job.

Nine ships were diverted to Kochi only for crew change because either the master or the crew refused to sail further or the owners of the ships insisted on diversions. So, the crew was lucky they had a bold master or a bold owner. Don’t you think a manager has to be fair – either don’t allow diversions or allow all ships passing south of India to divert to Kochi?

The ships that called at Kochi did so with our full agreement as well as that of the ship owners, based on the number of overdue crew or those requiring medical attention. It was a collective decision. Since the Indian airspace has been closed for commercial aircrafts, conducting crew change in ports at India was the only viable option at the time. We continue to conduct more crew changes for ships passing India.

Do you have a ship specific plan for scheduled crew rotation involving discharge port, bunkering port, diversion to any port that allows crew change even if the ship is loaded and where diversion is reasonable, and diversion to India so that the crew has something to look forward to?

Yes, we continue to plan to conduct crew changes for more ships passing India. We have conducted crew changes by calling at Galle (Sri Lanka) and are planning for other foreign ports where practical, wherever we could obtain permission for a crew change. We have a very comprehensive plan for crew changes and our team in India is working round the clock to achieve this in this dynamic environment. With opening up of chartered flights, now crew changes are possible in key places around the world.

Are Indian ports not levying port charges/anchorage charges during crew change?

As per the circular from Ministry of Shipping, no ports are levying any charges for crew change at anchorage and this is a very good consideration by the Government of India. This has helped in reducing cost of crew changes in Indian ports.

Are you satisfied with the time taken to complete a crew change at anchorage of Indian ports with all the formalities?

Given the limitations of resources available, the crew changes so far have been achieved efficiently in a good turn-around time.

With the market flooded with Indian officers, has this led to a reduction in salaries?

Indian officers continue to be the nationality of choice especially on tankers and there has been no recent reduction in salaries.

What could be the single biggest factor that would help restore the crew change process back to normalcy?

India needs to resume commercial international flights, this is the biggest road-block in getting the seafarers out of the country and getting the ones overdue on board back to their loved ones. Shipping is a dynamic business where the routing / port calls of ships keeps changing. Therefore, the current restriction of giving firm passenger manifest five to seven days in advance to the authorities, is a great dampener for shipping. DG Shipping has full data of all seafarers and seafarers are allowed to depart only as per E-migrate system. Ideally, DG Shipping should be giving permission for seafarers travel rather than the MEA or MHA.

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Published on June 11, 2020
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