Remembering ship brothers

Our Bureaus | Updated on March 12, 2018

Another view of the would be settlers at Andamans are seen awaiting to embark S.S. Andamans on July 12, 1959 at the Madras Port.   -  THE HINDU

As in trade and commerce, so also in the transportation of human cargo, Kolkata port was a major conduit for many years. Between August 1834 and end-1835, as many as 14 ships were engaged in transportation of emigrants from Kolkata to Mauritius and nearer home Burma and other places. By the time indentured emigration stopped in early 20th century, over one million labourers had been transferred to distant colonies across the globe.

The total number of emigrants to Mauritius alone exceeded 4.5 lakhs by the turn of the century, with another half a million or so moving to British Guyana, the Trinidad, Jamaica and various British, French and Dutch colonies.

To assist immigration, the Governments of Jamaica, Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Natal and Surinam in those days had set up separate emigration agencies in Kolkata. Before 1857, Kolkata port did not have an impounded dock, and ships used to berth at the moorings while some of the ghats were used as landing points to ferry men, women and even children in boats to waiting vessels. As Sea of Poppies, a saga of colonial history of the East written by eminent author Amitav Ghosh, observes, “.. the destiny is tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean to the distant islands.

As to the people on board, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies, convicts and others. ….. As they sail down the Hooghly and into the sea, their old family ties are washed away and they view themselves as ship-brothers who will build new lives for themselves in the remote islands where they are being taken “.

Remembering the great indentured Indian diaspora, a Calcutta Memorial was inaugurated and a new inscription of the historic port clocktower unveiled recently at Kidderpore Dock of Kolkata port by Mr Vaylar Ravi, Union Minister for Overseas Affairs, in the presence of Ms Mamata Banerjee, Railway Minister, Mr Mukul Roy, Union Minister State for Shipping and Mr M. L. Meena, Chairman, Kolkata Port Trust. Many from those countries who are now prosperous but whose forefathers had left the shores of the Hooghly nearly two hundred years ago as indentured labourers, were present on the occasion.

Of pirates and shipping

Shipping makes the world go round but who makes shipping go round?, asks Lloyd's List, the world's most reputed daily on shipping, ports and logistics, and publishes the names of 100 most influential people in the shipping industry. Mr Li Shenglin, Minister of Transport, China, tops the list (“He is the centre of every long-term issue that will affect the shipping in coming decades”). India's Mr Sabyasachi Hajara, Chairman and Managing Director of Shipping Corporation of India, ranks 92 (“Given its obvious potential for maritime shipping as the world's second most populous country, Indian shipping punches well below its weight”).

Two other Indian names also figure in the list – Mr Anil Sharma, Founder and Chief Executive of Global Marketing Systems, ranking 49, and Mr Ravi Kumar Mehrotra, Founder and Principal Shareholder, Foresight Shipping, ranking 97. Mr Efthimios Mitropoulos, IMO's Secretary-General, ranks 13th. Interestingly, Mr Garaad Mohammed, a Somali pirate, ranks fourth ( “Pirates wield more powers in today's shipping than most individual ship-owners and shipping companies”).

Published on January 16, 2011

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