Front Vanadis , a VLCC, is to be prepared for her scrap from today onwards. It is an emotional moment for me, although i don’t know why. Entire set of ‘procedures’ described to me by my captain appear to be some kind of ‘rituals’ to be done before a person is set to die. The items to be off’landed, the number of men to remain on board, and the number of men stay with her in her final hours, it all appeared like the family has to detach away as the old will finally complete rites towards his death.
It reminded me of my most wonderful days i have lived some 10 years ago on my favourite ship “State of Andhra Pradesh”. I was a cadet there, and the only one. No, she didn’t scrap away in my times, but helped me feel that there was a life and a spirit to every ship. And that, this spirit of every ship lived in its cadet’s cabin, while it’s Master commanded it. ‘Speak Father’ ...,’i wait thy orders’ echoed in my ears from one old poem Casabianca.
We had five families on board, (by family we seafareres usually mean mean-- officers with their wives and children) and two kids. During my tenure only one child and total five families stayed, while the other kid and family left away. Most staff were aged people of yesteryears of shipping industries, when the world of shipping moved almost without the government rules. Or that the government had been busy stealing powers from the people who were keeping it captives with themselves before the Governments were even born in most nations of earth. And even in the process of power transfer, the power was continuously emanating its hot tricks creating new centres, and then melting them away sometimes. For example, the old timer Bosum Mr Abdul Serang, from Ratnagiri , was reminding me of how he was picked up for the job of a DUH (the new apprentice deck sweeper, a rank discontinued now) long long ago. The Bosuns then, had the authority to pick up its crew from all the applicants around in the job market. And surely his terms and criteria for selection would be such as who are going to obey his orders so that those seamen find an employment for themselves. There were no government ‘certifications’ or ‘training’ for the job, or control on selection. Today, bosun himself is a selectee from all the ‘governement-certified’ seamen we have on board. His powers are almost lost, as he exerts no authority over his own crew. So is the story of the master of a merchant ship.
He is no more that ‘old man’ with an unaccounted reserve of ‘power’ by which he would decide-- whether to employ a man or not, to let a man live or kill him, there and then, avoiding the need to handle his corpse after he is killed by making him stand on the ‘bulwark’ of ‘HIS SHIP’ !!!. The master is no more a ‘king owner’ but merely a ‘government certified’ person ‘employed’ as a ‘mere’ ‘powerless’ ‘agent’ of some ‘tightly regulated’ ‘company’ controlled by semi-B—school educated, non-seafaring, graduates who are accustomed only to watching some stock market quotes, and creating some hysteria about their jobs among rest of the people of this planet!!!!
The powerful communication technology has stolen away the last bits of feathers from the masters arms by which he could control or exercise his authority. The government has made a puppet of him, who has least authority to exert any control over other crew, who are also ‘government certified’.
Hail boy, but i am not unhappy with all this. In fact i am more than happy that better justice can now be achieved because the arbitrariness of a Master’s discretion has ended now. The intellectualism has found means to find some way onto seas and un-tethered merchant ships. A centre of power without any accountability has seen the end of its era. The humanitarianism has found its way.
But the spirit of a ship has also lost its value in the eyes of all. It is only a lifeless commodity now. There are no emotions to scrapping a ship which would soon be ‘ she lived once’. She will all be gone and forgotten, even by its own sailors who sailed on its once in her young years. The small scale engineering models in the company offices, and the photographs of it will only remind of what unregulated life there was once, while each day passes away with a little more tightened noose on the life of professionals everywhere-- the seafarers, the doctors, the softies or whatever.
Well, the people also need to learn to live without power, and under the control of the ‘all-powerless’ governments. That’s what the new order of administration is about.
Surprisingly the mutinies and insurgencies still happen to this world, even when everything seems to be moving towards the era of powerlessness and democratisation.
(13th jan 2010)
A vessel for scarp has some very amazing events happening on it. One wonderful situation, a legal complication, happening there is about confusion on ownership of the articles on the ship. As a trade practice, a ship is sold to the scrap dealers mostly basis the prevailing scrap iron prices. Therefore, no matter how much the ship’s equipment will worth in the second-hand market, the scrap dealer purchases all of them including the ship from its last owners in price of their weight. This deal is usually done on “as is where is” basis, worked through the deadweight of the vessel. The ship owner hands over the inventory of articles as he possesses them from ship’s staff to the new owners- the scrap merchant. Scrap merchant surely knows in advance that all ships have to have certain item on them as a statutory obligation. Therefore, no person can take them away until he takes custody of his goods.
What about the other smaller items like- computers, binoculars, photocopiers, other office machines, cabin privileges-- TV, DVD, etc.?! Where is the official and authentic record, an inventory, of their presence on board./?
The ship staff, in these hours, understand that they can pick any of these items by their choice –all for free, until the new owner presents a proof of ownership to the world. There will always be room for a doubtful claim by the ship staff they purchased it second hand from some port.
Here on ship, it all becomes as game of political challenge as to who takes away what, going by his rank. It is all free-for-all sale, and the might begins to matter. If the master of the vessel also decides to join the feast than surely he becomes a big time gainer. In the situation which i witnessed, the crew member who were from the scrap yard port city were the biggest gainers, and all for reason that they would face least trouble in transporting to home even the biggest of the items they pick up. It was turning out to be a game of who’s who on ship.
Then i got thinking on the management solution to help this wild state of affairs. But soon i stumbled on the point that infrastructure in these scrap cities is too poor to organise a good market for this second hand ship items. How will the scrap merchant-cum-new-owner organise caretaking for his property? Will the benefits really be able to reach to the persons who are the rightful heir to them? Chittagong is just in the process of making good policies for a safe process of vessel scrapping their territory. The commercial issue are still too distant to be taken, i feel.
And then how will the arguments unfold around the ownership claims for the small items,? Will it not be a sea-farers right over them, even a dime, despite being the caretaker for the items, till they arrive for their last rites!? Will they not be at the mercy of the last group of seamen who would be working with them, to leave them intact or leave them destroyed. So, why would the seamen not claim their share from this, apart from all other benefits/compensations which their companies give to them.
For once, i think they would not be in the wrong to do their last feast.! What say, the legal minds!?