Wednesday, February 23, 2011


“Chief, one thing I want to ask you—why there is no harmony on board ships where Indian officers are there?” -- Chief mate of box-ship Hanjin Melbourne to me, at a bar in Nanjian ,China, in November 2008, in the presence of my ship’s master, second engineer and few other crew members.

This blogpost is specifically aimed at Indian merchant marine officers whose lacking sense of democracy is gradually rolling-up a new kind of problem for the future generation of Indian mariners to find employment with foreign multinationals (well, this is purely my personal observation on future of this kind of problem.)
I call this the Interpersonal-troubles.

Case study 1:
On one ship, the cargo loaded in ‘Gasoline grade P’, and ‘Gasoline grade R’ ( names, as described in the B/L). It is a product carrier, designed and certified to carry only petroleum clean products. On completion of loading the Indian master asks me to conduct a vapour valve segregation too, of the two grades, in compliance with the “company policy” (well, most mariners, immaterial of their nationality, think the entire ISM required manual, the SMS, is “company policy”. The management class-room meaning of Policy is completely evading most of us.) . But the challenge is that these kinds of ships are not designed to achieve a double-valve vapour segregation , by way of blanking or isolating the vapour line. So, the idea of his orders are- that the cargo tanks loaded with one set of cargo should be blanked away at the IG inlets. –Herculean job it was. And not only that, it later showed potentials of an unsafe-act as well. See it, how.
I felt uncomfortable doing something which I had not done before, but having switched my set-up completely by way of hopping employment, I was rather too quiet on it. I asked master if we could avoid the task by seeking information from the shippers if the segregation was so necessary. Answer was that he did, and the shippers reply was in affirmative. I was surprised, if the shippers knew the extra cost involved in that.
The communication console on this ship was completely a master’s prerogative, located in his cabin and therefore the exact words of communication untraceable to me.
The vessel sailed out from Europe to America, the even colder temperature, and therefore the cargo tank temperature started to drop. A vacuum started to develop in the tanks, which could not be filled by any means other than air. The weather enroute was not good enough to turn around the blanks to carry out IG topping-up; nor too good to let air , laden with moisture or water spray, enter the cargo tanks which could later increase the water contents in cargo.
We arrived in America safely, with no cargo claim to be seen. Nonetheless, an interpersonal-trouble had started to brew up between myself and the master.

Understanding the politics in Indians’ behaviour:-
The commonest trouble arises when interpersonal relationship trouble blotch up because of what we call the ‘politics’. It is difficult to know what is politics when an Indian alleges somebody of doing politics. Sometimes, even the conversation related to party-political topics are what get treated as politics. Sometimes, the likes and dislikes towards a person depending upon his party-political inclinations, or his religion, or nationality are also treated in the category of ‘doing politics’ . In my attempt to understand the common problem among human beings of doing politics, I have turned to my old school textbook called Julius Caesar , a play written by famous William Shakespeare.
I would classify the episode to be ‘political’ if, inter alia, it has the following characteristics;-
1. There is some element of uncertain-ity about something, or a future event. Like - Caesar would be tyrant king. Whether he was or not remains uncertain.
2. Decisions are made of extreme actions, basis some assumption to work out this uncertainty, or future event . Like – A decision to murder Caesar .
3. The extreme action is covert in nature, lacking transparency and good communication. Like- a sudden, unexpected attack on Caesar
4. There is an attempt to malign public image/opinion about the person, be the maligning statements justified or unjustified. There is extreme provocation around. There is fear, betrayals, conspiracies, and so on.
5. Attempt is made to pre-empt the expected action of the rival group or person by means of this extreme action, or, by maligning public image. E.g - Kill Caeser before he become the king and puts us in captivity. Tell the world that Caesar would be a tyrant.
6. Sometimes there is counter-provocation, when two groups of people have come into existence. Antony’s famous speech, ”Friends, dears, Romans and countrymen,.....”

The first and most important action to resolve the scandal of doing-politics is to identify the uncertainty point around which people’s opinion has diverged away. Company’s first task is to not to get involved with any of these people, and search for the Idealist solutions so that deviations of each of the two groups could be measured from the idealistic solutions to that uncertain point. There may be a lot more attempt to provoke the company too.

Indians are a High-power distance society:-
Sometimes I think within self that in Indian fraternity, people like to use the professional qualification of captains in their name something like a title that people would use in the previous century, say Thakur, or Choudhary, or Khan.
A captain is more a “Caphary” in my comical thoughts, a conjunction of a Captain and a Choudhary. These kinds of captains take extreme pride in calling themselves that. I truly wish to question this lot of people as to how the depiction of their qualification in the public can help in general services of the public. Like in the case of a medical practioner writing Doctor , can be called into attending a heart patient at any time, or a police personnel or a military services personnel, or a civil judge to resolve a dispute impromptu, or to control and check a crime.
How does a master mariner’s qualification help in public services at any point of time in routine life?
Then, what is the motto of loudly displaying your qualification tag,-- pure ego or public help ?!