Taking care of Seafarers, lifting Indian Shipping to new heights…

Dr. Malini V Shankar, IAS, has recently taken charge of the department that governs Indian Shipping. With India’s rapidly emerging maritime sector including the rising pool of talented seafarers acclaimed all over the world and challenges posed by resurfacing piracy in the Indian Ocean, Maritime Weekly had an informative conversation with India’s shipping regulator. Excerpts…

You have recently taken charge of the Directorate General of Shipping, could you please outline issues that you were confronted with relating to implementation of measures for the welfare of entire Indian maritime sector?

In my short stint as DG Shipping so far, I have had a crash course in Merchant Shipping Laws and Maritime Convention. Recently, an unfortunate incident happened near the Ennore Port, Chennai, where oil spilled due to a collision between two ships. The challenging situation gave me tremendous insights into various aspects the need for heightened preparedness to counter oil spill, cleaning up of oil spill, and the processes involved in compensation as per International Maritime Convention.

Based on the above learning, we are now working on plans to ensure that all the ports and the state governments will be better equipped to handle such unforeseen incidents in the future. DG Shipping has asked all the ports to conduct oil spill drills regularly to enable personnel to become more knowledgeable and proficient in implementing safety plans, and in the use of equipment and procedures.

To enhance the effectiveness of the system, we are now updating the standard operating procedures (SOPs). In particular, the SOPs are being fine tuned to include communication plans, inventory of equipment in ports of vendors in the market.

What are the measures DG shipping has taken in implementing polices and reforms in moving towards becoming a facilitator and a service provider to the Indian shipping industry, rather than merely a regulator?

We constantly strive to ensure the safety and security of seafarers as well as take care of issues like prevention of marine pollution, promotion of maritime education and training. My experience is that the industry considers DG Shipping as a facilitator to the industry and not as a pure regulator. The industry and DG Shipping are here to work towards the common objective of promoting the shipping industry.

One of the key initiatives that DG Shipping had taken is the introduction of e-governance to provide end-to-end solutions to stakeholders. The present system is being revamped in alignment with the present call for a Digital India. On a larger scale, the various Acts (Merchant Shipping Act, Admiralty Act) are being revamped to reflect the changing needs of the shipping sector, more particularly to facilitate the development of shipping industry including coastal shipping, and protecting the interest of Indian stake holders. This will not only help the shipping industry, but will also take care of seafarer’s welfare.

India is a large supplier of quality seafarers to the global shipping industry. How does DG Shipping plan to support in this area, considering the competition from other Asian countries like China, the Philippines even Bangladesh and Sri Lanka?

The dynamics of global seafarer’s requirement is changing in accordance with the demand and supply. If the cost of employment of Indian seafarers is higher than others, then the employers will tend to recruit seafarers from other countries. We have set up a task force to assess the measures needed to increase the supply of both engineering cadre as well as ratings. With the prognosis for increase in cruise & passenger ships, we need to diversify our focus towards aspects like marine hospitality.

If you look at China, most of their seafarers get a chance to enroll in their own country, because their domestic shipping is increasing significantly–both for cargo and passenger vessels. In India, we need to facilitate development of coastal shipping and inland waterways for transportation so as to create more opportunities for our workforce within our country. Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is now carrying out feasibility report to develop more than 100 waterways in India from the existing 5 waterways. This will increase the opportunity for within our own waters.

There was a ban on opening of new maritime training institutes for conduct of pre-sea courses and post-sea courses. The ban was lifted in November 2016, thereby increasing the number of institutes and thereby leading to an increase in number of seafarers from India. Opening of new maritime training institutes for general purpose rating will be contingent with providing board placement.

This office has introduced Quality Certification and grading of institutes by the Recognized Organization. This Directorate had revised the guidelines for Comprehensive Inspection Programme (CIP) to assess and check the quality of training accorded to the seafarers along with their placement record. 50 percent of the weightage has been allotted for placement which plays a major role in deciding the grading of the training institutes, so that the DGS approved training institutes take efforts in placing the cadets on board for training.

Ministry of Shipping has also formed a Skill Development Committee which is looking into various aspects of skill which can be imparted to the Indian seamen so that they can compete with the seamen of other countries like Philippines, China etc. At present, Indian seafarers are being given training in one particular area whereas training imparted across a wider span of skills will make the Indian seafarers more competent.

As India is now coming up with plans to encourage cruise tourism, how is DG shipping planning to facilitate the growth of cruise shipping?

In the new Shipping Bill, we have proposed to have a separate dispensation for cruise shipping which will allow this sector to grow without compromising on safety of vessels and passengers.

What are the measures taken for the welfare of seafarers related to their safety and security of ships, pirates at sea, etc?

An Anti-Piracy Contingency Plan is in force for dealing with piracy and hijacking of merchant ships. Shipping Ministry works in close coordination with Indian Navy, Coast Guard and other allied offices to effectively implement the plan. Each attack or attempt of piracy is set in a different framework, and needs to be responded to differently. Most crucially, effective steps taken have to bear in mind the safety of the seafarer on board these vessels.

What are the other future plans of DG Shipping to lift Indian Maritime Sector to new heights?

The two important and major policy initiatives that are being undertaken in order to grow Indian flag shipping companies are long term cargo support for Indian flag shipping companies and creation of a Maritime development fund in order to reduce the cost of capital for acquisition of vessels by Indian companies.

There are several technical steps being taken which will considerably ease the business processes of Indian companies. Some of the important ones are as follows:

  1. Authorization to company doctors to issue sanitation certificate
  2. Review of competent manning requirements on vessels which are engaged in near coastal trades.
  3. Opening of escrow account by Indian shipping companies in respect of acquisition of vessels.