Nashik: The shipping industry has not only failed to close the crewing demand and supply gap, but ensured that it will remain afflicted by quantity and quality of seafarers for many years to come, argues an Indian crewing veteran in today’s Maritime CEO interview. After many years working for some of the largest shipmanagers in the world, Satish Suri set up his own crewing consultancy, Crewmatics Marine.
He notes that it takes a couple of years to build a ship, but fully four years to train a junior officer and then six to 10 years for the officer to climb to the senior ranks.
“Crewing, historically, has been treated as a cost factor, although the industry screams itself hoarse that it is people who move cargoes, not ships, over the failure of human element, over skills shortage and the attitude of officers,” says Suri.
Yet, he claims, the fundamentals of crewing are driven by economising, not with strategic direction or investment in mind.
Suri relates how the turn to Asian crewing markets was an outcome of OECD seafarers becoming too expensive in 1975, when the five-fold hike in oil prices wiped out profits.
The same pattern is repeating itself now, he says, with seafarers from matured markets of Eastern Europe, the Indian Sub-Continent and the Philippines becoming expensive.
“China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia have emerged on the scene and are being courted by employers as a cheaper alternative, again without planning, preparation, investment or assessment of the tremendous gaps in demands of international shipping and the, hitherto, atrophied exposure of these nationalities to domestic trades, domestic training regimes and infrastructure, language barriers and apprehension of sailing with foreign crew,” he warns.
Harking back to a perceived better time for seafarers, Suri commiserates that the company or occupational culture which distinguished seafaring as a proud career, has become a “grandfather’s tale” under pressure from globalisation, competition and the fire-fighting model of regulations which have, he says, “degenerated from holistic to prescriptive”.
“Seafarers can only perform and drift in an industry which encourages commoditisation of its human resources, without recognition or necessity of collaborating with this critical mass in framing regulations, technological developments or charting the course into future,” he maintains.
Suri calls for an end to the commoditisation of seafarers. “Employers must invest in and strive to empower, recognise and invest in seafarers as partners in good and bad times,” he says, adding: “Grassroots development of seafarer assets should become the norm instead of fishing for finished products in muddied ponds.”
Employers with a structured cadet intake programme, geared to the available and forecasted junior officer/engineer slots, have endured the supply side crunch much better than others without any investment in developing officers from grassroots level, he notes.
Crewmatics covers four broad areas: turnkey projects; business process consultancy; crew management; and publications.
As a shipmanagement veteran, Suri sees consolidation in the sector as something that is both likely and necessary.
“Shipmanagement, in essence, is maximum asset reliability at minimum cost,” he says.
“In a widely splintered sector, inundated with a riff raff of entrepreneurs and fly-by-night shipmanagement companies, the opportunity provided by the spike in outsourced tonnage created by investors of various hues, must be dealt with consolidation, rather than new investment in expanding global offices and expertise, which has not proved to be manageable in the past,” Suri reckons, noting that the subsequent reduced competition would promote realistic budgeting and adherence to best management and accounting practices.
For shipmanagement to truly flourish, the sector must espouse greater transparency, Suri concludes. [05/05/14]