Capt. Pradeep Chawla of Anglo-Eastern Ship Management has presented a paper discussing possible ideas that may benefit India in improving its market share in the supply of crew to the international maritime industry. This paper was presented at the recent 2nd LSM Manning & Training Conference in India. The author’s opinions are based on his involvement in manning and training for the last thirteen years on behalf of the largest foreign employer of Indian seafarers.
Indian seafarers have been very popular with foreign companies, especially since the late 1960s when the western countries started looking for an alternative for their increasingly expensive and unionized crews. Probably, the greatest strength of Indian seafarers is the very strong basic school education system in India, especially in mathematics and sciences. This inculcates extremely good analytical skills and ability to reason and think through problems. The maritime education system of India, which is completely based on the U.K. system, has also helped in producing seafarers who could readily adapt to international trade and the company procedures of western companies.
The Indian seafarer is generally a very hard working and intelligent worker. He also tends to be very obedient and law-abiding, and thus able to do well on specialized vessels and during emergency situations. Indian seafarers also tend to be very ambitious, wanting to climb up the hierarchy quickly. They like to complete their examinations quickly and can’t wait to get their four stripes. They usually have a deep interest in their profession. Memberships of professional institutes like Nautical Institute, Institute of Marine Engineers, Company of Master Mariners etc. is high on their list of priorities.
Practically all Indian seafarers have done their complete education in English and this gives them a distinct advantage over nationalities that have learnt English as a secondary language. The diversity of languages and cultures in India teaches Indian seafarers to work quite easily in multi-national or multi-cultural work environments. The companies who have decided to take Indian seafarers are all aware of the good qualities of the Indian seafarers that are mentioned above.
In order to discuss what can be done to improve the Indian seafarers market share, one must also objectively analyse the perceptions of the companies that do not use Indian seafarers. Probably the most common perception is that Indian seafarers are more ‘expensive’. If only the wage bill is considered then, to a certain extent this is true for the smaller ships sector and for ships generally trading between ports where the ITF does not have a strong presence.
Most companies look at the wages bill as the complete ‘cost’ of the crew. Companies who are more experienced with using different crew nationalities are wise enough to factor in ‘other’ costs, for example, extra visits by superintendents, due to the different training standards, extra costs for workshops or technical assistance for ship maintenance, costs for defending questionable medical claims, and experience factors of damages, cargo claims etc. with the different nationalities.
There is a perception that Indian officers are not assertive enough in dealing with external parties. The soft-spoken and generally obedient and law abiding Indian is often considered meek and submissive. In most cases, the true reasons are the lack of clear instructions and support from the company and the seafarers experience that he is often made a scapegoat for hiding the inefficiency or mistakes of other parties. Commercial ‘give and take’ often leaves the seafarer with a sense of being ‘sacrificed’ by the land ‘establishment’. The younger generation of Indian seafarers though, can hardly be called ‘submissive’. There is a fairly strong perception that Indian ratings are too ‘old’. This perception was true until the last 4-5 years, caused due to the lack of recruitment of new ratings for a number of years after the recession in the 1980s.