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Indian Maritime Administration in doldrums

Posted to Indian Maritime Administration in doldrums (by on March 26, 2012

Gravely short of manpower the Indian Maritime Administration appears to be in a critical state

The Indian Maritime administration appears to be in the doldrums? Like a sinking ship with no wherewithal to even send an SOS it seems to have got caught in a maelstrom where there is little hope of survival. Everything seems to be going horribly wrong for it.

A few months back t
he external audit that was conducted at the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) by the four-member team from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as per the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS) had pointed out a number of non-conformities.

Then the shocking news about an unprecedented 13 ship detentions last year and already 4 this year that have taken place under various post state authorities has put the country’s shipping image in very poor light. The country also recalls with horror the three serious casualties which occurred last year on the coasts of India - Wisdom, Rak and Pavit - which caused serious embarrassment to the DGS and the Ministry of Shipping. Even then no preventive action has been forthcoming.

And now have come the glaring deficiencies pointed out by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) audit team which had inspected some of the government run and private institutions in Mumbai and Chennai. This has generated fears that India like the Philippines could stand to lose the European Union’s accreditation for Indian seafarers if the EU’s requirements are not met. India was all along known to be setting benchmarks in maritime training in the world. Where have we gone wrong?

It is not far to see the cause of the doldrums in the directorate. Most of the posts in the directorate do not have regular staff. Around 50 per cent posts are vacant in the three main Wings, viz the Nautical, Engineering and Naval Architecture. None of the vacancies can be filled since it first requires the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams to be held and only successful candidates may fill these posts. But no UPSC exams have been held for the past 11 years. Yet the directorate claims to be a facilitative regime.

The sanctioned strength of the Mercantile Marine Department & Directorate General of Shipping at Jahaz Bhavan is totally inadequate for meeting the obligations related to Post State Control and Flag State Inspection. For the engineering wing there is no induction of surveyors on a regular basis which is done through Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) as no recruitment interviews have been held since the last ten years. There are hardly any regularly appointed engineer surveyors who have some background of training with them. Those remaining are all on ad hoc appointments and the DGS is merrily breaking Government rules and continuing with their services irregularly for years together. In fact the services of one surveyor who had served for over ten years on an ad hoc basis were recently terminated without any justification. On the Nautical side too though some inductions have taken place these are fraught with controversies resulting in irregular practices increasing daily. The maritime trade in India indeed continues to sail in troubled waters.

Most of the top posts are filled up by officials who come on deputation from the Indian Railways, Indian Navy, Indian Revenue Service (IRS) including the Income Tax department and the Indian Customs besides sundry others. Unfortunately, prior to joining they have neither experience nor expertise on maritime issues. The two top posts including that of the Director General of Shipping or the Jt Director General are again filled up by either Indian Administrative Service officials or from the IRS. It takes time for the incumbent to get a grip of the extensive laws, regulations and procedural matters much of these having a bearing on the IMO regulations.Some of the former DGs have conceded that just when they had come to gaining an in-depth knowledge of the work and the systems, it was time for them to move on to another posting.

Top officials in the DGS point out that basically DGS is a technical directorate. What then is the reason to appoint an IAS officer who has no background of shipping? The directorate deals with maritime safety administration viz. IMO conventions, SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW, etc. The Director General is the head of over 130 Maritime Training Institutes but he himself has no academic background. He arbitrates on issues which from start to end are totally technical. It is not known how IAS officials, who are generalists and not specialists, can impact shipping, which is not mere transport by sea.

D.T. Joseph, a former Union Shipping Secretary who earlier held the post of the Director General of Shipping stated, “It is due to this reason that I have been insisting on having people coming up the ranks. I had put up a proposal for setting up a pool of officials under the Indian Maritime Administration similar to the IAS. This would have greatly served the purpose. But nothing has been done in this regard and the matter has been put on the back burner.”

There has been a lot of talk about On-Line processing. But the reports from many seafarers and the trade are that even if they make applications for their continuous discharge certificates (CDC) or Certificates of Competency (COC) they are forced to make visits to the Shipping Master’s office /directorate for follow up work.

In order to prevent officials coming in contact with the trade, the Indian Customs introduced on-line processing, greatly facilitating the trade and speeding up the processes. In fact the customs have long introduced the self assessment also known as the green channel system for processing bills of entry and shipping bills. In most of the other government ministries, the on-line operations are in full swing including the railways, the customs, etc. It is unfortunate that in the directorate of shipping only promises have been forthcoming.

An official not wishing to be named said the situation of the administration is so bad that all hell could break lose any time and there are no quick solutions to this malignancy which has been worsening over the years.

Just to quote a few glaring non-conformities according to the IMO audit: The directorate is badly short of infrastructure to discharge mandatory functions. Surveyors are not trained properly and in some cases are terribly incompetent. Some departments under the DG Shipping in major ports are famous for irregularities. Besides, the IMO team had found the number of surveyors to be very inadequate and has noted that more than 60 per cent posts have been vacant since a very long time. Not only the existing posts ought to have been filled-up but the number of posts ought to have been increased to a minimum of double.

Things are set to go from bad to worse. The Secretary in the Ministry of Shipping is new and so is the Joint Secretary. The Director in the Ministry has been pushed to some other responsibility. The Principal Officer of Kolkata is on in-charge basis, not even on ad hoc. The Principal Officer in–charge of MMD, Cochin, will be retiring in March 2012, without having been promoted. It is reported that the only Dy. Chief Surveyor in the Directorate, recently fled to the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding in Goa in disgust and would quit this April. The engineering branch will then have no deputies. The only officers left will be three engineer surveyors on ad hoc and only one regular surveyor.

The post of Nautical Advisor to the government of India will be vacant in November 2012 and so will the post of Principal Officer of MMD, Chennai, when the present officers retire. One deputy in the Nautical branch is under CBI suspension. There is only one other deputy in the Nautical Branch. It is alleged that the Nautical Surveyors engaged recently are under a cloud regarding their appointment. It is clear that matters in the Directorate General of shipping are going from bad to worse as compared with the DGCA. Even worse according to sources, is the news of the present Director General of Shipping is on his way out.

Shipping is a cyclical industry and so will be the case with the new person occupying the Director General of Shipping, who will have to go through the whole process all over again as has been with his predecessors. May be it is time for the new D. G. at tell the trade “Don’t ask what the directorate can do for you but tell what it can do for the DGS.”