Citizens' Issues
Costa Concordia capsizing— and how it impacts India...

How did the Costa Concordia simply keel over and capsize so quickly after being breached? Slightly deeper waters and she would have simply gone down, with no trace on the surface. Half exposed, she is going to be like that for a long time now, as a daily reminder to an industry slow on pro-active steps for better ships

As a leading provider of maritime workers to the world, not just technical but now increasingly in the hospitality and catering part of matters maritime too, the sinking of the Italian passenger liner ‘Costa Concordia’ impacts India in more ways than just the 300-odd Indian families whose bread-winners worked onboard what turns out to be a case of alleged criminal activity by a master and his complete set of navigating and other officers onboard. Variously being referred to as ‘grounding’ or ‘accident’, it is clear to all that this was an episode which was the result of a top-down failure of any form of responsible behaviour, from the owners and operators ashore to the junior-most officer onboard.
 
Not just the captain. In other words, if the captain was doing something, which was criminal to the point of being insane, then there were enough alternates available to counter such activities. In the so-called “good old days” the concept of being a “crack skipper” did not mean that the ‘Old Man’ was a psycho, but to be frank, it was close enough. And as long as they got the job done, some eccentricities were not just tolerated, but often treated as virtues. A life at sea is not easy, simple as that and the special breed of men and women needed have to be given latitude. It is even tougher on passenger ships, where the cargo tends to be far more demanding, since it is on two feet.
 
Going too close to rocks or shoals for sight-seeing, however, is not part of it. Certainly, there were navigators in the old days, present company included, who would venture to go close to Dieo Garcia to see if they could ‘spook’ the Americans into launching aircraft to chase them away, or head right next to Krakatova to take photographs of the volcano, or, most commonly, hug the Portuguese Coast when in the Atlantic so that the Goans on board could get a glimpse—but even then, in cargo ships with far less windage and certainly lesser potential loss of lives, the distance away from any features was in miles, not metres.
 
The Costa Concordia tried to get to within 150-200 metres of a known shoal. It was over 300 metres long, 35 metres wide, and even trying to turn away from the rocks would bring it closer, because the stern would swing into the turn towards the rocks, even before the bow would swing away—that is the nature of ships. Add uncertain winds close to shore, the natural attraction of land masses and ships, and a novice sailor on a dinghy would stay clear.
 
But then again, the bigger question is, what were the other people doing while this master apparently took actions which were not just stupid but criminal?
 
Consider the following:

 
# Even basic cargo ships are now equipped with data loggers that send live reports on a variety of parameters to shipping company offices ashore. It is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to keep a 24x7 watch on the progress of the assets afloat, multi-million dollars worth of ship, cargo and lives onboard. Just one of many reasons—the risk of environmental pollution due to leakage of oil, and the liabilities that follow—keeps people on board on their toes, aware that their every move is not just being tracked for analysis ashore, but also watched and listened to in real time. These parameters include status in live feed on aspects such as navigation, engine, performance, weather routing, even rest hours of crew working on board. Anything even whispered on the bridge or engine room can and is heard ashore.
 
# It is far more stringent on passenger ships. The days when a master of a ship was the last word on what happened on a ship have vanished quite some time back. A deviation from a course laid out, especially landwards into dangerous waters, would typically raise alarms and escalations at a variety of levels onboard and ashore. Analysing by hind-sight is always 20/20, but in this case, there is no way that such a violent deviation to within metres of an island would not have required an escalation to a person ashore with authority over the master. Such a person or persons is known as a DPA (Designated Person Ashore) and every ship afloat has to have more than one, so that action, if required, can be guided also from ashore.
 
# That such alarms on board and ashore were not recognised or responded to can only imply that either the whole lot of the people involved were celebrating a late night, on a Friday, or that this was done with full complicity of all involved. It can also be conjectured that the famous “over-ride” switches came into play, but not only on the ship—this would have happened ashore also. If there is a case that voice and data transmission from a ship is disconnected, then that gives rise to an even higher level of response and accountability. To blame only the master on board in such a case would again be incorrect—there are people ashore whose job it is to see that such  direct violations do not occur.
 
# And finally, most importantly, it is a basic rule of Bridge Team Management, or any form of relationship between senior and junior officers on board, that a junior officer is given the full liberty to escalate or even in some cases countermand an order that is so obviously dangerous. The days when a master could browbeat a junior officer are over—even the junior-most officer on the bridge or crew member on lookout or helm duties, or even the catering person making coffee, has the authority to pick up one of many sat-phones on board and call the DPA directly, to inform him that he can see the porch lights of the houses they are passing, so close are they to the coast.  This authority, the right to call the DPA on 24x7 basis using the ship’s communication gear if required, is printed and pasted all over the ship including in every mess-room and alleyway on every ship.
 
So how then, does this impact India?
 
The now not so recent phenomenon of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa leading to a total revamp on ocean routings in the Arabian Sea has brought ships on international passages unrelated to India to within miles of the Indian coast. There is the most obvious risk of ocean-going ships of all sorts not familiar with Indian coastal waters coming far too close.
 
But more than that, other issues impacting India in context with a far-away sinking are:
 
# Higher insurance premiums which shall be spread across all the fleets of the world as a direct result of the huge claims that shall certainly be raised on the Costa Concordia and their insurers and then their re-insurers. Liabilities on western fleets are much higher and the insurance industry, in its wisdom and no doubt with lesser resistance, is known to spread the downside to the rest of the non-complaining world. Alert readers may recall how the aviation industry globally paid for September 11—similar or even bigger aviation-related disasters in the developing world have never raised such huge bills for the rest of the world to carry.
 
# Disquieting reports on the issue of language unfamiliarity with the Indian crew on board are surfacing through the grapevine, as well as issues of their certification and documentation, which are both not surprising. The saloon and catering crew is also supposed to be trained in basic life-saving and fire-fighting as well as passenger ship safety and crowd management techniques. The reality, as is well known, is something different. A walk to the Shipping Master’s office at Ballard Estate in Mumbai will provide an inkling of how similar it is to the RTOs and passport offices in this context. It is also a fact that Italian maritime certification also leaves a lot to be desired.
 
# A further increase in certification of safety required on board passenger ships, which will impact the already depleted fleet of passenger ships available to us in India for coastal, coast-to-island and inter-island ferries. This is in addition to the ships required for riverine movement of passengers. Viewed in isolation, this is good from the single point objective of safety, but in reality it spells even more delays. The truth on connectivity by sea of India’s islands is pathetic, if not worse, and this episode will further alienate our islands.
 
Bigger passenger ship and ferry disasters take place in Asian and African waters frequently. Hundreds of lives are lost and often this does not spark more than passing attention and one reason is simply because those ships are often more than decrepit. The other reasons are too racist to mention here.
 
But ships like the Costa Concordia, amongst the biggest and costliest passenger ships that ever sailed the oceans, are not supposed to sink like this. Leave aside the human element, ship-design, especially recent passenger ship design, is supposed to take care of one major aspect not too many people are talking about.
 
And that is—how did the Costa Concordia simply keel over and capsize so quickly after being breached? Slightly deeper waters and she would have simply gone down, with no trace on the surface. Half exposed, she is going to be like that for a long time now, as a daily reminder to an industry slow on pro-active steps for better ships.
 
A lot of passenger ships in developed countries are now going to come on the block after this incident, because there is an inherent flaw in their design, which provokes such rapid flooding and then sinking. There is bound to be a major change in design, and that will include much stronger vertical segregation, as against the continuous decks so commonly seen nowadays on cruise ships of this sort.
 
And these old-design ships will land up, where else, but in our waters.
 
That’s the biggest risk we foresee.
 
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves. Mr Malik had a career in the Merchant Navy which he left in 1983, qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, a love for travel, and an active participation in print and electronic media as an alternate core competency, all these and more.)

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COMMENTS

Pawan Duggirala

5 years ago

Good analysis sir. I was still on my Tobu cycle when you quit sea but I sincerely doubt shore monitoring "rest hours of crew working on board" is being done.Professional software (made by Class)available out there to calculate rest hour violations as per the latest regulations is not yet mature not to mention that it has become next to impossible to "manage" crew rest hour violations.

REPLY

malQ

In Reply to Pawan Duggirala 5 years ago

Pawan Duggirala ji, thank you for writing in, and your kind words. I think it is a question of time before the issue of rest hours and fatigue onboard is addressed seriously. On the other hand, living conditions onboard appear to be going from bad to worse too, and that will also have an effect.

rgds/VM

Pawan Duggirala

In Reply to malQ 5 years ago

Cant' agree less sir.Pls keep more such articles coming. There is a serious dearth of good quality journalism specific to the maritime industry especially journalism with a spine.

charles dass

5 years ago

i need a job in ship

charles dass

5 years ago

i need a job in ship

TCS Q3 net up 18.26% at Rs 2,802.77 crore

“Our customer-centric approach in the market and execution rigour on the ground enabled TCS to post a strong financial performance in this quarter. Growth has been broad-based, with all markets and all industries contributing substantially,” TCS CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran said

Mumbai: The country’s largest software services exporter Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) today reported an 18.26% jump in consolidated net profit to Rs2,802.77 crore for the quarter ended 31 December 2011, reports PTI.

In the year-ago period, the company had recorded a net profit of Rs2,301 crore, TCS said in a filing to the BSE.

The company’s total income stood at Rs13,203.99 crore in the reporting quarter, as against Rs9,663.35 crore in the corresponding year-ago period, translating into a growth of 36.63%.

“Our customer-centric approach in the market and execution rigour on the ground enabled TCS to post a strong financial performance in this quarter. Growth has been broad-based, with all markets and all industries contributing substantially,” TCS CEO and MD N Chandrasekaran said.

Among mature markets, Europe led the growth in TCS’ business, with an 18.1% sequential jump in revenues, followed by the US (13.3%) and UK (9.5%).

Latin America business saw significant expansion, with an 18.6% surge in revenues on a sequential basis, followed by India (14.8%) and the Asia-Pacific region (15.7%).

“We continue to focus on managing our operations optimally in the face of increased external volatility. We have increased our operating margins significantly by taking benefits of the growth, exchange movements and by keeping a strong focus on cost management,” TCS CFO S Mahalingam said.

The company added 18,907 (gross) and 11,981 (net) employees during the quarter, taking its total headcount to 2,26,751 employees as of 31 December 2011.

The rate of attrition fell to 12.8% during the quarter.

“Attrition continued to fall for the second quarter in a row to 12.8% as TCS remained the employer of choice in a dynamic market. We continue to hire in line with business demand trends,” TCS executive vice-president and global HR head Ajoy Mukherjee said.

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One needs to file strong RTI application in financial sector, says Krishnaraj Rao

For financial sectors, one should collect all available information from public domain and after studying it in details should only file a strong RTI application, says Mr Rao

“The banking sector is one of the most derelict in terms of their services. In my experience, they run away from Right to Information (RTI). This also may be the reason why they attract so many RTI applications,” said Krishnaraj Rao, speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation.

The session on RTI, seventh on the subject organised by the Foundation, focused on the sector of banking and finance along with regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the pension regulator, capital markets, the stock exchanges (BSE, NSE, MCX-SX and USE) and banks.
 
Mr Rao, a well known RTI activist says, “Private banks are exempted under RTI, while nationalised banks think that their job is to keep the information secret. Co-operative banks have a hazy and confusing position on shelling out information under RTI. This all leads to people wanting to know the truth.”
 
Apart from lucidly explaining the RTI Act, Mr Rao also helped people with framing questions in an RTI application, and also briefed about the kind of information that should be asked and how carefully it should be worded. He also cautioned on wrongly framed questions that can lead to rejection of the RTI application.
 
For instance, on query on usage of RTI on finding out why private banks are charging for closing the account, Mr Rao said that these banks are exempted under RTI and RBI has a policy of forbearance, and has given a freedom to banks for deciding charges and interest. In such case, he explained, one should seek all the manuals, circulars from the RBI on subject of forbearance. But before that one should make a complaint and then create awareness on the subject and then leverage this with an RTI. This will lead to class action and accordingly the regulator can be approached, Mr Rao explained.
 
On the subject of forex cheques taking a lot of time for clearance, a question was poised on how the amount is debited from drawee’s account from the scanned copy immediately, but is not credited, leaving banks to sit on the float and earn on it. Mr Rao said it would be a good case for an RTI application and one should ask different questions through various applications before approaching higher authorities to resolve the issue.
 
According to Mr Rao, a lot of RTI applications, despite getting a reply, are left for no use. But the act of filing an RTI itself is like a show-cause notice for that particular department and it helps in keeping a check on the system, he added.
 
Mr Rao cleared all the doubts of people wishing to file an RTI and appealed to the people to first use the information available in the public domain and then make a strong application. He also gave reference few RTI websites like www.rtiindia.org and other groups.

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COMMENTS

P M Ravindran

5 years ago

Good going Krish! Hope at least some from the audience will start using RTI Act and assert citizen oversight over public servants!

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