Operating Coastal Ships
By Mahendra Singh
The moment you create a Directorate or an Authority for coastal trade, you kill half of it to start with. It has to be operated in a very personalized and totally non-formal manner.
We were on a ship which operated in near international voyages to Bangladesh ports and Indonesian ports (like Belawan) and to Kuwait in the west. We had crew accommodation in the aft and on a raised aft quarter deck; we had a wooden box like structure with holes for ventilation where we will store onions and potatoes. On top of this box, we had arranged a good mattress on which I and others may relax in the afternoons after lunch when it was breezy.
On one such day, I was sitting here and I saw the Bosun walking in with a cardboard box with photo of a baby ( a then famous radio advertisement) on his head. I asked, “ bosun kya radio laya”, he replied , “ nahin generator ka rubber ring laya”.
He was carrying rubber rings for our generator engines from our “paan bazaar office” nearby. Can you believe it? Will anyone do it today? By looks, this bosun was short and sturdy but without any fancy dress and no show off whatsoever; a straight forward, hard working and honest man from the Andamans.
Our owner used to come to the ship every morning after “ fazr namaz” when the ship used to be at KPD Calcutta and he was such a gentleman that he will not come up the gangway to embarrass myself and the captain ( at times we were late risers) but enquire from the bosun, what was needed for the ship ( deck, engine, saloon all together). He will note down the requirements from the bosun and will then proceed to the office. At this time, he will also enquire if there is any problem or everything running smoothly. All items will be delivered same late afternoon and there was no need for any formal requisition etc.
For our provisions like fish, meat and vegetables, two of our crew will go with the bags and buy paying cash and carry to the ship by themselves while at Calcutta.
Once, during the Ramadan period, we discharged partly at Chittagong but they shifted us out for the balanced cargo to be discharged some days later on rebirthing. We used HSD for generators and MDO for Main Engine. HSD became short and we needed to bunker more and so myself and the captain called the owner and he said , “ I will send money but you will not get oil because the agent will keep it against disbursement so he authorized us to mix MDO and HSD and come up to KPD Calcutta.
We used the mixed oil on generators by cleaning filters frequently and by taking care. Immediately on berthing at Calcutta, our truck of HSD was waiting. The owner personally thanked us and put some cash in our pockets which we distributed judiciously among the crew.
On one such voyage, a shipper contacted the master to request to carry some palm oil drums on deck. The Captain consulted me (we were good friends) and we agreed to it. We did not accept any cash. All freight went to the owner but, of course, we were treated to a good dinner by the shippers. This was an additional earning to the company. If we reflect honestly, we will find that we have ourselves complicated the procedures over the years and, in the process, lost our own simplicity. We have the capacity to retrace our steps and regain our essential goodness to make coastal shipping easy, low key and hugely profitable by cutting off all red tape.