In the aftermath of the ‘Pratibha Cauvery incident,’ the spotlight seems to be focused- even if temporarily- on substandard ships and shipowners. Shipping Minister GK Vasan has now threatened action against those that do not pay wages to their crew on time. Disclosing that the central government would take steps- through the Directorate General of Shipping- in this regard, Vasan told reporters in Chennai that it was ‘unfortunate’ that seafarers were not paid salaries for months.
When reporters asked the Minister pointedly about the non-payment of salaries to the crew of Pratibha Cauvery and Pratibha Warna detained in Chennai, Vasan said, "See, there are thousands of ships in the country. We are taking up the cases which are coming to us. We are very strict in that. This is not the way (companies) should behave with their employees."
The Minister was on an official trip to Chennai, during which he took stock of the Cauvery salvage operation and also took time to visit the Indian Maritime University (IMU) on the fourth university day celebrations. Addressing trainees at that institution, he said, “Over the last six years, our maritime professionals have developed great capabilities for handling technologically advanced or technologically difficult ships. This has led to a very high demand for our marine engineers though we train and educate more than 3,000 marine engineers every year.”
Vasan compared the situation in the maritime sector with that in IT. “It has been proved that only those countries which invest well in research and development move ahead of others. The research in the maritime sector, which is at its nascent stage, will be developed by the university in various disciplines with the aim of marching ahead in this sector. Indian IT industry underwent a major revolution in the supply of manpower for global needs. Similar opportunities and possibilities exist now for India in the maritime sector. This trend will not only enhance the social and economic status in the maritime States but also greatly contribute to the country’s economy,” he told the assembly.
Earlier, Vasan had revealed to reporters that he had formally asked IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu to explore the possibility of setting up a regional branch of Malmo based World Maritime University (WMU) in India, and for the need for closer cooperation between IMU, WMU and the International Maritime Legal Institute, Malta. "Despite the recession, there has been a growth of maritime trade in India and institutes like IMU can bridge the gap between supply and demand of sailors and merchant engineers," Vasan said.
The Minister presented a cheque of 50,000 rupees each to five fishermen who had risked their lives in saving some of the Cauvery crew after she grounded. Of the many unanswered questions that were raised after that incident, Vasan said that the DG Shipping inquiry was underway and would be completed in a month. "Whatever action required to be taken by the Ministry, it will be taken," he said. There have been reports that the seaworthiness certificate of the vessel had expired on October 1; Vasan said that the DGS was looking into it.
"Whenever a complaint is received to the ministry, I am taking it up very seriously to the concerned company through the Director General Shipping and we see to it that there is no injustice to seafarers," he said.