There is a disconnect between charitable organizations and the seafarers they aim to help, and it’s a disconnect that extends beyond the seafarer to the, often extended, family that he supports, says Captain Pradeep Chawla, Managing Director, QHSE & Training, at the world’s largest ship management company, Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.
Captain Chawla has 27,000 seafarers in his care, and HRAS spoke to him about the passion that takes him beyond his professional role at Anglo-Eastern.
HRAS: What gaps do you see in the charitable care of seafarers?
We tend to look at just the seafarer, yet the seafarer is well protected, because when he is on a ship, he is getting free medical care. What about his family?
It’s a fact that seafarers, in general, come from socio-economic strata that cannot afford visits to modern hospitals on their own. Seafarers typically earn $1,300 or $1,500, a month but they are often feeding an extended family; this is what happens when a person in a village gets a job.
The seafarer is out at sea for around eight months a year so there’s nobody to really guide his family. Yet, there are many things that don’t get picked up if people don’t go for medical check-ups. Breast cancer, for example, is a problem in villages in India, the Philippines and China, and the families do not necessarily have the education or the facilities to be proactive about early detection.
If you can help a seafarer’s family and detect these things before they become a major problem for him, then you are actually helping the seafarer in a big way. He is sacrificing his home life to be out at sea out of necessity. Somebody needs to be there to take care of his family.
HRAS: You would like to see family education given priority too. What could that achieve?
I would like to target education along with medical care. Who is there to guide a seafarer’s children, to provide the advice that a school counsellor or careers’ advisor might?
I would like to see free sessions from these advisors for seafarers and their children. Seafarers often come from rural areas and smaller towns that have high levels of unemployment and poverty. This sort of education could help the next generation break out of the poverty cycle.
One of the things we do at Anglo-Eastern for the employees of our college in India is to pay for schooling for their children; the children of those employees earning less than a certain salary. The college is in a rural area near Mumbai, and the idea is that one can be born poor, but one’s children need not remain trapped in the poverty cycle because of a lack of education.
It only takes one generation to break the trap. Education is the most effective equaliser in the world. As long as you are educated, from whatever school, if you are a hard-working person, you’ll make a difference in the world.
HRAS: Do you think that there should be a centralised funding mechanism that will assist the valuable work being undertaken by maritime charities and avoid bias to any one charity?
It may be a wish, but I don’t think it would work in practice with all the politics that would be involved. Who would control the body that would oversee such a mechanism? In an ideal world, it could work, but I doubt that we will ever achieve it.
HRAS: A lack of funding is not always the issue for maritime charities falling short in achieving their goals. What other problems do you see?
Most of the seafarer organisations who are genuinely trying to help seafarers are not able to reach out to a sufficient number of seafarers in spite of having funds, because there is an insufficient amount of integration between the end users, the seafarers, and those associations.
Typically, the world is quite charitable. Most of the associations are well funded. However, the projects that they need to undertake, which are genuinely of value to the seafarers, quite often don’t get completed because there are not enough people volunteering to put in the time and effort. One thing is to have the funding, the next is to have people and companies who are willing to actually spend the time and devote their resources to do the work.
I think building up that network between the end users and the associations is a task that still needs more help.
HRAS: For you, ship management companies should feature in that network. How has Anglo-Eastern engaged with charities to close the gap?
We are part of International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), and we have a good rapport with them. When their international medical guide was being revised, we helped, and we offer our training facilities free of charge to ISWAN and help them to run their programs in India.
We also work with other bodies such as the Mission to Seafarers, Sailors’ Society and the Seafarers’ Trust. Right now, we are working with the Seafarers’ Trust to produce a quick reference booklet to help when ships are picking migrants up at sea.
We have also helped distribute a range of booklets on seafarer health issues.
HRAS: The tragic suicide of a young seafarer sparked one of Anglo-Eastern’s major on-going contributions to seafarer welfare, and it was a contribution that the company voluntarily took the lead on. How did events unfold?
Our suicide prevention guidelines came about after a case, some years ago, when a young cadet committed suicide three weeks before he was due to head home. He was on his last tour of duty before becoming an officer, and it was very shocking to us.
We got together with stakeholders in the industry including the Indian and Australian authorities, and we found out that suicide is not uncommon at sea. We voluntarily engaged a team of psychologists and reviewed Indian administration data on cases that had occurred over the past 10 years.
In most cases there were recognisable signs of depression, and we prepared a booklet, now on all our ships, based on the idea that seafarers can watch out for their colleagues. Their friends on board can notify the master if they see these signs, and in most cases we immediately bring the sufferer home to their family. The master is not a medical doctor, and we can offer them better help ashore.
HRAS: You recently stated that you believe the seafarer of the future will need to be able to cope with increasing levels of stress. What is driving this need?
The shorter turnaround in ports, faster speeds of transit, larger size of vessels, stricter financial constraints, extremely low manning levels, criminalization of seafarers and various other factors have changed life on board to a high-stress job. Social media is a wonderful way of keeping touch with the family, but it also has an effect on rest hours and it brings the problems of the family closer on board.
The high stress levels amongst seafarers and the effects on their health is not being fully recognized and appreciated by regulators and industry leaders. A lot more research is needed.
HRAS: Your support for the Maritime Labour Convention has some reservations. What problems do you see?
The Maritime Labour Convention, which was a much needed legislation for rights of seafarers and which I strongly support, has focused the attention of companies and port states on the issue of rest hours. However, it has not yet focused their attention on the cascading effects on safety of navigation, especially in areas of long pilotages. The effects on traditional expectations of a master’s presence on the bridge and the laws about the responsibilities of the pilots have not been sufficiently deliberated over prior to the entering into force of the Maritime Labour Convention.
This brings about testing times for the mariners, who often are the scapegoats of regulatory decisions when things go wrong. The fundamental issue is the manning scales on board, and regulators find it impossible to get consensus between various countries.
HRAS: Do you see a need to address the basic human rights of seafarers?
Recognition of human rights adds value to our industry, and I think the Maritime Labour Convention goes a long way towards addressing these rights – but its implementation is key. If it is implemented well, it will improve seafarers’ rights dramatically.
The good companies don’t have a problem with Maritime Labour Convention, but there’s a small percentage of the industry that is still behind on recognition of seafarers’ rights. We need to empower and encourage seafarers to report things to the authorities and to the charities that go on board.
As long as the complaints are allowed to surface, they will get addressed. 90 to 95 percent of companies are serious in giving seafarers their rights, but many complaints don’t come out easily.
This reticence to complain can in part be related to hierarchies on board, a situation where charities can facilitate communication. How has the relationship between seafarers and charities changed over the years?
In the good old days when I was sailing, the charities used to visit the ships regularly. At every port there would be someone coming on board, and that person had a listening ear. The crew would talk to them openly. The information that came out would be discussed when the chaplain and master met, and the master would then take care of any issues.
That mechanism has died down now, because the charities are not spending as much money – maybe they don’t have enough money – to put these chaplains on board. Modern port operations don’t help the situation. People are generally not allowed to come on board at tanker terminals, and I don’t see chaplains attending when ship berths are far from the city.
HRAS: Many masters feel that their authority is being stripped away by shoreside personnel. How does Anglo-Eastern manage the challenges posed to seafarer welfare?
Teamwork on board is well understood at sea. However, with the closer integration of ship and shore systems, a large number of tasks will be done by people ashore. The traditional hierarchy on board and the management style of “My Ship, My Law” has become obsolete in modern days. Whistle blowing, Maritime Labour Convention complaint procedures and transparent systems have brought about a change in the way masters and companies manage their workforce.
We have the required procedures in place, but we also have dedicated welfare officers in all the regions our crew members live. These officers support seafarer families if, for example, a crisis occurs and a wife needs help while her husband is at sea. The support officer will make arrangements with employees and families in the area to provide immediate support. These officers also speak to all seafarers when they finish a tour of duty. It is done away from the hierarchical society on the ship and we follow up on any complaints.
At the end of the day, we have 27,000 seafarers as employees, and we must do what we can to help them.
Captain Chawla and his family have established a charity in India, Reachout, to help seafarers’ families, and HRAS congratulates him on its past success and future potential. Thank-you Captain Chawla.