Q (Question): The Day of the Seafarer is an opportunity to educate the public about issues facing modern-day seafarers. Before your respective roles at AGCS, you spent many years at sea as captains of large vessels. What were the most significant challenges you faced?
Biography: Captain Rahul Khanna
Before joining AGCS in 2011, Rahul Khanna spent 14 years at sea as captain on oil tankers, bulk carriers, and OBO (ore-bulk-oil) carriers.
For five years, he was also responsible for, casualty investigations, surveys and risk assessments in shipping and offshore oil and gas projects. He is now the Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting at AGCS, based in London.
Q: Covid restrictions, Ukraine war, congested ports – the situation in the marine industry is tense. How different is the role of the seafarer today compared to when you were at sea?
NC: Advances in technology and increased automation in cargo terminals have reduced the turnaround time for vessels since my day. Shorter stays in port create pressures on crew. Shore leave used to be a big attraction for seafarers, but it has been restricted over the years because of heightened immigration laws or safety concerns.
Digitalization has enhanced safety and efficiency, but new technology requires the upskilling of seafarers at a faster rate than before. Ships are now operating in a heightened regulatory environment, as well as an increasingly unstable geopolitical landscape.
RK: Seafarers have always risked being collateral damage in any conflict, and sadly that hasn’t changed with the Ukraine crisis. One thing that has changed is how pirates operate. In the Gulf of Aden, the piracy model was to hijack the ship and seafarers and demand a ransom. In other parts of the world, it has become more about armed robbery, looting and siphoning off cargo. We are concerned this latter model has become more prevalent and more violent.
More positively, the roll-out of internet and broadband on vessels has made it easier for seafarers to stay in touch with loved ones. That’s a big change from when I was at sea. I once got stuck outside a port in Argentina because of congestion and bad weather. I was engaged and had no way of directly contacting my fiancée. Eventually I got ashore on a water barge and was able to reassure her I wasn’t getting cold feet! I got home 15 days later than planned to Delhi, but fortunately made it home four days before the wedding and we’ve been married for 25 years.
Biography: Captain Nitin Chopra
Nitin Chopra has over 22 years’ experience in the marine industry, including 18 years sailing on bulk carriers, OBOs, tankers, and very large crude carriers (VLCCs), and four years as a Marine Safety and Quality Superintendent of a fleet of oil and chemical tankers.
He is now a Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS, based in Singapore.
Q: The contribution of the shipping industry and seafarers to the world economy is enormous. However, the industry faces a talent shortage. What can be done to make the job more attractive and how can working conditions be improved?
RK: What happened during the Covid crisis, with crews stuck for months on board vessels, has done lasting damage to how shipping is perceived. As Nitin says, some initiatives are pushing for change, but the fact that the seafaring community often feels like secondhand workers compared to those on shore must be addressed by the ship-owning community and stakeholders.
Crew quarters have shrunk as ship owners have sought to maximize cargo space, so whatever space we have needs to be of higher standards and cater to seafarers’ physical and mental health. Mental stress has a direct correlation with safety on board ships as human error is one of the primary causes of incidents. Decent shore leave is also important for seafarers’ wellbeing – seeing the world is a highlight of a life at sea.
We need to emphasize the positives of seafaring to the young men and women who are willing to explore it – it’s a steep learning curve that can build great skills for a future career, it can pay reasonably well and take you all over the world.
I anticipate better times ahead for those who decide to continue their career on board and thereby inspire the next generation of seafarers to take on the adventure at sea.
Pictures from Nitin Chopra
Pictures from Rahul Khanna
Join the webinar on July 5, 2022
"Maritime trends to watch"
Join us for a one-hour webinar hosted by AGCS experts, examining trends and developments in shipping losses, risk challenges and safety – and what they all mean for the insurance market, with live Q&A.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
14:00 – 15:00 BST | 15:00 – 16:00 CEST | 09:00 – 10:00 EDT
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