Saturday, October 29, 2011

INTERVIEW: Capt Seshasai, Director, Shipping Services: Captain of the Sinking Ship

THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS - Vol 35 | Issue 17-18 | 28 oct 2011

INTERVIEW: Capt Seshasai, Director, Shipping Services
Captain of the Sinking Ship

Capt Seshasai, Director, Shipping Services did dodge pointed questions by explaining things technically. But, he could not convince the financial misappropriations and procedural lapses leading to rampant corruption.

By Zubair Ahmed

Capt Seshasai's promises to bring sanity to a department have gone haywire. From one director to three directors and again back to one director, why the experiments have miserably failed, with the service severely hitting rock bottom. In the meantime, corruption continues unabated, according to insiders. Only the modalities and the beneficiaries have changed. 
Paul James was an enigma as the director of shipping services. There were wild allegations of rampant corruption in the department during his tenure. It was also alleged that he had set his house on fire himself to avoid recovery of incriminating documents. But everything is under a thick veil of secrecy. There were CBI raids in the offices of the director. The net result of this entire hullabaloo was that the administration went on the defensive. It worked overtime to devise ways and means to check corruption in shipping department. To exorcise the ghost of Cdr. Paul James; the administration, in its wisdom, turned it into a hydra-headed body but that did not help matters either.
The DANICS lobby had found an excellent chance to push one of its own into the cushy job as Director (Administration) with an air-conditioned cabin furnished at a cost of Rs 10 lakhs, it is alleged. Another cabin (naturally air-conditioned) was readied for the Principal Director. The Secretary (Shipping) doubled as the Principal Director also. He, even otherwise could have had a tight leash on the department in his capacity as Secretary (Shipping). The third one, Director (Operations) was again from the Indian Navy. He was the man responsible for actually providing services to the people of the islands and run the vessels in the sea. He was in-charge of Operations and Maintenance, the two most vital arms of the department. He was the public face of the department who gets all the flaks for shortage of vessels, schedules going awry and angry mobs raiding his office whenever there was a dislocation. He however, sat in a sparsely furnished non-air-conditioned cabin on the ground floor of a single storey building near Marine Gate.
After a couple of years when the top heavy department failed to deliver, even though corruption to an extent was brought under control, the nexus of master-engineer-crew took over and brought the department to its knees. Moreover, every officer looked over his shoulder before putting his signature on a paper.  These knee-jerk actions to maintain a semblance of sanity did not work. Finally, the experiment had to be dropped.
When Captain Seshasai joined the Shipping Directorate, he too was one of the three Directors and assigned Operations and Maintenance. Anyway, he was not keen to continue as 'one of the Directors' and had told LOA at that time that without complete control, he would not be in a position to bring any positive change to the department. He was given complete control as the whole and sole Director. Like any tenderfoot, he too showed all idiosyncrasies in the initial period. In boiler suit, he was found in the dockyard early mornings as a timekeeper. By the time, he could understand the work culture of his employees; he had obviously learnt the ways to consolidate his grip on the cash-rich department. With a large fleet of sick vessels, unable to decommission or make operational, he found it a tough go. New vessels joined, but could not cover the demand. The onus once again fell on the whole and sole director to explain. He had by now learnt how to dodge the complaints. Technically, he would try to convince or ultimately confuse those who went to him with complaints.
Capt Seshasai did dodge pointed questions by explaining things technically. But, he could not convince the financial misappropriations and procedural lapses leading to drain of public exchequer.

There was a raid by anti-corruption wing in the stores recently on charges of rampant corruption in purchases in the department. Purchase of crankshaft, cylinder heads, gear boxes and a digital microwave frequency counter.
I am also aware of the issue. It needs to be clarified. The crank-shaft of MV Pilobhabi had to be replaced. The department placed an order with Momani Diesels on 7th July 2010. It was supplied on 22 June 2011. When the package was opened by the shop staff at the dockyard, they found it to be second-hand or used one and rejected it. We informed the dealer to replace the crankshaft. Moreover, all the orders placed with the dealer have been held in abeyance. We are planning to blacklist the dealer. However, it is the responsibility of the dealer to replace the part.

How come the matter was overlooked by the Inspection Committee?
Crank-shaft is a precision part, which is packaged in grease and boiled oil. The part is removed from packaging only when it has to be fitted. The issue came to light when it was unpacked and cleaned for fitting on the engine.

When the spare part is available from DGS&D, why did you go for local purchase?
We had placed the order with DGS&D in 2008. But, till now, we have not received the part, which is one of the main parts of the engine. With the delay, the services are affected. So, we decided to place the order locally.

And you were cheated by the dealer?
Yes. We will take punitive action against the dealer.

What about the gearbox meant for Maina? And the cylinder heads, which are lying idle?
Look, we have many boats with different requirements. If the gearbox does not suit a specific boat, we can use it in other boats. The gearbox supplied by the tenderer was not matching the boat engine. In tsunami, the documents of many ships went missing. It was difficult for us to identify the exact part. With much difficulty we could procure many parts and sometimes, if it doesn't match one boat, it will surely match other.

The Digital Microwave Frequency Counter was purchased for a whopping amount of Rs 17 lakhs? It is alleged that the electronic item is available for far less price?
I am not aware of the details. I will check it. Anyway, it was an open tender, where we have gone with the lowest quote.

APLAB, the manufacturer does not have the model mentioned in the Purchase Order and there is a mismatch in dates too. The quotation date is 14-05-2010 whereas the store requisition date is 29-07-2010.
I am not sure about the model and the electronic equipment purchased. I will look into the matter. However, I think we had called for annual rate contract for the product. That's the reason the quotation date is prior to the requisition date.

It is also alleged that there was no IRS certification for the spares purchased?
The process of IRS certification delays everything. However it is the responsibility of the supplier to get the IRS certification.

Why are such allegations cropping up now? Does the smoke suggest fire somewhere?
I cannot say anything about it. But, my own staff is making such allegations. There might be some heartburn among them.

On the service front, you have failed miserably, unable to meet the demands of the commuters?
State-owned and state-run service industry is not a viable option. The operating costs are very high. With the kind of attitude of the staff as well as the state of the fleet, we will be always lacking on that front. Most of the boats berthed here are very old. It is difficult to procure spares for most of them. If I could have my way, I would have decommissioned most of the boats lying idle.
When I joined in 2008, almost 70% vessels were non-operational. Now, about 50% of vessels are operational. There are many other factors also for the poor performance. Even if a boat gets ready for seagoing, due to documentation, it will have to wait. There is no MMD surveyor stationed in the Islands for last one year.

Many new vessels have also joined?
Eleven new vessels have joined the fleet after I took charge. There is a severe shortage of administrative officers and staff to regulate the man onboard. Since 1986, there has been no recruitment in this department. Naturally, the quality will suffer.

We have been hearing about MV Campbell Bay joining the fleet in at least three Independence Day speeches. Is it coming this time?
Yes, our crew has already left to bring the vessel. But, there are a few hiccups. ABG Shipyard has informed us that they would like to get all documentation work done here after it reaches Port Blair. In fact, we want the vessel to be put into operation as soon as it reaches here. The builder had to face many issues. The MV Act was amended many times. In 2010, it was made mandatory for ships to be equipped with Recoverable Voice Data Recorders like the black box on flights. It is mandatory as per the latest amendments to the Marine Pollution (MARPOL). In 2010, there were other amendments, which required the equipment to be upgraded and integrated to the system. It was not possible to get the latest additions integrated. And, without the modifications, the ship would not get clearance. Moreover, there were issues with the lifeboat also. They had to redo the whole thing. The issues have been resolved now. It will join soon.

What happened to the proposal of wet-lease of vehicle ferries?
Last week, the papers have been sent to the Ministry for approval.

What is the status of Shipping Corporation for the Islands?
It won't be Shipping Corporation anymore. The Administration is planning to have Andaman Nicobar Integrated Transport Corporation, which will cover sea, land and air transport. A fresh Expression of Interest will be called for appointing Consultant.
By telescopic observation, I think passenger ships are not a cheaper option anymore. Only 3% of ships are passenger ships and 97% are cargo ships. We need to have more air connectivity between the Islands as well as mainland.
We have helicopter service as well as seaplane running now. Moreover, the chartered plane, which the Administration wishes to introduce, will be also part of it. The chartered plane is pending with the Ministry. Once it materializes, Islanders will get huge benefit. The Administration plans to offer Islanders two-trips per year at the fare of Rs 1500/- to Rs 2500/-.

Why is Shipping Corporation of India milking the Administration? Sentinel is out of service for last one year?
There are serious issues with SCI. I don't know why we are still continuing with them. We are paying them a lot. But, If I suggest changing them, I am blamed for being partisan towards other private parties. The Admn is spending about Rs 25 crores for Sentinel itself, even without any service, whereas our complete purchase for our stores is not more than Rs 6 crores annually. In fact, SCI has no commitment towards our vessels.

Why is MV Chuglum not pressed into service yet? Is that not a gross waste to public exchequer?
MV Chuglum has no technical issues. We have already forwarded the file for technical manning to the Administration. It is pending for last three years.

It is learnt that your tenure is extended by another year?
Seriously, I am unable to function properly, but I have been asked to continue.


Arif said...

It shows that corruption has not spared even our islands.I really appreciate the efforts by your firm to bring these points into lights. And i would like to raise few questions reagrding the maritme training conducted in our islands, since i myself was from the first batch of Deck Cadet Course (DCC) passed out from Polythecnic, and every year around 20 to 25 candidates pass out from the institute and being trained on the passenger ships, but the candidates are not really getting the exposure and the training that is demanded by their rank. Why is the administration not really paying any attention regarding the future of Andaman Maritime? Why are the batches still running, when there is no proper faculty as approved by Directorate general of shipping? Why there is no medium to arrange proper training of cadets ona foreign going ship, through SCI?


Good coverage.
Those two blunders, I mean those two Ro-Ro type vessels (MV Afra Bay and MV Karmatang) kept tethered without being pressed into service needs a mention in future interview.